12 x 12, encaustic, framed
Enkaustikos—the word means "to burn in." Three thousand years ago, a few enterprising Greek shipbuilders discovered a new use for the beeswax they used to caulk hulls. By adding pigments for color and resin for hardness, they created a painting medium with an unmatched depth and luminosity. Before long, encaustic art could be found everywhere, from painted ships to depictions on urns of everyday life, and even applied to statuary to render a lifelike glow. Encaustic painting weaves in and out of art history, gaining prominence for a time, only to recede into the shadows for centuries. A thousand years after the Greeks discovered it, painters in Egypt resurrected the medium, crafting exquisite portraits to decorate the mummies of their patrons. In the seventh century, veneration of a Byzantine icon made of beeswax, with the ashes of Christian martyrs for pigment, was credited with saving Constantinople from a Persian attack.
Encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. The thick liquid is then applied to a surface—usually prepared wood. Each layer of wax must be fused or burned in for permanence. Metal tools and special brushes can be used to shape the paint before it cools, or heated metal tools can be used to manipulate the wax once it has cooled. Tools such as heat lamps, heat guns, and other methods of applying heat allow artists to extend the amount of time they have to work with the material. Because wax is used as the pigment binder, encaustics can be sculpted as well as painted. Other materials can be encased or collaged into the surface, or layered, using the encaustic medium to adhere it to the surface. Encaustic paintings are extremely durable and permanent although the surface can be easily scratched. Just as with any fine art, the surface should not be touched unless one's hands are clean. It would take extreme heat to melt the surface. On the other hand, extreme cold could cause the wax to crack or shatter. The same care should be given to encaustic works as fine art in any medium.