History of Encaustic

What is Encaustic

Encaustic is a Greek word meaning “to heat or burn in” (enkaustikos). The medium uses beeswax combined with pigments and natural resin.  In ancient Greece, ship hull were waterproofed with beeswax and tinted with brightly colour pigments. In 800 B.C., Homer writes of painted warships sailing to Troy. Hundreds of encaustic paintings exist of the Fayum funerary portraits painted to honour the dead by using encaustic to paint portraits of those past in the prime of their life. Known as the “Fayum Portraits”, with some dating as far back as 23 B.C., the Portraits were first discovered in the late nineteenth century.

Encaustic is the oldest known pigment binder. The resilience and colour remained intact, uncracked and unfaded over centuries due to wax's imperviousness to moisture. Encaustic was later used during the renaissance by Rembrandt and later by such painters as Diego Rivera, Jasper Johns and Tony Scherman.  Most encaustic artists today have reinvented the process for themselves through countless hours of experimentation and exploration.

Encaustic is a very versatile medium that offers a variety of handling methods. Once liquefied, the wax is applied to the surface with a brush and each layer is fused to the previous layer with a heat gun, heated iron or propane torch allowing the layers to become one. It can be manipulated to create dramatic three-dimensional effects, subtle atmospheric illusions, or realistic details.  Its unique properties allow encaustic to appear molten or solid, translucent or opaque, smooth or textural, thick or thin, shiny or matte.  It can be polished to an enamel-like lustre or used with subtlety to create muted but luminous surfaces.

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