Encaustic photo: Waxy Fern


I’ve been experimenting as always and one thing led to another.

I decided to transfer my photographs onto a transparency film via laser printer. Then, I wondered how it would look encased in encaustic media. I used a piece of mat board and fused a couple of layers of encaustic medium. Next, I placed the film on top and added a couple of more layers and fused it as well. It gives the picture a bit more substance just by the thickness of it. I like the retro kind of look, the depth and the waxy sheen of the surface.

The only thing that I’m not too thrilled with is the archival factor. I’m kind of a stickler when it comes to archival quality in art works; I always use acid free papers and boards and the highest rated lightfast pigments in paints, etc. In the case of encaustic wax, the wax itself does serve as an isolation layer against acid but it does not do anything for pigments fading. While black toner from a laser printer is pretty good in maintaining ‘colour’ over time, coloured toner does not.

So a piece like this can still be enjoyed but is not a good example of long-lasting art.


Ingots of Medium


Finally I was able to get some more Damar resin, so I was happy making some more encaustic medium. There’s something really relaxing about making the medium; it consists of weighing the proportions, melting the Damar resin first (has a higher melting point) and adding the beeswax. Then the mixture is stirred until everything is melted and incorporated into a unified liquid. It is important to ensure that the temperature is low and even, if the temperature is too high it’ll start to smoke, bad for health and bad for the medium. After the mixture is ready, it is poured into a muffin pan until it is cooled and solidified.

Taking it out is like taking out ice cubes, the pan lightly hit on a hard surface and the ingots pop right out. By the way, I just call them ingots because they remind me of precious gold ingots, it is not some official term.

imageSome people filter the molten liquid because the Damar resin has debris/vegetable matter (Damar resin is essentially tree sap). I prefer to render them into ingots and scrape out the debris from the bottom – the debris settles on the bottom. It’s a lot less messy and troublesome than pouring the hot liquid through a filter, in my opinion.

Once all the ingots are made, they are ready to be used when the inspiration strikes.

A tree…

In my last post we left off with the progress of my encaustic piece as a ‘wintry’ looking backdrop of some sort. It had some organic motifs with transparent beads that added to the ‘icy’ look. Since I’m working intuitively, I never know what I’m going to end up with. I’ve painted the center white and added a photo transfer of a tree. It was then covered with encaustic medium and fused lightly:


Below you can see the piece after the wax had cooled off from fusing, after which oil sticks were used to add more colour. I think it’s looking quite different from before but it’s definitely looking warmer. I think it would be interesting to see how it finally ends up.


Paint making into the wee hours of the night



Above is all the encaustic paint I made before I ran out of supplies. Usually I make paint with pigment in powder form but my growing concerns with health and safety prompted me to search out dispersion pigments. Of course, dispersion pigments are suspended in water which are not compatible with encaustics. Most people use oil paints to make encaustic paint but I did not like the solvent and linseed oil (smell and toxicity) in most oil paints. However, I found out that one of my favorite watercolour paint companies (M. Graham) make an oil based paint using JUST walnut oil as binder. This paint is wonderful; it’s highly pigmented and does not have a strong odor at all!

The paints are cooling above in seamless tins and I still have 6.5 lbs of beeswax to render into paint and medium. It’s good to have encaustic medium pre-made so it’s ready to go. For now, this will have to do until I get more resin soon.

WIP, the before


This will be my attempt at documenting my work in progress, in various stages of development. Above, is what I started out with; a cradled birch board. A rigid support like this is ideal for encaustic work. Some people prime this board with encaustic compatible gesso; a traditional gesso made of rabbit skin glue and chalk/gypsum or a modern version made by R and F. The R and F version is apparently still a type of acrylic with more absorbent material added in. This is kind of surprising because the readily available acrylic gesso is not suitable. Acrylic is too slippery for encaustic, I’ve heard of an artist who had a painting slide right off at an exhibit. Basically, encaustics need something to ‘grab onto’. Another method is to just coat the substrate in encaustic medium. This is what I do if the surface is suitable. In this case, the raw wood absorbs the heated wax quite well. After a couple of coats of wax medium have dried and cooled, you can start ‘painting’. Subsequent layers have to be fused with the previous layer; this is very important for the structural integrity of the piece.


I’ve tried but I missed a couple of images to document progress this far. It’s really difficult when you’re in the middle of working on a piece and stopping to take pictures – my bad. The above piece was primed with couple of coats of medium. Then a layer of bisque colour was added on and cooled a bit. On top of the coloured encaustic, a photo transfer image was burnished onto it. Then the piece was heated with a heat gun to fuse the image and further heated to abstract the transferred image (the greyish pattern in the background). Afterwards, white encaustic paint was brushed on.

By the way, this piece is totally intuitive. I’m just working and experimenting on it and seeing what happens. Not all my work is like this, sometimes I have a clear idea of what I’m going to portray. But mostly, whether you have an idea or not, it’s usually a process of pushing back, bringing forward, clarifying until you get it just right.