Painting With Wax

There are as many methods for painting with wax as there are creative minds to come up with them.  Youtube is filled with tutorials on various encaustic methods.  The one secret other artists have not yet unearthed is to work on a pre-heated surface.  The ancients painted on super heated boards and the wax flowed like paint.  The picture at the right was painted with hot colored wax on a hot surface and the result is a traditional abstract painterly painting.

Hot Wax.

Preparation of the surface (paper, canvas or board).  Paper needs no priming.  I have done quite a few experiments with wax on wood.  The best results I have had were on boards that had vegan gesso applied and then tonal under painting with water color.  Oil and acrylic gessos are not recommendable because they seal the surface and the wax cannot penetrate.  Hot wax does not bond very well with either oil or acrylic.  (See the watercolor encaustic page for the recipe for vegan gesso.)  When working on canvas, I use unprimed canvas and paint so that the wax penetrates deeply into the fabric.  I stretch the canvas after the picture is completed.

To begin painting add wax to the pans to melt.  You can use crayons created earlier and remelt them or start with new wax and add pigments directly.  Remember 200º Fahrenheit is the cutoff.  Do Not Exceed 200º Fahrenheit.  Get a grill thermometer to ensure the temp does not go any higher.  While the wax is melting, put a board onto the griddle and allow it to heat.  When the board is heated and the wax melted use a brush to to apply wax to the heated board in the same fashion as if it were paint.

Abstract encaustic painting

“Cafe Scene”
Encaustic on canvas
22″ x 30″


picture of tools for paitning

Painting Setup for working on reproduction of mummy portrait

At left you can see the board on the griddle.  The griddle is set to just under 200º Fahrenheit.  The board will get quite warm and remains on the griddle throughout the painting process.  I do not use a heat gun to fuse the wax because the wax permeates the heated board’s surface and fuses itself.

I have the option of using many tools while working; melted wax from the palette and brushes for application, cold crayons burnished into the hot wood just like pastels, and stumps from pastel tools that can work with the wax as blenders.  Working on a heated surface keeps the wax fluid and pliable. However, the hot surface and melted wax does not work well with oil paint.  The oil separates from the wax and impregnates the wood creating a barrier to a wax bond.  I do not use oil paint in the process, just pure wax and artist pigments.

By varying the heat I can achieve different effects.  The dress was painted quite hot.  The hair was added at a cooler temperature.

image of wax treated with sesame oil

Bloom treatment with sesame oil

How to Beat Bloom

Sesame oil is the best cure for bloom that I have been able to find.  You can use olive oil or even simple household oil, but sesame seems to dissolve bloom the best.  If a painting develops bloom simply moisten a soft cotton cloth with a bit of sesame oil and rub the painted surface with the oil dampened cloth.  The bloom will disappear and, after two years as seen on the left, no bloom has reappeared (the bloom at the very top of the sesame block is left over from the “before” take to show bloom compared to the sesame oil cleaned area).