Encaustic painting (or layering with wax!)

mummy.portraitEncaustic painting is painting with heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. In an era when collage is being explored deeply, encaustic is a natural medium, since it allows both painterly explorations of color and the possibility of embedding objects and layering. The technique has been around since (at least) ancient Egypt, when it was used to create mummy portraits.

In 1955, Jasper Johns used this technique to create one of the first of his flag paintings. The Metropolitan Museum of Art describes the process:

“The painting consists of three separately stretched panels of cotton fabric joined at the back: the forty-eight stars area; the seven upper stripes to the right of the stars area; and the long area of the six stripes below. The painting is predominantly in the wax-based medium of encaustic. Johns worked on each panel separately, first laying down the overall flag design in charcoal. After applying a thin ground of unbleached, translucent beeswax, he built up the stars, the negative areas around them, and the stripes with applications of collage: small cut-out pieces of newsprint, other paper, and bits of fabric. He dipped these into molten beeswax and adhered them to the surface while the wax was hot. He then joined the three panels and painted over the entire surface with short, deliberate strokes of more unpigmented beeswax and touches of white oil paint.”

I have been poking around the internet, gathering more information on this technique. The most fascinating bit that I have found so far is a 12 page booklet titled, “Examples of Stencils and Masks” by Linda Womack from the 2008 National Encaustic Conference. Linda is the author of a book on the topic, Embracing Encaustic (which I have not seen yet) and the teacher of a recent workshop at the John C.Campbell Folk School. She has posted lots of exciting photos of the workshop on her blog.

elise-wagnerThe Second National Conference of Encaustic Painting at Montserrat took place June 6-8, 2008. Several bloggers have posted their comments on the conference, including an online presentation of the talk, “Encaustic with a Textile Sensibility” (Thanks to Joanne Mattera for this list!):


I’m not sure that I am ready to take the plunge into encaustic, but the layerings give me some inspiration for ways to take my acrylic paintings and textiles!

top: Metropolitan Museum of Art via Flickr artist ggnyc
middle: Elise Wagner
bottom: Linda Womack