Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Intermediate Painting Project: Encaustic

Encaustic painting, or hot wax painting, was notably used in ancient Egypt to create mummy portraits and has since been used by many significant 20th century artists like Jasper Johns. The process involves adding colored pigments to heated beeswax, which is applied (painted) onto a surface, typically wood. Other materials can be encased or collaged into the wax.

I found the wax somewhat difficult to work with—you have to paint quickly while it’s still warm and malleable, and yet, use a delicate hand because the wax builds up fast. Practice definitely makes a difference as evidenced in the work of my fellow students who had taken intermediate painting before.

For my first (and only, so far) encaustic, I created an homage to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. On three 12” x 12” wood panels, I applied pages from her book and pieces from an old Mississippi map and covered them with clear beeswax. I mixed two different pigments (a cobalt and an ochre) into wax for the second layer, which included mocking bird-shaped “windows” to the first layer. I used black pigment for the contour-line drawings on the third layer and xerographic transfers for the fourth.

Homage to Harper Lee, Encaustic Collage on Wood, 12" x 12" Panels (2010)


  1. Interesting process......do you have to treat the work with something to handle the elements such as extreme heat? All I can think of is leaving candles in the attic ...... once.

  2. Unfortunately, I do NOT think the photos of your work do it justice...as the texture, colors, etc., do NOT show...
    Personally, I am impressed with your "first" attempt.

  3. Like Carol I think pictures do not do justice to the artwork. I imagine the texture but I want to be able to "feel" it with my eyes.

    I absolutely love the subject matter. That is my all-time favorite book.

  4. Yes, the texture is definitely what makes an encaustic painting...

    Barb: A great book, indeed. Wonder, after seeing what has transpired in South Carolina's gubnatorial race, whether we've actually made any progress...

  5. South Carolina politics in the past few years has been like watching a Saturday Night Live sketch. I thought nobody could beat Nevada for political drama but I was WRONG.

  6. Being a native South Carolinian (and so proud), I say let's redirect! Whatever happened to Eliot Spitzer?