In case you are unfamiliar with it, the word refers both to the paint and the process. The paint consists of beeswax and natural resin, usually with pigment added. The process involves heating the paint until it liquefies, painting it onto a wooden panel or other rigid substrate with brushes or other tools and then heating it again, in place, with a blowtorch, heat gun or heated tool. The second heating, called fusing, is essential to the paint adhering to the substrate. Layers of paint are applied, one over the other, each layer being fused to the one underneath.
Although the word “encaustic” may sound dangerous, there are no solvents or other toxins in encaustic paint. The word comes originally from the Greek word “enkaustikis” meaning “to burn in.”
Encaustic is an ancient method of painting, known to have existed in 3rd or 4th century B.C. Greece. The method was lost through the ages and revived after World War II. One of the most famous modern artists to use encaustic is Jasper Johns in his early flag and target paintings begun in the 1950s.
With commercial manufacture of encaustic paint, adaptation of tools, and knowledge of improved practices, encaustic is currently becoming a very popular medium. Publication in 2001 of the first comprehensive book on encaustic, The Art of Encaustic Painting: Contemporary Expression in the Ancient Medium of Pigmented Wax, by Joanne Mattera plus the introduction of technical workshops by paint manufacturer R & F Handmade Paints and several scholarly exhibitions of works in encaustic really made the medium’s popularity take off in the 21st century. Contributing to more widespread use are the annual encaustic conferences organized by Joanne Mattera that began in 2007.
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