What is Encaustic Art

as written by Lois Moore


1. painted with wax colours, fixed with heat.
2. a work of art produced by an encaustic process.

This 2,500 year old art form was used by the ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans. When heated, colored waxes were used to decorate the walls of tombs. Encaustic means “burn in”.

It utilizes Beeswax mixed with pigments and resins as a lightfast painting medium. This medium is usually painted with heat from an iron, hot stylus, brush or air gun. The layers of wax are fused with heat as the painting progresses and the colours resulting are rich and luminous. The wax dries immediately after the heat source is removed. Polishing with a soft cloth brings a beautiful gloss to the image which has a smooth or raised texture achieved by the techniques employed.

Encaustic paintings are perhaps the most durable form of painting, evidenced by the Faiyum mummy portraits which have survived over 2000 years without cracking, flaking or fading. Wax has several inherent qualities that allow it to withstand the test of time: it is moisture resistant, mildew and fungus resistant, and unappetizing to insects. The wax paints do not contain linseed oil which could darken with age, or poppy oil, which can crack over time. Ultimately, encaustic paintings have survived the ages because their paint film successfully seals out moisture, acids, dirt and atmospheric gases.

The finished painting can never be copied exactly, no matter how skilled the artist, so each painting is a true original that can never be repeated. Working with encaustic requires a quickness, decisiveness and willingness to both predetermine and create images as they happen.

The 20th Century has seen a rebirth of encaustic on a major scale. It is an irony of our modern age, with its emphasis on advanced technology, that a painting technique as ancient and involved as encaustic should receive such widespread interest.