Ann McMillan Art
Fine Art in Color

Studio Blog

teaching resources and studio blog

Beginning with Encaustics

McMillan Bee on the Map  6 x 6 inches encaustic and collage
McMillan Bee on the Map 6 x 6 inches encaustic and collage

If you love to experiment and mix together different media, and play creatively, then encaustics are a great medium for you.  I enjoy doing both collage encaustics and pure painting with the medium. This bee to the right was one of my early encaustics that incorporates pages from a book, an atlas and some origami paper. The honeybee seemed an appropriate subject, since this ancient medium is based on beeswax.

Introduction to Encaustic, Sunday, May 13, 10-3 pm.
 Registration link 

Encaustic is purified beeswax mixed with pigments. Here are the materials I like to use; please see below for a slideshow of my kit.

My basic Encaustic palette includes six colors, so far, and titanium white.  Left to right:  viridian green, slickwax in mug for cleaning brushes, ultramarine, violet, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow.  On the griddle is a pool of purified beeswax, which serves as a medium and a pool of white, which I melt from a stick as needed.  That method ensures that the white is always pure.  If I kept it in a tin like the others, it would quickly be corrupted by other colors.

I bought a basic R & F Starter kit to get going, a griddle from the thrift store, and mercilessly pillaged my studio for scraping, gouging and painting tools.  Besides the starter kit, I had to buy extra white, slick wax and medium.   Something I still need is a griddle thermometer, but so far I have done okay just keeping in mind to keep the temp low and turn it off if it smokes.    Wax melts at 120 F, so it does not have to be super hot. (That blue strip on the right of my griddle should not be there, it is just a scrap from some collage I was working on). I did buy the little tins separately at Michael's. The encaustic company makes something similar, but I always avoid buying art supplies at an art store; if I can get them from the hardware store, so much the better.   Encaustic artists often use muffin tins, but I prefer the classical palette configuration that these loose leaf cups allow.

McMillan California Hills 6 x 6 inches encaustic
McMillan California Hills 6 x 6 inches encaustic

Encaustic substrates have to be rigid and absorbant, so buy fairly thick masonite, or the cradled boards that R & F makes.  Doing this medium on paper, or canvas does not work- the painting cracks and flakes off.  The substrate also has to grab the wax in someway, so canvas mounted on board, or raw ply can both work.  R & F also sells an encaustic gesso

One of my favorite ways to paint with encaustic mimics watercolor-- I put the board directly on the griddle, wait for it to warm, then paint wet into wet with the paints.  The paint flows deliciously and is so fun to work with.  I turn off the griddle or remove the panel carefully from the griddle and then paint over the top for more detail.  The Sunset painting to the right is done with this method.