Encaustic is a 2000+ year old medium comprised of beeswax and damar resin, and is one of the world’s oldest art forms. “Enkaustikos” is a Greek word meaning “to burn in.” Greek shipbuilders began by using melted beeswax and pigment to caulk and adorn their sailing ships. One thousand years later, Egyptian painters began using encaustics to paint incredibly beautiful and durable mummy portraits during the Fayum period. Despite being over 2000 years old, encaustic works are still on display in museums today, and still look as fresh today as when they were first painted.
The most well known of all encaustic works are the Fayum funeral portraits painted during the 1st through to 3rd centuries A.D. by Greek painters in Egypt. A portrait of the deceased, generally one that was painted during their prime of life, but sometimes after death, was placed over the person’s mummy as a memorial. Many of these ancient encaustic works still survive today, and the colour has remained fresh due to the protection of the wax.
Because the ancient techniques of using encaustic was very laborious and time consuming, during the Middle Ages, artists began to turn to using tempera, fresco and oil painting techniques that did not require the use of charcoal fires which was required to liquefy the wax paints.
Encaustics faded into obscurity for centuries until the early 20th century. Mexican muralist Diego Rivera used encaustics in the 1920’s. Jasper Johns began using encaustics in the 1950’s. Today, many contemporary artists are continually discovering new ways to use this versatile medium in both 2D and 3D works.
Encaustic medium usually consists of beeswax combined with damar resin (crystallized tree sap) and/or other additives that are highly individual to each artist’s methods. Encaustic medium can be used as is or combined with pigment such as oil paint, powdered pigments, inks, charcoal to produce colour. Many artists use collage in their encaustic artwork. (Please note, it will not adhere to acrylic).
Heat is used throughout the entire process beginning with the melting of beeswax and damar resin to fusing in layers of wax. As each layer of encaustic medium is brushed or poured on it is fused with the previous layer using a heat source such as heat gun or torch. Many artists use clear encaustic medium alone incorporating collage elements, but colour can also be obtained by adding pigments to the medium. Mark making tools can be used to create beautiful texture and markings.
Beeswax is durable, impervious to moisture and archival. Care for your encaustic art just as you would any piece of fine art and it will last for centuries.
Care of Encaustic Art:
Encaustic artworks are extremely archival, but as with any fine art, care must be taken. There is no fear of the work melting in normal conditions, as the wax and resin will not melt unless exposed to temperatures over 65 degrees Celsius (or 150 deg Fahrenheit). It would not be advisable to leave a painting in a car on a hot day, nor hanging it in front of a window with direct hot sunlight. They are also sensitive to freezing cold temperatures.
Sometimes, over time, the colours can “bloom” or become cloudy. If your painting appears indistinct, simply rub the surface with soft material like an old tee shirt, or a nylon stocking. The work will then regain its gloss.
If you Google Encaustic, there is a mountain of information available on the web about Encaustic painting, how to apply it, how to make the medium. There are also many excellent books available - my two favourites are "The Art of Encaustic Painting" by Joanne Mattera, and "Encaustic Art" by Lissa Rankin. But there are many more. Also there are many Encaustic Art Groups on Facebook, and I have learnt so much from the wonderful artists that share their work and information on Facebook.
Gayle Reichelt exhibition 'THE LAST FLEET' - inspired by weathered shipwrecks
Many of the images in my forthcoming exhibition 'The Last Fleet' will showcase encaustic paintings. 'The Last Fleet' will be exhibited at the Arts Centre, Gold Coast City Gallery, 135 Bundall Road, Surfers Paradise Qld from 6th February until 26th March 2016. All are invited to meet me at the opening of the exhibition at 3pm on that date. If you miss the opening, the exhibition will continue until 20th March 2016.
Hope to see you there
Link to an interesting slide share of Fayum Mummy Portraits. Below also a description.
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