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.
For as long as I can remember, I have been able to effortlessly and accurately sketch or draw an object or persons likeness. I had an innate ability to look at a person or object, and accurately gauge the size, shape and colour, and distance, memorise that information and put it down on paper. As a child and teenager, I particularly loved to draw faces to obtain a realistic likeness to that person. This love also extended to drawing animals, and a lot of my teen years was spent drawing both from magazine photographs and from life. This expanded both to drawing from life and using my own photographs as reference.
Later, when I wanted to paint a landscape, building, or portrait of a person, I would complete a charcoal or pencil work as a preliminary study to work out composition, light and shade, and get a feeling for the subject. This enabled me to see things as they really are. Most of the time, my drawings were complete artworks in themselves.
Drawing dates back to pre-history and was the earliest form of non-verbal communication between humans. Drawing is a way to communicate thoughts and feelings, and enables us to see the world as it really is.
As Leonardo da Vinci once said,
“Painting embraces all the ten functions of the eyes, that is to say, darkness, light, body and colour, shape and location, distance and closeness, motion and rest.”
Some artists live in one part of the Universe of Art and explore a theme or themes. I have been strongly attracted to the exploration of different mediums, across the whole Universe of Art.
My early years involved mostly oil and charcoal, with forays into watercolour, pastel and acrylic. With these mediums, I explored landscapes, portraits, abstracts and surreal.
Recently, my life changed to allow more time for art, leading me into vigorous exploration of new areas of art. My two major new areas are encaustic art using hot beeswax and resin art using epoxy resin. At the same time, my life also changed with my marriage to a scientist with an interest in astrophotography and, with him, I have explored combining star images with charcoal drawings to convey the meaning of the Universe of Stars.
Painting with hot beeswax:
The ancient Greek art of encaustic painting with hot beeswax is another major realm in the Universe of Art. Moving into a new house with a new husband gave me the opportunity to explore this exciting new art realm, since this form of art needs considerable work in establishing a dedicated studio and developing new and unusual art techniques.
From 2014 to 2016, I developed abstract, image transfer and realist works, the latter focussing on a shipwreck series, which culminated in a solo exhibition called “The Last Fleet” at the Gold Coast City gallery in 2016.
I have also used the image transfer variation of encaustic painting to produce a series based on Australian native birds.
Painting with resin:
Over the last year, I entered yet another new realm of the Universe of Art: painting with epoxy resin. Like encaustic painting, this art form needs a dedicated studio, specific equipment, new techniques and a new approach to art. I am still exploring new variations of this exciting new realm of the Universe of Art but this exciting new area has already led to another solo exhibition called “New Beginnings”, at the One Arts Gallery, Isle of Capri, Gold Coast Queensland in the month of May 2017.
What is resin?:
Epoxy Resin used in art is an adhesive, plastic material made from synthetic polymers and mixed with a hardener in a specific ratio which varies for different brands. Coloured pigments are added, and the mixture is generally poured onto a surface, mostly MDF, but sometimes other surfaces. When cured, it becomes a very tough and hard surface.
When resin, hardener and coloured pigments are mixed, it is in a fluid form and extremely sticky – a bit like honey. An artist has to work very quickly to achieve their art with resin as it starts to cure after about 40 minutes – although it is possible to work a little longer before it becomes more like toffee. Then it must be left undisturbed until at least the next day before progressing further with it.
Frequently I work with multiple layers to achieve incredible depth, so depending upon how many layers I use, a good artwork can take several days to develop. The affects achieved with resin depend upon various ways that it is applied to the surface, and each artist develops their own techniques for manipulating the fluid medium to get the effects they want. There is much more involved than just “throwing coloured resin onto a surface”. An artist needs to develop a lot of skill to develop a unique and beautiful work.
Applying heat either with a torch or heat gun is an important step for proper curing of the resin and hardener mix. Proper mixing and exact volumes of resin and hardener are required for adequate curing. Whilst it becomes quite solid to touch within 5 to 7 hours, it requires up to 48 hours for a complete cure.
Epoxy Resin requires a moderate level of safety precautions to avoid contact with the skin and eyes as well as avoiding the accumulation of vapours in the room. I wear protective clothing, nitrate gloves, and work in a room with cross-flow ventilation and when using solvents, a carbon mask.
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