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Gayle Reichelt Art Newsletter 2


What is Encaustic?

Encaustic is an ancient method of painting (over 2000 years old) that was most notably used in the Fayum mummy portraits from Egypt around 100-300 AD for creating beautiful artworks.  It is sometimes called "hot wax painting" because the medium is applied hot onto a substrate (I usually use plywood) and fused with a heat gun or heat torch. The medium consists of molten wax mixed with damar resin and oil pigment sticks for colour.  The word encaustic originates from the Greek word encaustics, which means to burn in, and this element of heat is necessary for a painting to be called encaustic.  If it is not burnt in, it is not encaustic.

Encaustic art has become more popular since the 1990s with artists using electric irons, hotplates and heated stylus on different surfaces including card, paper and even pottery. The iron makes producing a variety of artistic patterns easier. The medium is not limited to just simple designs; it can be used to create complex paintings, just as in other media such as oil, acrylic, and water colour.  It can be painted in a realistic painterly way, but particularly lends itself to abstraction. Although technically difficult to master, attractions of this medium for contemporary artists are its dimensional quality and luminous colour.  

Encaustic is very durable and despite being over 2000 years old, many from 100 - 300 AD are still on display in museums today, withstanding the test of time with minimal cracking and without having faded or darkened in colour. 

Encaustic paintings can be polished to a high gloss, folded, sculpted, textured and combined with collage materials.   Beeswax is impervious to moisture.  

One really successful Australian artist who uses Encaustic is Jenny Sages.  She won the Archibald Prize 2012 people choice award with an Encaustic painting called "After Jack" a self-portrait exploring her grief after her husband's death. She is worth looking up as her work is stunning.

Making the medium:

I make my own medium with beeswax purchased in raw form from local beekeepers.   When I get a new batch of beeswax, I melt it down and strain it through muslin to get rid of impurities (usually dead bees) and pour it into muffin tins or cake tins.

To make Encaustic medium, I re-heat the cleaned wax, melt damar resin in another pan (it has a different melting temperature) and add to the molten wax.  I then strain again as the resin always has a lot of sticks and other degree in it, and pour into muffin and cake tins.

Beeswax melts at 65 Deg C, and it is important to keep the temperature of the heated wax below 100 Deg C, to prevent the fumes from being toxic.   

Damar Resin is harvested from trees in Malaysia in a method that is similar to the tapping of maple trees for syrup, and the trees are not damaged from the process.  It melts at 107 Deg C, which is why I heat it in a separate frypan (along with a small quantity of wax as the resin becomes very sticky).  Once melted, I mix it into my molten beeswax.

Once the medium is made into small blocks (as pictured below bottom left), I melt it into separate little tins (enamel camping cups are great) to add colour - mostly using R & F oil pigment sticks, which have a percentage of wax in them.  Ordinary oil paint can also be used but the linseed oil needs to be drained from them overnight on a paper towel before adding to the medium to make colour.

See pictures below:

*  Top left 17 kilos of raw wax purchased from Calipano Honey in Richlands, Qld.   I also buy from a local beekeeper who lives in Currumbin.
*  Top left - melting wax in an old deep frying pan, tin with muslin ready to strain the melted wax, muffin and cake tins to pour the strained wax into.  I used to do this outside, but bees kept flying around and trying to get into the wax, so now I do this inside my studio.
*  Bottom left - this is what 1 kilo of made up Encaustic Medium looks like.  
*  Bottom right - this is what 10 kilos of cleaned wax looks like.  I like to clean it up in bulk.  As you can see, beeswax comes in different colours, depending upon how old the hive is.   The younger the hive - the clearer and lighter the wax.   Older hives have very dark yellow and sometimes almost brown wax.  Some part of the colour can be due to the nature of pollen still trapped into the wax.  

How to look after an Encaustic artwork.

Encaustic paintings do not have to be varnished or protected by glass.  If the painting looks dull, or gets dirty, it can be wiped clean with a soft cloth dampened with water and buffed to a high shine.   Old panty hose are excellent for polishing.  It should NEVER be left in a car on a hot day, or hung in direct sunlight.  

How Encaustic can be used:

Below are some examples of the different things that can be done with Encaustic painting.   It can also be used in sculpture. At this stage, I haven't attempted sculpture, but I have seen some very beautiful sculpted work using Encaustic and suspect that I will attempt it at some future stage.

My most realistic paintings in Encaustic so far have been my two Cherry Venture Shipwreck painting (my latest pictured in the header of this newsletter).  I have plans to do a series of shipwreck paintings, and shortly I intend to do some portraits using Encaustic.  My husband John will be my first victim.

Encaustic can be used in a realistic way, or abstract.  Because I am essentially a painter, I don't often use collage in my work, but many Encaustic artists do use a lot of collage in their encaustic work.

My interest in Encaustic

I first became interested in Encaustic when at Uni (between 1992 and 1996) and I actually bought two blocks of wax at that time.  But none of the lecturers at my Uni could teach it so I carted the two blocks around me as I moved from place to place until last year.  It was in July 2014 that I first saw a workshop advertised by an artist introducing Encaustic art.   I attended this workshop, fell in love with the medium, then looked online for more information, and practiced daily.   I experimented with all the techniques that I could learn about.  It has now become my favourite medium.

My lovely husband John was very supportive with my embracing this new medium, and helped me to make an Encaustic studio in what was originally our carport but that had been turned into a large storage shed (we build a new carport in front of it).  There are many safety issued to be considered when making an Encaustic studio, including an extraction fan, and air conditioning for during hot weather.   I love my studio and spend hours there most days.

I found that Encaustic artists are not all that common in Australia and have not seen many classes or workshops advertised - and certainly very few that teach advanced techniques.   Luckily I found some groups in Facebook for Encaustic Art, mostly with American or Mexican artists, but some also from other countries like Germany, France and South Africa.  Encaustic is huge in the US and very very popular.  I hope that eventually it becomes better known in Australia.  The American and Mexican artists make a lot of Videos and U-Tube clips demonstrating how to use Encaustic, and also sell books and videos of more advanced techniques.   It was in this way that I learnt further techniques to enhance my own personal style of making Encaustic paintings.

I will eventually set myself up to teach Encaustic.

Below are four examples of how I use Encaustic.

The link to my website is

Some new images.

Transition 57 - Abandoned.
From my Encaustic Gallery.

This is an example of an image that uses textures in an Encaustic work.
Transition 48.  Rose.  I have been experimenting with using Polycarbonate as the substrate.   We had some left over from cat proofing our fence to keep Hugo in.  This one is very small - only 16cm x 14cm.

The image in my header is Transition 49 - A Bee's Eye View 60cm x 30cm - also using Polycarbonate as the substrate.

Noisy Friar Bird. 35.5cm x 28.5cm

With Encaustic, many techniques can be used. 
In this image, I embedded collage in different layers of clear medium with photos - and put shellac on top which I then set alight with my butane torch.  It creates an interesting look.

Transition 45 - Nets
40cm x 55cm


Current Exhibitions:

Petrie Terrace Gallery,
Unit 3, 162 Petrie Terrace,
Gallery open from 10.00am until 3.30pm Tuesday to Sunday.
Opening night is Wednesday 1st April from 7.00pm.   All those who are in the vicinity are invited to attend.

I will be at this opening, and also on duty all day at the Gallery on Saturday 4th April.
I have four paintings in this exhibition.

14th Annual King's Easter Arts Festival
68 Gemvale Road,
Reedy Creek. Qld. 4227
(in the Gold Coast).
Open March 31st and April 1 between 6.00pm and 8.30pm
I have seven paintings in this exhibition.

Pictures of the paintings being exhibited in each exhibition are in the latest blog in my website.
Copyright © *2015* *Gayle Reichelt*, All rights reserved.

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