- from the ancient Greek enkaustikos, which means “to heat” or “to burn,” is the name for a painting medium of pigmented wax. It also refers to the process of applying layers of wax paint and fusing each new layer to the one beneath it to simultaneously paint and sculpt a surface. Encaustic paintings exhibit a unique luminosity, as light passes through transparent or translucent layers of wax and is reflected up to the surface, illuminating the painting from within.


Encaustic art is one of the oldest art forms, dating to the time of the ancient Egyptians for use in their elaborate burial tombs, which have survived for centuries. Some of my favorite ancient portraits are the Greco-Roman portraits of Faiyum, Egypt. These mummy portraits illustrate the durability of the art form, having survived since the second century B.C.


An encaustic art surface is very durable because beeswax, the basic ingredient, is impervious to moisture and most environmental changes.


Despite its durability, encaustic art lost favor during the Renaissance due to what was thought to be cumbersome requirements, considering the technology of the time. Modern advances have made using encaustics a lot easier.


As a technique that can be applied to just about any medium, it has been used to create unique multi-dimensional effects in art. Encaustics has enjoyed a resurgence as a result of its use by more modern artists such as Jasper Johns and Diego Rivera. 


Care of Your Encaustic Painting

Wipe with a soft, lint-free damp rag to dust. Polishing with any soft, lint-free cloth will bring out the luminosity of the painting.

Avoid contact with sharp objects. The surface of the painting is susceptible to scratching. Scratches cannot totally be removed without the artist’s intervention. Minor scratches are best left alone.


Protecting Your Encaustic Painting

Will it melt? Wax melts at 150 degrees Fahrenheit, so if your paintings are melting your house is on fire. However, you should keep your paintings away from extreme heat, sun and cold. Do not put any fine art in direct sunlight.


When transporting your encaustic painting, the piece must be wrapped well in waxed paper. Do not leave it in your car (or the enclosed trunk) as heat buildup on a hot day can melt the painting. Extreme cold can be almost as bad, as wax may separate from the braced panel.


For a major move, wrap the work well in wax paper and bubble paper and box it.