Encaustic Painting, Act 1 Scene 1

The supplies are corralled on the new, plastic-draped, work surface and I had to take some photos because nothing you see here will ever be this shiny ever again.


The first step is to make the plain wax medium: beeswax and damar resin in a ratio of 8 : 1. Or 10 : 1 or absolutely no more than 9 : 1, or possibly just until the mixture “looks right”. Every source I found had his or her own convictions. Beeswax is the medium that will carry the pigment to the surface and the damar raises the melting point of the wax enough to fix the result. Too little and the painting will react to moisture in the air with a white “bloom” and never fully dry, too much and the surface will crack and peel.


I’m using beeswax from our hives because we have pounds and pounds of the stuff. It’s like a natural resource around here. This first batch is a mix of yellow and white – the lighter wax was bleached by longer exposure to sunlight. It took me the entire summer to figure out that I could get lovely white beeswax simply by forgetting a batch in the solar melter for a few days but by that time it was September and the days were too short to re-engineer the yellow batches. Encaustic painting uses such thin layers that I don’t think the tint will make much difference, but we’ll see. I admit that I like the gold color produced by all those tiny bee feet trackingĀ  pollen and propolis around the hive interior like children on Grandma’s kitchen linoleum.

I never noticed that our kitchen drop scale (pictured by the double boiler above) is calibrated in Newtons. Fortunately I was working from a ratio so all I cared about were the markings but seriously, Newtons?

The first batch is done and poured off into small stainless steel “monkey cups” to cool. It did indeed take longer than I thought it would for the damar to melt into the wax. The online boards repeatedly warn not to short-cut this step; “It takes as long as it takes!” The gentleman who insisted that the wax has a different “feel” once the resin is incorporated also had a point. The transition was not unlike testing custard or jelly on a spoon – difficult to describe but easy to see in practice. As with my first forays into beekeeping lore I feel more confident in the source material now that I’ve seen it in action.

Tomorrow I can pop out the solid wax and clean any sediment off the bottom in preparation for melting it again and brushing a thin coat on the painting surface. Act 1, Scene 2 coming up!



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