Microcrystalline Encaustic

I have never worked with microcrystalline in encaustic so I was very interested in how it compares to beeswax when I saw it displayed earlier this month at The Artist Project in Toronto. Of the ten artist showing encaustic artwork, two of them used encaustic medium made with microcrystalline not with beeswax/damar. The effect was a quite different from what I know of encaustic. The first thing I noticed was that the paintings had a different textural quality – it was almost like plastic. I also noted that it didn’t have the lovely beeswax smell.

Microcrystalline is a relatively new petroleum product which will give off vapors in the molten stage. Extra consideration should be taken to provide proper ventilation. Microcrystalline has a higher melting temperature than beeswax so it is more pliable allowing for more time to mold, shape, model, cast, carve and form objects. You can apply encaustic paint over the modeled surface with minimal disturbance to the bottom sculpted surface. Microcrystalline wax will yellow over time from exposure to UV so it is very important to paint over and encapsulate the impasto wax layer. Microcrystalline is also less expensive than beeswax. Some artists don’t paint exclusively with microcrystalline wax or beeswax but use a combination of the two.

I spoke at length with Nina Sampaleanu. Much to my surprise Nina said that she switched from using beeswax to microcrystalline because of headaches. I would have thought that the natural beeswax would be less likely to produce headaches. Even with proper ventilation Nina found that beeswax encaustic medium produced headaches.

Nina was showing two-sided sculptural encaustic pieces.

Nina Sampaleanu Encaustic Artist

Please add your comments. Have you ever worked with microcrystalline? Have you experienced headaches from working in encaustic? What do you know of how it is different from working with beeswax?

Encaustic art is my hobby. I'm a Toronto WordPress web designer and developer. I started All Things Encaustic to bring together two things that I love.

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6 comments on “Microcrystalline Encaustic
  1. Victoria says:

    Ruth, I read your post with interest. Encaustic artist Tony Scherman uses microcrystalline. The ‘plastic’ appearance you noticed on the texture of microcrystalline is due to the amount of oil used in this petroleum based wax. Tony adds dry pigment or oil paint to the microcrystalline to colour it, noting, “Oil paint allows the brush to move a little more easily”.

    His encaustic paintings retain a lot of his brush strokes because he doesn’t fuse every layer. This is because microcrystalline has a better tack than beeswax. It’s also more pliable – Scherman actually rolls his microcrystalline encaustic painted canvases for shipping!

    • Ruth says:

      I had heard that microcyrstalline was pliable but he really rolls them for shipping – wow!

    • I use microcrystalline only for impasto in the first layer of a painting. It retains its shape and melts slower. Apparently there are at least two products so named as the micro that I found at Michaels is very white and sticky and not at all like the consistency of the micro found at R&F Paints. I prefer to use R&F. I’ve seen a Scherman painting and it is quite amazing what he accomplishes on canvas though with the exception of a bit of impasto, his paint is very thin.

  2. I tried it for a while but it’s a different texture, i hate the smell and decided to go bck to the beeswax.

  3. Jeremy Penn says:

    When adding pigment to the microcrystalline wax, you don’t have to worry much about yellowing over time. If you are looking for a clear finish then I highly recommend sticking to pure beeswax. Artists need to remember that the love they get out of making the art is shared by those who buy it and hang it in their home. It is important to protect them and the integrity of the painting by minimizing changes over time.

  4. Gerrie Burnett says:

    Would you recommend mixing some demar crystals into the microcrystalline to make the finished product harder? Or is using microcrystalline hard enough in itself? I also plan to use oil pastels as a colourant and am hearing conflicting opinions on their use.

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