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.
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?