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Yes, you can use Chalk Paint in place of Encaustic Gesso

Yes, you can use Chalk Paint in place of Encaustic Gesso

Chalk & Milk Paint as a stable underpainting for encaustic art

So many of us are familiar with acrylic-based mixed media art.  YouTube videos have walked us through thousands of projects and techniques which tend to use acrylic based glues and mediums to achieve fantastic results.  That was the case with me and my familiar ground. I painted in and taught acrylic-based mixed media art for years.  It’s all I knew and loved.

In walks encaustic… be still my beating heart, a new love! I learned early on that acrylics and encaustic wax are akin to oil and water.  They simply don’t mix.  I longed for being able to do an underpainting in acrylic and mixed media paint and then brush and fuse on a layer of wax. This would make the process easier on me as it was already familiar, and then the paintings could easily grow in size as the cost of encaustic medium and paints would be greatly reduced.

The Discovery — Two worlds collide

For years I kept the two mediums very separate until one fateful day when a friend of mine asked me to join her in a chalk paint workshop. It was here that the two worlds would collide.

In the workshop, we repainted a small piece of furniture using chalk paint.  I loved the fact that we didn’t have to sand the furniture first.  When we were finished with two layers of paint on each piece, we talked a little about the properties of the paint.

The properties of Chalk Paint

Chalk-based furniture paints are mineral-based.  No acrylic, no latex.  A small amount of adhesive is added to the paint to allow it to “stick” better to the furniture, but that’s it as far as “plastic” agents in the paint are concerned. It dries to a very absorbent and “chalky” appearance. This is the part where my mind got blown… to seal the piece of furniture we rubbed in a layer of beeswax!

Two years after that class, I wrote and self-published my first little book entitled Two Worlds Collide.
I have been practising what I preach for the past six years and have had hundreds of students comment on their successes with the technique and materials. Chalk paints are a suitable replacement for encaustic gessoes and provide a wider range of possibilities with broader selections of colours and more “paint-like” texture and fluidity.

Not all chalk paints are created equal.  If you can’t find out what the paint content is by visiting the company’s website, then opt for one of my tried and trues. Van Gogh Furniture Paintology, Annie Sloan, Cottage Paint and The Fat Paint Company.

Milk paints are equally as acrylic-free, but the powder/water mixing adds another step to your process—not as convenient.

Try this in your studio:

  1. Using chalk paints, paint a picture on a wooden board that you might normally do with acrylics.
  2. Once thoroughly dry (overnight is best) apply a layer of clear encaustic medium using a wide natural-haired bristle brush.
  3. Slowly iron-fuse the primary wax “transition-layer” fully.
  4. Now you are ready to embellish with coloured waxes, textures, patinas, foils and stylus additions.

Chalk Paint can also be applied on top of collage items to prepare a distressed background for encaustic painting. You can read more here about my process of beginning with a mixed media collage ground.


Please add your comment and questions below.

About Christina Lovisa

Christina Lovisa is a self-taught contemporary, mixed media artist and instructor from Ottawa, Ontario. Working in a broad range of mediums, from encaustic (beeswax) to acrylic paints and mixed-media sculpture, she produces a varied range of artworks. Her client list includes Cirque du Soleil and the Michael Jackson Estate.

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20 thoughts on “Yes, you can use Chalk Paint in place of Encaustic Gesso”

  1. Reading step four of your chalk-paint-and-mixed-media encaustic lesson made my heart jump like a teenaged girl glimpsing a teen idol. Wow–“coloured waxes, textures, patinas”–makes me drool. I have never tried encaustic painting, but have always loved the richness of the media. Hunter Museum in Chattanooga has a huge one I used to go and look at–I forget the artist; and of course, encaustic paintings from art history. Sigh… wishing I was young and energetic again, with natural-hair brush in hand…

  2. Thanks for this question. It is one that I often get. The issue is not if encaustic will adhere to cement, because it absolutely will, rather will your cement adhere to your substrate? I have layered board, cement then encaustic to have the encaustic and cement come off the board in dry chunks with the weak part being the bond between board and cement. I suggest you test your cement bond to board before painting it with the wax.

  3. Hi..
    Thank you for all the information on your website. Its really helpful. I have one question though.. Is White Portland cement suitable as a primer/base ?

  4. Hi. I have been making my own chalk paint for years, by mixing plaster of Paris into acrylic paints. Do you think this would create a suitable base? I have so much here; would be nice to be able to use it!

    1. What did you use your plaster of Paris and acrylic paint for? I just used some white chalk paint (ran out of acrylic and found this at a nearby store) on a canvas and mixed with acrylic and loved it! I’m wondering if it’s archival, if it can be used without sealing, etc. before I dive in too deeply. Thanks!

  5. Hi, I am interested in using chalk paint as a gesso base on wood. Then putting layers of wax on top. THe coloured chalk paint would still be slightly visible and I assume it causes less wax to be absorbed into the wood. Do you need to put two coats of chalk paint on the wood? What about cheaper chipboard or MDF? Would layers of chalk paint work as a base for encaustic medium wih them as well! Thanks. Am excited to find new ways of working wih chalk paint.

  6. Hi there,
    do you know of any European or U.K based chalk or milk paint brands? I have such a hard time sourcing this kind of stuff.
    Can you just use oil paint to paint a picture then seal over with wax?

    1. Thank you for your question. Please refer to the blog post entitled, “Myths and Realities about Acrylic Gesso and Encaustic” issued by R&F on their blog. In the article they describe that the nature of the binder is not the issue for adhesion, it’s the properties of materials added to it that make an effective ground.
      As an interesting note to my blog post, when I first discovered chalk paint on a piece of painted furniture in the workshop, I was convinced it had merit when the sealant we used to finish our piece was beeswax.

    1. Thank you for your question! I should clarify that the adhesive added to chalk paint is different to each paint company. The adhesive can range from modified starch (wallpaper paste), hide glue (animal protein found in encaustic gesso), to acrylic glue. Yes there might be a tiny amount of “plastic” in your chalk paint made with acrylic glue, but in my experience it has never been significant enough (less than 3%), to affect the properties of the adhesion of the encaustic. Enjoy!

      1. Christina is absolutely correct and she has pioneered the use of our van Gogh Fossil Paint in encaustics. The glue in our paint was formulated specifically to bond with traditionally tough to adhere to surfaces. We use a polymer to do that. That’s why it works well for this purpose, even though it was not designed to do so. Happy Accident! Our paint has a high content of chalk in it – not all paints do. Most water-based paint contains some amount of chalk – AKA calcium carbonate, which is made from limestone, which is made from fossilized seashells – which is why we called ours Fossil Paint by the way. Chalk content is also high in Gesso- usually in the form of whiting or talc and is traditionally made from rabbit skin glue and whiting – you can make it yourself, many people do, I have when I was learning how to gild in the old masters way. Fun to play, but so much easier to just buy a good brand of chalk based paint. But not all paints that are sold as chalk based paints have a high chalk content and therefore, have different properties that may or may not perform as desired depending on your specific needs. Hope that helps and thank you Christina for using our paint in a whole new way! XO

        1. Hey there! I just ‘googled’ van Gogh fossil paint, but can’t find anywhere to buy it? Am I missing something, or is it no longer made?
          If not, an alternative paint brand / type for encaustic base layer?

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