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Encaustic and Soft Pastels

My Encaustic painting, Station to Station, 18″ x 24″, is an example of the effect achieved by combining pastels (not oil!), used before the Encaustic medium is applied. This mixed media piece shows yet another reason to love Encaustic!

Using Soft Pastels (not oil) before Encaustic medium is applied:

First, apply Encaustic gesso (R&F makes an excellent one) on your substrate, once it is dry, you can draw with pastel (the soft, chalky pastels – NOT oil pastels). Then you can paint with Encaustic medium and add more Encaustic colours!

In addition to using soft pastels, you can also use watercolours, gouache, Conté, charcoal, graphite, and many more media on the awesome R&F gessoed surface before applying the Encaustic medium. One word of caution, be careful not to saturate the surface with water. This matte, chalky gesso is water soluble.

Using Oil Pastels with Encaustic:

I recommend the use of oil pastels only as a final embellishment after all fusing is done. If you are using high-quality artist-grade oil pastels, you can actually use those highly pigmented sticks to create your own Encaustic pigment, in a pinch, for a certain colour. But be aware that oil and paraffin are used as binders, so the smell and feel of the wax will be less like the bees’ wax we know and love. Also, be sure, when mixing any oil based pigments with bees’ wax, that the ratio of oil to wax is no more than 30% oil to 70% wax, otherwise you’ll be compromising the integrity of the wax’s archival strength. Another very cool option is to use R & F or other high-quality oil sticks, made with beeswax, linseed oil and loads of pigment. Again, you can tint your paints with them, but remember that 30 to 70% ratio of oil to wax.

Please add your comments.

About Victoria Wallace

Victoria Wallace is a Canadian visual artist working, exhibiting and conducting workshops in acrylic, encaustic, and sculptural media. Victoria’s paintings reference trompe l’oeil techniques mastered through 25 years of operating her mural and specialty paint finish company in Toronto, which included work for television, film, theatre, restaurants, businesses and private collections across Canada and internationally. Infused with luminance, subjects range from high realism to abstraction; painting to sculpture.

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22 thoughts on “Encaustic and Soft Pastels”

  1. I think this is brilliant. I love the effect. Does this “set” the soft pastel? Meaning is the soft pastel more protected under encaustic than it would have been without it? I’d love to experiment with this. I wonder if encaustic would adhere to a pastel paper like UArt. Thanks for writing about this!

  2. Hi, Victoria, I recently gessoed a stretched canvas (primed with acrylic gesso) with R&F Encaustic Gesso. (I worked on a sample canvas and it seemed to be ok).The reason being because of its absorbency claim. I wanted to experiment using Golden acrylic paints to see how they worked on encaustic gesso. I didn’t like the results…way too absorbent. So I gessoed a coat of acrylic gesso over the encaustic gesso and let it dry for 24 hours. My question is, is it safe to use acrylics now or did I ruin the canvas in doing so, and should start over with a new canvas?. And will the last coat of acrylic gesso adhere to the encaustic gesso or fall off someday? I hope I explained this correctly.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Gregg

      You can now safely paint with acrylics on your acrylic gessoed canvas, however, I’d suggest you apply one more coat of the acrylic gesso and leaving it to dry before doing so.

      The reason i suggest the second coat is the R & F gesso’s water solubility. Painting with acrylic (paint or gesso), because it is water soluble when wet, would have moistened, and thus reactivated the R &F gesso again. This may have left some areas of the encaustic gesso still exposed. So, to play it safe, I’d apply a second coat of acrylic gesso.

        1. You’re welcome, Gregg 🙂

          On another note, i just want to say it’s best not to use encaustic on stretched canvas. The reason is because canvas remains flexible, even though it’s stretched. Thus, any pressure on the canvas that’s been painted with encaustic could crack or ‘break’ the dry waxy surface off from the canvas.
          It’s not that encaustic can’t be used on canvas, but it would be best to attach the canvas to a rigid substrate, like a braced wood or masonite panel, then do your encaustic artwork.

  3. I know you have addressed a similar thing to this before, so apologies if it sounds the same. I have a large canvas where i used oils pastels, then washed it off mostly with a turpentine rag, then etched into the color residue with turps on a brush to get a lightish imprint of a design. So there isn’t much oil pastel left on the canvas, but if i rub my fingers over it, i do get a hint of color as i know oils p never dry. I am very keen to now continue this work with encaustic, would you advise against it as you mentioned it might slide off, or do you think the diluted medium will suffice? thank you.

  4. Victoria, I have a question about using encaustic over vine charcoal applied on unsized watercolor paper (~240lbs)

    I would like to know what surface preparation I need so that layering thin encaustic glazes will do not disturb/mix into the charcoal underdrawing. Is this where I could use an encaustic gloss medium (like you have mentioned above)?

    Kind regards, Michael

    1. I am also wondering how to layer encaustic over charcoal or graphite without smearing the drawing. Should some sort of fixative be used?

    1. Hi Debbie

      The soft pastel painting will be slightly disturbed, but as you can see by the photo of my encaustic painting on a combination of soft pastels and Conté sticks, above, the disturbance can be minimal, if applied in single strokes of the encaustic medium on the pastel-painted surface, and then heat fused. The ‘single strokes’ I’m talking about mean that you won’t be stroking the brush back and forth over the soft pastels with the medium, which could ‘move them around’. Once the encaustic coat is on and fused, the pastels will be protected.

      Additionally I just noticed someone suggested doing something called ‘the freezer test’ to see if the “wax will fall from the surface of the substrate”. I just want to address this. NEVER put fine art work of any kind into the freezer, oven, hot car in summer,direct sunlight, outdoors in winter, etc. Artwork and artistic media are not designed to EVER be treated in such a brutal manner. Art works should be treated like…well, art works. We do not need to know if the art work will stand up to harsh climatic conditions because we don’t treat art that way – it simply isn’t done!

  5. Hi Victoria,

    Thanks for the reply.

    I would like some more information.

    My original question was about oil pastels on their own (meaning apply the pastels directly on canvas that has been primed with acrylic gesso). But you suggest that this isn’t a good idea because eventually they will come off. I was wondering if you mean eventually as in a few weeks/months or eventually as in a few decades?!?!?

    Also, do you recommend Dry Media Ground for oil paints, or can oil paints be directly applied to a canvas primed with acryclic gesso?

  6. Dorothy, are you asking about oil pastels with encaustic or simply oil pastels on their own? I will post answers to both questions.
    Encaustic or oil media should not be used on top of acrylic gesso. It will come right off the surface of the paint, eventually. However, you can use an acrylic medium especially designed for oil pastels and other media as your primer/base coat on top of the gesso’d canvas. TriArt makes an excellent product called Dry Media Ground – I just gave a workshop at the Buckhorn Fine Art Festival on the weekend demonstrating and teaching the use of this versatile medium. You can use even a very thin coat of Dry Media Ground on your gesso’d canvas and it will accept the oil pastels wonderfully.
    With encaustics, the answer is no- do not use encaustics on an acrylic gesso’d canvas. It simply will all off the surface because it won’t stick. There is no adhesion of wax to acrylics…period.
    So, to recap, if you mean to use oil pastels on canvas, you must coat with a medium especially designed for the job,like TriArt’s Dry Media Ground.
    Incidentally, my painting above, called Station to Station, is dry pastels, also called soft pastels with some charcoal and graphite under encaustic – not oil pastels!
    Happy painting!

      1. Hi Mary 🙂
        I did not put the soft pastels on top of a waxed surface – they wouldn’t have adhered. I applied the encaustic medium on top of the pastel/conte covered surface very carefully. That is, i knew the pastel/conte surface was not ‘fixed’, or permanently adhered. So, when i applied the medium, i tried to put only a single brush stroke of encaustic medium on the dry media knowing more than one stroke could spread/distort the image I’d created with the dry media/pastel or conte. Also, i knew the brush would/could pick up the pastel, thus tinting the encaustic medium when i reloaded the brush.
        This may sound like a bit of a meticulous process, but the medium must be applied carefully and with caution. Spraying fixation on pastel only darkens the colours. Careful experimentation is required. Good luck and be careful!

      2. Hi Mary – i already answered your questions, but I’ll repeat:
        (1) no fixative because it darkens the colours of the pastels
        (2) soft pastels not applied on wax because they wouldn’t stick.

        You can, however, use oil pastels (and oil paints, too) on top of or under encaustics, but not more of a ratio of 30% oils (oil pastel or oil paint) to encaustic.

  7. I am just starting to use oil pastels. I was wondering if it would be fine to use them on canvas that has been primed with acrylic gesso/primer?

  8. Why can’t you paint with oil pastels on the board and then layer medium over it? What happens when you do it?


    1. Use of oil pastels with Encaustic, as a final addition after all of your fusing is done, is fine *always use high quality artist-grade oil pastels because they contain a high pigment load in an oil and paraffin binder. You can even use those highly pigmented sticks to create your own Encaustic pigment. But oil and paraffin are used as binders, so the smell and feel of the wax will be less like beeswax. Most importantly, you should be aware that any oil based products (like oil paints or pastels) used with encaustic compromise the archival strength of the encaustic painting, so the ratio of oil to wax should be no more than 30% oil to 70% wax. The point here is that you want your art work to last – especially if you are intending to sell your art work. It wouldn’t be very nice to hear back from someone who had bought one of your paintings that it is slipping off of the surface because too much oil pastels or paints were used under the encaustic medium. Similar is the point in not using acrylics under encaustic – it will eventually slide clean off!

      1. I have known of other artists using a small amount oil pastels within layers of an encaustic painting. In small quantities, I believe it is fine but not for an entire underpainting as Victoria has done here. I have heard some artists say “you can do this” and others say “you should never do this”. There is so much experimentation with encaustic and differing opinions. You can experiment and then see if your experimental piece stands up to a freezer test. If it doesn’t fall to pieces after being frozen it can be considered an archivally sound practice.

  9. Really enjoy your paintings especially your encaustic.Subject matter is wonderful,interesting and very dramatic.

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