Get started with Encaustic Painting
If you’ve been asking yourself, “how do I do encaustic painting?” and now you’re ready to get started, this post will help you choose the encaustic supplies and hot wax tools you need to set up your studio. You can also learn a lot more about encaustic painting by reading the other posts in the encaustic beginner’s guide.
How To Set Up An Encaustic Studio
Encaustic is an expensive medium, and you should consider your budget before you begin.
If you’re ready to jump all in, a full encaustic painting kit is one way to get everything you need in one go. Alternatively, you can pick up encaustic art studio tools and supplies piece by piece.
Here’s a link to my Amazon Shopping Lists – buying through these links helps support this site, so thanks!
What tools and supplies do I need to set up my encaustic studio?
You will need to set up a studio space that has good ventilation and you will need to purchase hot tools and supplies. Read more here about Venting your Encaustic Studio. Alternatively, you can begin by working outside in a sheltered area.
If you’re ready to begin painting with encaustic you need to start with encaustic medium. Medium is made with filtered beeswax and damar resin crystals and is available in a variety of forms, as:
- ready-to-use encaustic paints (medium is premixed with colour pigment) in tins, blocks or sticks. You will also want plain encaustic medium as well as the coloured blocks.
- pre-made natural (golden) or filtered (white) encaustic medium to which you can add oil paints or pigment
- raw materials (damar resin and beeswax) to make your own encaustic medium to which you can add oil paints for colour
What you need when setting up your encaustic studio depends on how you paint. For method 1 above (using ready-made encaustic blocks)… you don’t require oil paints or many tins. You can melt a small amount of medium on a hot griddle and brush it onto your panel.
Griddle or Hot Palette:
To melt encaustic medium you will need an Encaustic Palette, Electric Griddle or Hot Plate. An ideal hot palette is one that heats evenly and offers a refined temperature control.
You should also purchase a griddle thermometer to ensure that you aren’t over-heating your medium.
Brushes for encaustic painting:
Use natural hair brushes for encaustic, synthetic brushes will melt. Hake brushes work well if you leave them sitting on the side of the hot palette to keep them warm as you paint.
You don’t have to worry too much about cleaning your brushes but if you do want to clean them use soy wax.
In encaustic painting, the artist will fuse the layers of wax with either a heat gun (not a hairdryer), an encaustic iron or a torch. Using different fusing tools creates a variety of surface textures.
You may be interested to read more about fusing tools on the post: Choosing the right encaustic fusing tools.
If you are using plain encaustic medium you will want a variety of oil paints in your studio to add colour to the wax:
- Do not add more than 25% paint to 75% wax, or you will end up with a wax that won’t harden
- Glazes of colour can be made using a very small amount of paint to the encaustic medium
- Stay away from oil paint with health warnings on the label and don’t use Prussian blue (toxic when heated) or zinc white (curdles when heated)
If you are adding oil paint to pigment plain medium, you will need small metal bowls or tins to melt the medium in. Have a look at your local thrift store for inexpensive baking tins. Choose flat bottom metal tins – rounded bottom bowls can be tippy and you don’t want to spill precious encaustic paints!
You’ll want a couple of large metal tins for plain medium. I use one for golden medium and one for filtered white medium. Golden medium gives that lovely beeswax smell and can be used to mix paint colours on the yellow side of the colour wheel.
My favourite tins are square ones that I bought from Uline.
Substrates for encaustic painting:
Ideal surfaces for the encaustic artwork are absorbent, rigid and heat resistant. Suitable grounds include wood, untempered Masonite, canvas or linen stretched over a panel, plywood, drywall or plaster, heavy watercolour or printmaking paper and even plexiglass! Painting on stretched canvas on stretcher bars is not recommended. It is not rigid and when heated and covered with wax it sags. It is also important to note that most canvases from an art supply store has been primed with acrylic gesso, which is not compatible with encaustic. An alternative to acrylic gesso is to use encaustic gesso, raw wood or chalk paint. Experiment with a variety of substrates and grounds to find your favourite.
Wax is a marvellous adhesive, you can embed just about anything into it, making encaustic a perfect medium for mixed media collage. You’ll want to have a supply of collage elements in your studio.
Before you begin to paint with wax it is important to ensure that you have a fire extinguisher close at hand especially when working with a blow torch! Read more here about fire safety in the art studio.
Want to learn more about Encaustic Wax Painting?
Now that you have all the tools and your encaustic studio is set up, read about the encaustic painting process.
Please add any comments or questions below.
Encaustic paint pots image source: Andrea Bird used by permission
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25 thoughts on “How to get started with Encaustic Painting | List of Tools & Supplies”
Hi, I just saw a photo of encaustic art and got curious. I work with cyanotype on watercolor paper (300gsm) and was wondering if I can use part of this encaustic technique to protect it instead of a regular frame with glass? Are there any tutorials or books on how to do this on paper that already has its motive?
Sure Maria you can do encaustic on a cyanotype print. Here is a tutorial https://youtu.be/YoQODBS5r50
Hi – thanks for the informative website! It’s so helpful. I’ve recently ordered a few things and am eager to soon begin playing with this artistic process – starting with photo Prints. Can you please tell me though, what’s a typical ratio of beeswax to dammar resin? I can’t seem to find the answer. Many thanks.
Hello Robert – personally I like a hard medium so I use a 5:1 ratio. I think 8:1 is where people often start. Have a look at this post https://allthingsencaustic.com/making-encaustic-medium/
Hello! I’ve ready that doing encaustic art can be toxic – but I don’t understand what makes it toxic? Is it when melting damar resin with beeswax? Or is it adding the pigments that makes it toxic?
Is there a different tree resin one can use?
With adequate ventilation and a working temperature that is under 200°F, encaustic is a safe medium to work with. It is important to use a thermometer to keep a check on your temperature. Encaustic fumes, when released at a safe temperature, are not considered dangerous. Yet, all wax mediums, when heated, – whether as candles, batik, or encaustic—release a mixture of invisible fume (in the form of tiny particles) and gases, such as acrolien and aldehydes.
Hi Ruth Maude,
I used my pancake griddles for the first time to melt my wax which is in tins with flat bottoms. I had a thermometer on the surface which read anywhere between approximately 150-200 degrees F, depending when the griddle thermostat came on. The wax did not completely melt in the tins. I waited about an hour and a half, got frustrated and unplugged it all. Not sure what to do.
Hmmm sounds like you’re doing everything right. Try turning up the temperature. Maybe the thermometer is faulty. If you are melting a small amount of medium in a tin it will melt fairly quickly, full tins can take 45 minutes.
Thanks for the speedy reply! The thermometer is brand new, purchased from R & F while I was in Santa Fe for the Artisan Expo in Sept. Maybe I’ll get another to test out. I was heating some 1.5 oz hot cakes for transfer into a larger 8 oz tin so I could add some medium. I also was thinking that I would have to increase the temperature slightly. Am nervous about overheating the wax but I am not ready to put out the cash for an R&F encaustic hot plate just yet.
Angela, 200 degrees is fine as long as the wax isn’t smoking. I would just give it longer to melt. I haven’t used the R&F hot plate, I haven’t heard great things about it. I use a pancake griddle for pots.
I’ve been looking at electric warming trays instead of griddles for melting wax and encaustic paints. Found some with variable temperature controls with the highest temp reaching about 200 degrees and use less electricity to operate. They are available with stainless steel, porcelain or tempered glass tops. Do you have any advice as to which type top would be preferable for use with encaustics?
These sound interesting. I suggest going on one of the Facebook groups and asking your question there. Hopefully, someone else who has tried them will be able to give you an opinion. Please comment back after you’ve tried it and let us know how well it works.
I would love to do encaustic art, but as I live in the tropics I’m hesitant due to my work melting. Our candles melt here at times so encaustic art would too don’t you think. Or maybe there is something that can be added to the wax to firm it up?
Damar resin is added to beeswax to make encaustic medium. Damar resin acts as a hardening agent and to prevent bloom. Temperatures would need to reach 150 degrees to start to soften the piece. You wouldn’t want to expose any fine art to extreme temperatures or direct sunlight. Your paintings would be fine to hang in an air conditioned home..
Can I use the heat from my “Grill-Panini” electric heating appliance to melt or heat wax? The “Griddle” side’s lowest temperature is 200 degrees, which is too hot.
Mary, you don’t want to overheat the wax. And you don’t want to use an appliance that you will use again for cooking food. I use an old pancake griddle
Hi Ruth- I don’t have a thermometer at present so the temperature of my encaustic paints are varying a bit-I’ve read that artists sometimes paint with the wax at a lower temperature to get a matt / more textured effect; does paint applied at lower temperatures have the same stability? i.e. if I am applying layers is it neither here nor there what the is because the temperature of the wax will be brought ‘up’ when I fuse it? Thanks
You want to just heat your wax to melting point. The only cautions I’ve heard are not to overheat – you don’t want it to smoke.
Can you use encaustic on paper?
Yes Dave you can use heavy watercolour or printmaking paper. You may be interested in this post about a workshop I took at the Japanese Paper Place.
Thank you so much. I will buy some encaustic gesso
Hi Im very new to encaustic and was wondering if you can use a white acrylic paint as a base coat instead of gesso? Thanks for all the great information.
You can read more about gesso on this post – Encaustic Gesso. Victoria doesn’t recommend acrylic as it isn’t considered archivally sound.
I’m trying to learn how to do collage and encaustic when do I use encaustic gesso? Mary
You don’t have to use encaustic gesso but if you choose to use it, you would paint the panel with encaustic gesso and allow it to dry before you add any encaustic medium to the painting. You can use chalk paint as an alternative to encaustic gesso. Check out this post for creating a mixed media collage background on the substrate before adding encaustic. https://allthingsencaustic.com/mixed-media-collage-ground/