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.
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 may also want to 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 art the artist will fuse the layers of wax with either a heat gun (not a hair dryer), 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 consider ventilation of your studio space and 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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