How to do Encaustic Painting | Frequently Asked Questions

Help for Beginners who want to learn how to do Encaustic Painting

If you want to learn how to do Encaustic Painting you’re in the right place! Welcome. All Things Encaustic is a collaborative blog for artists working with encaustic.  If you’re just beginning to paint with Encaustic medium start here. If your question isn’t covered here, review our blog posts or add a comment at the bottom of the post and we will be happy to respond.

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Encaustic is the name for both a wax painting medium (beeswax and damar resin) and a painting process involving heat to apply and fuse the medium.  The name Encaustic comes from the greek enkaustikos which means “to heat” or “to burn”.  Heat is used throughout the encaustic painting process. Encaustic lends itself to mix media and collage, natural dried collage elements can be layered within the wax.

Here is a blog post offering a more detailed description including the History of Encaustic from The Artist’s Handbook

Yes, there are different methods of working with encaustic wax to create art:

  1. In traditional Encaustic painting, encaustic medium is melted in small tins on a griddle. Using a brush the medium is painted on an absorbent substrate such as a wood panel. Each layer is fused with a hot tool such as a blow torch, heat gun, iron or stylus.
  2. Encaustic Monotype printmaking – is painting with solid pigmented encaustic blocks or sticks on a heated plate or palette. Paper is then placed over the hot wax and pressed down with a barren. The artist will then pull a print from the plate.
  3. Three-dimensional encaustic sculptures – To create a 3-D encaustic sculpture the artist will create a skeletal structure using materials such as wire, wire mesh, plaster gauze and modeling paste. Paper, fabric or natural fibers are dipped into molten encaustic medium and applied to the skeletal form and fused.
  4. Iron Wax Painting has recently become popular. It involves melting pigmented blocks of wax directly on an encaustic iron. The iron instead of brushes is used as a tool to paint on cards or cardstock. An encaustic stylus with different nibs may also be used. Additional fusing is not required.

Cold wax painting is not encaustic as it does not use heat.

Proper safety precautions need to be exercised in every artist’s studio to reduce the risk of exposure to toxic substances.

Beeswax has a lovely natural smell and, if kept at the correct temperature, the effect of wax fumes is minimal. Only heat encaustic medium to the melting point, never to the point of smoking. Some people are more sensitive to wax fumes than others. If you develop headaches or respiratory irritation, try working outside or improve the ventilation inside your studio.

When making your own encaustic medium, make sure you use damar resin crystals—not damar varnish which is toxic.

Encaustic painting is solvent-free, eliminating the need for turpentine, mineral spirits, or oily rags in the studio. Dry pigments are not recommended, they are highly toxic.

Microcrystalline is a petroleum-based wax that will give off vapors in the molten stage. If you use microcrystalline medium instead of the traditional beeswax medium, extra consideration should be taken to provide proper ventilation.

Proper ventilation in the studio will significantly reduce potential hazards in the encaustic studio, open a window, or install a reverse fan or fume hood.  Using a Vent-a-Fume which has been designed for use in an encaustic studio is highly recommended.

For more information about encaustic safety please see The Artist’s Complete Health and Safety Guide

Use natural hair brushes for encaustic wax painting, synthetic brushes will melt.

As encaustic medium does not deteriorate the brush and can always be remelted, brushes can be left uncleaned indefinitely.

No solvent is necessary for cleaning encaustic equipment. Should you wish to clean your brushes, you can dip them in melted paraffin or soy wax. Soy wax is non-toxic and burns cleaner than paraffin. Soybeans are a renewable source, unlike paraffin. Soy wax is naturally biodegradable. Soy wax is also easier to remove than paraffin wax, so after the colour has been cleaned out of the brush, the brush can be washed with soap and water and is reusable in other mediums.

Enkaustikos manufactures a Slick Wax specifically for cleaning your encaustic brushes, tools, and even your palette between encaustic color changes. Rinse your brush in the slick wax and wipe off any excess wax with a paper towel, the slick wax will have removed the color.

Encaustic tools can be cleaned of wax and paint by leaving them on a hot surface and wiping them clean when the wax has melted.

No. Beeswax alone is just not durable enough. The addition of damar resin acts as a hardening agent allowing your painting to cure and will reduce or prevent blooming (a white clouding of the surface).

Yes you can use oil paint to add colour to plain encaustic medium.

When mixing oil paint with encaustic it is important to understand oil and wax relations see this Wax/Oil Ratio diagram from R&F. There is a danger, archivally, in making a mixture where the amount of oil and the amount of wax are equal. Do not add more than 25% paint to 75% medium 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.

Encaustic wax is applied to a painting in layers, fusing merges the layers together. Fusing as you work simply means to apply heat to allow each layer to soften enough in order to merge with the previous layers.

You need to fuse the first layer of wax to the substrate and then each subsequent layer needs to be fused to the layer below. There are a variety of encaustic fusing tools used by artists working in encaustic.

Yes. Always fuse the first layer to the substrate and each subsequent layer to the previous layer. Fusing provides bonding between layers and overall stability.

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 blow torch. Using different fusing tools will provide the artist with a variety of surface textures.

Read more from the blog: Encaustic Fusing Tools

Indoor environments, even on a very hot Summer day, are not usually hot enough to melt wax. The temperature would need to reach at least 150 degrees to start to soften the piece.

Don’t leave an Encaustic painting in a car, heat of the sun is intensified through car windows. Still, it is advised not to hang the painting in direct sunlight or very close to a heat source. When hanging or storing any fine art, temperature control and sunlight exposure should be considered.

When using an electric griddle or pallet to melt encaustic medium you want to keep it as low as you can so the medium is just melted between 150°F and 200°F – never above 200°F. You don’t want to get to a point where your wax is starting to smoke. You may want to purchase a griddle thermometer so that you can keep an accurate check on the temperature. You may find that temperature isn’t consistent all over the griddle – some spots may be hotter than others. A griddle thermometer will help you keep a check on that. A temperature regulator is a great tool for use with other fusing tools.

The whitish haze, clouding or spots that sometimes appear on the surface of an encaustic painting is called bloom.

Blooming can occur when the wax has been exposed to cold, causing unsaturated hydrocarbons in the beeswax to migrate to the surface and crystallize. Adding damar resin to beeswax helps prevent blooming. You can remove the bloom by buffing up the painting the palm of a clean, warm hand.

In her book “Encaustic Art the complete guide to creating fine art with wax” Lissa Rankin explains the difference between monoprints and monotypes.

“The meanings of the terms monoprint and monotype are very similar, because each technique yields one image (mono = one). …A monotype is a printed image from a plate containing no incising or matrix. It is therefore a singular image and cannot be replicated. A monoprint, on the other hand, is similar to the monotype with its drawing or painting, but… it has an additional matrix—something that can be replicated multiple times.”

With encaustic printmaking encaustic medium is painted directly on a hotbox or an anodized aluminum plate heated on an electric griddle. A print is then pulled from it. Each monotype is a one of a kind original.

Learn more about encaustic printmaking.

Microcrystalline is a relatively new petroleum-based wax, 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. Microcrystalline is also less expensive than beeswax. Microcrystalline wax will yellow over time from exposure to UV so it is very important to paint over and encapsulate the impasto wax layer.

Read more about microcrystalline

Gesso is a white paint mixture consisting of a binder mixed with chalk, gypsum, pigment, or any combination of these. It is used in artwork as a preparation for any number of substrates such as wood panels, canvas, and sculpture as a base for paint and other materials that are applied over it.

A gesso layer is optional. Many artists choose to work on gessoed grounds so that they are starting on a white surface. Artists working in encaustic often paint directly on raw wood and other absorbent substrates without gesso.

You can either purchase pre-gessoed boards or purchase encaustic gesso and apply it to the ground yourself.  As a general guideline, grounds for encaustic painting must be absorbent, so acrylic gessoes are not recommended. Rabbit-skin glue gesso is considered the most traditional, time-tested ground for encaustic.

A gesso layer is optional. Artists working in encaustic often paint directly on raw wood and other absorbent substrates without gesso. If you want to begin work on a white surface,  prepare the substrate with encaustic gesso. Gesso is also available in colors. Alternatives to gesso include venetian plaster or chalk paint.

You can return to a piece any time — just lightly fuse it to warm the wax and then start working on it again.

You may have seen YouTube videos that melt crayons for encaustic medium; this isn’t recommended. Crayons are made with paraffin wax. Paraffin is inexpensive but too brittle for encaustic, it tends to crack and chip.

Clear paraffin wax can be used in the encaustic studio to clean your brushes.

If you want to make sure that the method you are using will stand the test of time, use the freezer test. The freezer test is a way to check if a substrate or underpainting method is suitable for encaustic art.

  1. Start with a sample project
  2. Add a layer or two of encaustic medium
  3. Properly fuse the encaustic to the substrate
  4. Allow it to cool for an hour or more
  5. Place it in the freezer and leave it overnight
  6. Remove it from the freezer and drop it on the floor with force
  7. Inspect the painting —dented corners aside, if the encaustic has chipped away and separated from the underpainting or substrate then it isn’t compatible—if it held, then it is acceptable.

Encaustic is an ideal medium for assemblage / mixed media / collage painting. Encaustic wax can both preserve and adhere collage elements to artwork. Read more about encaustic collage here


If your question about how to do Encaustic Painting wasn’t covered above

  • You can also check out our blog posts for more in-depth answers to many of your questions.
  • Review the questions and answers in the comment section
  • Submit your own comment below

About Ruth Maude

I'm an artist from Toronto working in Encaustic. My day-job is as a WordPress web designer, developer and instructor. I started All Things Encaustic to document what I learn and to explore encaustic art.

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A Beginner's Guide to wax painting - Encaustic. What is Encaustic? Is Encaustic Toxic? Can I use wax crayons in an encaustic painting? Can’t I paint just with beeswax? Do I need to fuse every encaustic layer? and more...

37 thoughts on “How to do Encaustic Painting | Frequently Asked Questions


  1. what is the difference between an oil stick and a pigment stick in encaustics?


  2. If I create a series of monotypes using acrylic paint on thin paper (super thin), can embed the monotype(s) in my encaustic painting? I want to transparentize the paper in the painting with the wax but utilize some of interesting texturing from the monotype.

    Thanks!


    1. Hi Steve,

      Personally, I would only use an encaustic monotype in an encaustic painting. But I suggest you give the freezer test a try. See the question above “How do I check if a substrate is suitable for encaustic using the freezer test?”


  3. Can I use oil paint on encaustic.
    I would like to add clear letters.


  4. Hi. Can you recommend a good book to get me started. I live in England in the south west and can’t find any class to give me an introduction, but this is something I have wanted to do for a while as I love to layer.


  5. Is there a way to thin the wax? It seems that when putting the wax on the painting, it hardens so quickly and therefore difficult to get it to spread in an even manner. I know that you go over it with a heat source but I’m wondering if there’s a way to thinning it down even before applying it.


    1. Carolyn,

      No, you don’t want to thin the encaustic medium. What ratio of beeswax to damar resin are you using? If your substrate is warm before you start to apply that will help. You could also try the pouring technique.


    1. Hi Laurie,

      I save wax scrapings, melt them down and add black paint to make black medium. I don’t know of any way to filter out the pigment.


    1. Hi Nuella,

      You can use Plexiglass – You’ll want to use sandpaper or steel wool first to rough up the surface creating a toothy surface so the encaustic will adhere. I have never seen encaustic on glass. You can try and let me know how it works out. I would be interested to know if it is archivally sound.


  6. Hi,
    I see on Pinterest some artists using encaustic inside little tins…. do you think they had to prime the surface first with encaustic gesso… or went straight to wax? thank you!


    1. Jo,

      Encaustic Gesso is used to prime the substrate before wax is applied. This is an optional step.
      Encaustic Medium (beeswax and damar resin) is heated in little tins and oil paint or pigment is added to the melted medium. Does that answer your question?


    1. Hi Ronda,

      Yes you can use oil pastels with encaustic. You can draw directly onto wax with an oil pastel and then gently fuse.


  7. I have 2 questions.

    After applying and fusing a # of layers of pastel,is it okay to use encaustic paint over it?

    Also, I layer down an area of oil stick,and attempted to fuse lightly. Is it okay to paint over this with encaustic paint?

    Thank you for your reply


  8. hi ruth,

    when i apply the encaustic mixed with oil paint onto the board i’m painting on, it starts cracking and flakes off. i thought this might be because i had the wax too hot and the temperature change was too drastic once i put the paint on the board, but i turned down the heat and it still cracks. do you know why this is happening or how to fix it? thanks, madison


    1. Hi Madison,
      I’m not sure what you’re doing

      • are you painting on an unprimed wood substrate? The surface needs to be absorbent (not acrylic).
      • the temperature should be around 150°F – 200°F just until the medium melts and make sure it isn’t smoking.
      • did you make your own encaustic medium? What is the ratio of damar & beeswax?
      • are you fusing each layer of encaustic paint? You need to fuse each layer to the layer before.

      I hope I’ll be able to help you sort out the problem.


  9. I am just starting with encaustics and do not want to spend a lot of money on substrates, we have lots of scraps of plywood, drywall, water color paper around – can I use these just for practice?


  10. I don’t like to use gloves when I work encaustics. What’s the best way to remove wax from hands .?


    1. I don’t wear gloves working with beeswax encaustic medium and I don’t find that I need to do more than just wash my hands after painting. I took one workshop where we used microcrystalline wax, I didn’t like the way my hands felt that day and would have prefered using gloves. I would recommend gloves when using products such as shellac, dry pigments and alcohol inks. It is always wise to consult material safety data sheets for any product you use.


  11. Hi there. Thanks for your wonderful site – Im sitting at the other end of the world in South Africa where there is not much encaustic happening, so your advice is heaven sent. Can you please tell me – the photos printed on cardstock – how would you go about hanging this on a wall? Im not sure how to prepare this at all, perhaps framed but without glass like an oil painting?


    1. Hi Cindy,

      It’s so great to know that people all over the world are reading! Yes you can frame without the glass. I have framed my monotype paintings with matboard behind glass.


  12. Our studio just inherited boxes of vegtable based candle wax. Is this any good for encaustics?


    1. Hi Tracy,

      Please read this post about making encaustic medium. Medium is made with beeswax and damar resin. I don’t know what ingredients are in your candles. You can try if you want and then run a freezer test described in the question above. If it can withstand the freezer then it should be fine. But I wouldn’t sell these works if you aren’t sure that they will stand the test of time.


  13. Hi, Great blog and posts. I’m curious if you ever mix dry pigments into the wax medium to create your own colors. And if so, what ratio of pigment to medium do you tend to go for? Is it more cost effective to do it this way? I was recently looking at the French Quarry site, the earth tones are so luscious I’m curious about giving it a go; but would not like to invent a wheel, if there’s someone who already has this down pat, would love to know what they’ve discovered. Again, trying to reduce costs as much as possible. Thanks.


  14. Is it okay to use acrylic paints with encaustic Wax? Not mixing them together, but painting on tissue paper and between layers.


    1. Rhonda I don’t know anything about acrylic paints as I don’t use them. My understanding is that encaustic and acrylic won’t bond and it should be avoided. You could always give it a try on a test piece and then do the freezer test.

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