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encaustic underpainting with a stay-wet palette

Encaustic Underpainting using a Stay-Wet Palette

What is Encaustic Underpainting?

In art, an underpainting is a foundational layer of paint applied to a ground. When working in layers an underpainting serves as a base for the final painting, providing structure and helping to establish the basic composition through values and shapes.

Encaustic underpainting refers to the technique of creating a base composition with pigmented encaustic gesso on a surface before applying encaustic wax medium. Encaustic underpainting allows the artist to establish layers of marks, textures, and colours beneath the translucent wax layers. The process of concealing and revealing marks beneath layers of wax is particularly intriguing in encaustic painting. As the artist builds up layers of wax, they have the opportunity to selectively reveal or obscure elements of the underpainting, creating a dynamic interplay between the hidden and revealed layers. This technique can add depth to the finished artwork, inviting viewers to explore the layers and textures within the piece.

Encaustic gesso, is specifically formulated to bond well with wax, and should be used instead of traditional acrylic gesso. To ensure the longevity and stability of an encaustic painting, it’s important to use compatible materials throughout the entire process, including the underpainting stage. Encaustic wax needs a porous surface to adhere properly. Acrylic paint contains plastic polymers that can cause adhesion issues when layered with encaustic wax. This can lead to issues such as cracking or delamination over time as the different materials expand and contract at different rates in response to changes in temperature and humidity which compromises the archival quality of the artwork. (Read more here about Tinting Encaustic Gesso).

What is The Purpose Of A Stay-wet Palette?

Using a stay-wet palette was a tip that I first learned from Nicholas Wilton a number of years ago when I enrolled in CVP (The Creative Visionary Program). This has been such a helpful tip for my own painting practice that I wanted to share it with you.

A stay-wet palette offers a straightforward solution for prolonging the usability of fast-drying paints, keeping them fresh for days. I’ve found that a stay-wet palette is highly effective for keeping my encaustic gesso and chalk paint workable. It is also an ideal surface for mixing my colours.

What you need to make your own Stay-Wet Palette:

You can purchase a stay-wet palette or you can create your own following these instructions

How-To make a stay-wet palette:

  1. Lay blue shop towels on a plastic cafeteria tray (you need 2 trays per palette)
  2. Cut parchment paper to fit the tray
  3. Soak the paper towel with water then place the parchment paper on top of the wet shop towel
  4. Drain off any excess water
  5. Put encaustic gesso on this surface and mix in Kama aqua-dispersion pigment directly on this palette.
  6. If you need to walk away, place the second tray over the top

Further Reading

Here are three other posts that talk about encaustic underpainting that might interest you.

Be sure that your underpainting is completely dry before adding wax.

In this post, I refer to Nicholas Wilton and his courses. The Art of Your Life Free Workshop with Nicholas Wilton is a free week-long online video series delivered to your inbox. Nick will teach you how to harness the principles of Design, Value, and Color to REALLY ramp up your art… and, have a lot more fun while you’re at it.

About Ruth Maude

I enjoy experimenting with a variety of encaustic materials, techniques and tools. Everything I learn pushes my creative journey in new directions. I share what I've learned with other artists through my blog All Things Encaustic.

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8 thoughts on “Encaustic Underpainting using a Stay-Wet Palette”

  1. Can I use Ceracolors as an underpainting?

    Also thank you for your blog. I always love it when I see it in my inbox!

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