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How to use Ephemera in Encaustic Painting

How to use Ephemera in Encaustic Painting

I’ve always loved history. It gives you a sense of where you come from and helps to guide you where you want to go. My first career was as an archivist for a municipal government. I loved looking through historical documents and photos. My job included retrieving and providing access to the original documents for research, delivering school programs, accessioning and organizing new acquisitions to the permanent collection, curating exhibits, along with digitizing parts of the collection. In my career as an artist, this love of history shines through. I incorporate historical photos, books, magazines, maps, and various ephemera.

What is ephemera?

Ephemera are any transitory written or printed matters that are not meant to be retained or preserved. The word derives from the Greek ephemeros, meaning “lasting only one day, short-lived”. Wikipedia

Ephemera is generally defined as collectable memorabilia that was for a short term purpose. Think show tickets, ticket stubs, playing cards, postcards and more. … But oftentimes, we do keep and cherish ephemera items – especially vintage ones and we often put them in scrapbook pages. [source]

Sources of ephemera and historical documents for collage

When collecting ephemera for collage, look for recipe cards, event tickets, receipts, address books, calendars, letters, journals, road maps, magazines, comic books, sewing or knitting patterns, mail-order catalogues, music, labels or packaging, menus, flyers or notices, etc.

  • Ephemera paper collections are available to purchase in lots and packages online from eBay, Etsy or Amazon. Use keyword searches such as “ephemera lot” or “ephemera bulk”
  • Used bookstores, thrift and antique shops
  • Many scrapbook papers incorporate ephemeral images
  • Try Googling ephemera and search the image results. You can print out copies of the scanned images
  • Many archives and libraries have digital collections. Oftentimes the images are free to download. Check out these links

Use photocopies

Some things are actually historical documents. If you find something you’re not willing to part with forever, make a colour photocopy or take a digital scan. This way you can resize the document or change its colours, then print it out to use in your artwork.

TIP: If the item is too thick, make a photocopy on regular printer paper so it will be easier to collage with wax.

Original Work by Amelia Kraemer

Encaustic and ephemera


I glue almost all of the items down before using encaustic medium. I use a cellulose (or wheat-based) wallpaper paste mixed with a small amount of white glue.


I fuse with a combination of the iron and the blow torch to ensure flat, smooth paintings. I use the iron to initially flatten the wax, then come in with a low, soft torch flame to smooth everything out.

Wax changes things

When you apply wax over old book pages you need to keep in mind that the paper will absorb the wax and darken. The paper will also become translucent (you’ll see the words written on the other side of the page).

The same thing happens to your photocopies. The white areas of your printed image are just blank paper. They will become translucent with the wax and the under layers will show through. If you don’t want this to happen, apply Liquitex Clear Gesso to the front of the paper and it let dry, before waxing.

Copyright Concerns

I am not a lawyer the following should not be considered as legal advice.

Collage is a time-honoured art form that utilizes pre-existing materials, which may or may not be copyrighted. It is always best to choose images that are open-source or in the public domain.

If the materials are copyrighted your unauthorized use of those materials could be copyright infringement unless your collage qualifies as fair use. Copyright regulations vary depending on your country. My understanding is that the new work must be transformative, any copyrighted element must not be too substantial in terms of the overall work, and the artist must have a genuine creative reason for using the copyrighted image. If you want to use a copyrighted image, you may want to consult a lawyer and make an effort to obtain permission from the original copyright holder.

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How to use ephemera in encaustic painting

About Amelia Kraemer

Amelia Kraemer combines her love of history and visual arts. She received a degree in Near Eastern Archaeology and Canadian History, as well as a post-graduate certificate in Museum Management. After life circumstances withdrew her from her full-time work as an archivist, she turned to the visual arts. She shows her work around southwestern Ontario and teaches at her shared studio at the Elora Centre for the Arts.

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1 thought on “How to use Ephemera in Encaustic Painting”

  1. Great article Amelia! I must admit “ephemera” was a new term for me but now I know what to call all my old ticket stubs, postcards, etc.

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