Pre-made encaustic medium can readily be purchased but you will save money if you make it yourself. Many artists buy the raw materials and make their own. Here’s what you need to know to make your own encaustic wax medium – materials and step-by-step instructions.
What is encaustic medium?
Encaustic medium is made with filtered beeswax and damar resin crystals. Synthetic waxes are commercially available, but beeswax is the type of wax that is traditionally used for encaustic art.
In its natural state beeswax is yellow. Bee pollen gives natural beeswax its yellow colour.
Refined, filtered or bleached beeswax:
White beeswax has been mechanically processed to filter out the bee pollen and turn it white.
Damar (or Dammar) resin crystals
Damar resin is a hard natural tree resin sourced from trees in East Asia and India. It is a sticky sap that oozes from the tree, the trees are not damaged by the extraction process. To prepare encaustic medium, damar resin crystals are added to beeswax. Do not use damar varnish.
The addition of damar resin crystals makes the medium more durable than beeswax alone and also serves to harden it and raise its melting temperature. Adding damar resin allows the encaustic painting to be buffed to a higher, more translucent sheen and helps prevent bloom (a white cloud on the surface).
Encaustic medium is available to buy in a variety of forms, as:
- ready-to-use encaustic paints (medium is premixed with colour pigment) in tins, blocks or sticks
- pre-made plain natural or refined encaustic medium to which you can add oil paint/pigment for colour
- raw materials (damar resin crystals and beeswax) to make your own encaustic medium —then adding oil paint or pigment for colour as you work
Equipment Needed to make Encaustic Medium
In addition to beeswax and damar resin crystals, you will need the following equipment. Silicone utensils work best.
- a deep heated vessel — i.e. an electric skillet or crock pot, electric palette, grill or griddle with a pan. Have a look at a thrift store — I bought mine for $7
- a thermometer to test the accuracy of your skillet
- a stirrer: wooden paint stick, silicone spoon, large natural brush
- to filter the medium you also need
- a tight-weave cloth such as microfiber cloths, cotton muslin or flannel sheets. If using cheesecloth, as in the video below, make sure you use multiple layers thick enough to capture all of the particulate matter.
- a large container – silicone, metal or plastic
- rubber bands to hold the cloth over the top of the container
- a silicone soup ladle
- silicone muffin cups
Recipe to make your own Encaustic medium
There is no standard encaustic medium recipe. Different artists and manufacturers will use a different ratio of damar to beeswax.
I purchase my encaustic beeswax & damar from Waxworks Encaustics. They use a 5:1 ratio of wax to damar resin crystals.
In the video below, artist Susan Crouse-Kemp uses 8 parts of filtered beeswax to one part damar resin crystals. The 8:1 ratio is common.
How to make your own Encaustic Medium
Important: never leave the skillet unattended during this process. Do this in a properly ventilated studio.
- Measure the beeswax and damar resin in the quantities specified in your recipe (Waxworks Encaustics damar/beeswax comes premeasured 🙂 ).
- Heat your skillet to 220°F (never above). Use a thermometer, don’t rely solely on the skillet temperature control.
- I wear disposable gloves and crush the damar resin crystals in a Ziploc bag with a hammer to speed up the melting process.
- Some people melt the beeswax first, others melt the damar first with just a bit of beeswax, still, others put them in together. Experiment to see how you like to do it. The damar will be very sticky.
- Stir the mixture until the damar resin crystals and wax are combined.
- If you are going to strain the medium you will need to ladle it through a cloth into a prepared container. You can use elastic bands to hold cheesecloth in place over your container.
- Once filtered you can ladle the medium into the muffin cups.
- Allow the medium to cool then pop them out.
- Sediment will have collected on the bottom of the pucks. You can heat the bottom of the puck and then scrape off the dirty wax and discard it.
Ready to get started? Buy filtered beeswax and damar resin here.
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