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How to achieve a Smooth Encaustic Surface

The Best Way To Paint A Smooth Encaustic Surface

A perfectly smooth surface is the hardest to achieve in encaustic painting. When fusing, air bubbles from the substrate rise up through the wax and cause tiny pinholes on the surface of the encaustic painting. Getting rid of those pesky little pinholes, without causing more, is the challenge we face.

Fusing to achieve a smooth encaustic surface is a skill that you develop as you become more experienced. I do love texture and for some works, I don’t mind a few holes. But, that said, encaustic artists need to know how to prevent and remove holes to create a smooth surface when necessary. When trying to achieve a smooth surface I recommend using an iron over a heat gun. Fusing with a heat gun may actually cause more air bubbles to rise. The iron is an excellent choice for this, the iron will push the top layer of wax down into the low spots and even out any texture.

How to achieve a smooth encaustic surface

  1. When you are trying to achieve a smooth surface, start with a good quality substrate such as Ampersand Encausticboard. An inexpensive plywood substrate will result in more air bubbles i.e. more pinholes.
  2. An alternative to expensive pre-gessoed Encausticboard is to prepare a good quality wood substrate with encaustic gesso or chalk paint. This will seal the wood and help reduce the number of air bubbles.
  3. Before applying wax, preheat your substrate. I typically use a heat gun to warm up the entire surface. When working large, you may need to have a heat gun in one hand and a brush in the other to keep the substrate warm as you apply the encaustic medium.
  4. Always use a warm brush. Rest brushes on the edge of the heated pallet so it is kept nice and warm.
  5. Avoid overlapping brush strokes. Lay the next brush stroke right next to but, not on top of, the previous stroke.
  6. Choose a torch or an iron instead of a heat gun to fuse. A heat gun can cause more air bubbles to rise to the surface.
  7. Fuse in the opposite direction to your brush strokes.
  8. When fusing, avoid stopping midway across the painting’s surface. Keep the torch or iron moving right off the end of the panel.
  9. Don’t over-fuse one spot! Over-fusing will create hot spots, pools and waves of wax that are very difficult to resolve.
  10. Don’t backtrack over a bubble-free already smooth area. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve kicked myself for this one!
  11. Allow the painting surface to cool to the touch, then use a mini razor blade holder or your favourite clay loop tool to scrape the surface removing any raised texture.
  12. Next, warm up the area and smoosh razor-thin wax scrapings into any pinholes. You’ll need to fuse again with your torch to fuse in the scrapings and remove the scrape marks. Fuse as lightly as possible hopefully, more air bubbles won’t surface as you do.

When finished you can buff the smooth encaustic surface to a glossy shine.

If you’re struggling then keep practicing. It will take time to learn to control the wax.

Another way to achieve a smooth encaustic surface is by doing an encaustic pour. Check out How To Do An Encaustic Pour For Outstanding Results.

Do you have anything to add? Please post a comment below.

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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7 thoughts on “The Best Way To Paint A Smooth Encaustic Surface”

  1. I have cyanotype photos on cardstock greeting cards that I want to put encaustic wax on. my wax applied with a hake brush is streaky and has small bubbles in it. Can I repair it? I appreciate your tips. Now it looks like I’ll have to buy an iron. Thanks if you can respond.
    Carole

  2. I am just starting with wax, thank you I have so much to learn.
    I live in AZ where it is not possible to work outside today it will be 107…
    I can’t even get started, at the moment I work on my kitchen table.

  3. Thank you so much for all the great instruction, tips and insperation you so generously share. Mahalo and aloha from Hawai’i!

  4. Hi Ruth, I have been a lifelong friend of Joseph Goldberg, the Jeweled earth. He started encaustic painting in the 80s. I used to make sub frames for his paintings. These were very light and stiff frames that would not warp with his torch. He stretched linen across the frames and I never saw any bubbling problem from His encaustic mixture. His paintings appear very deep and look like polished rock. I hope that you have had a chance to see his work. You can see his work at Greg Kucera gallery. – Chester

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