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Tinting Encaustic Gesso with Aqua-dispersions from Kama Pigments

How to Make and Pigment Encaustic Gesso

Encaustic Gesso is typically used to prime your substrate so that you are beginning with a white ground. But, encaustic gesso doesn’t have to be white. In this post, you’ll discover two ways to tint encaustic gesso.

Underpainting with Encaustic Gesso

In 2011, Hylla Evans introduced us to Using Coloured Gesso for Encaustic Underpainting. Underpainting allows you to map out your painting composition before you add wax layers.

Make your own encaustic gesso

In her post, Testing Suitable Encaustic Grounds using the Freezer Test, Amie Brand provides her recipe for making your own encaustic gesso.

2 part cheap white acrylic paint and 1 part calcium carbonate

Even R&F encaustic gesso has acrylic in it – go read Amie’s blog post. Chalk paint, milk paint and clay-based paints are also suitable for encaustic substrates.

ways to tint encaustic gesso

Whether you make your own encaustic gesso, use white chalk/clay-based paint or buy Encaustic Gesso, it is great to be able to mix your own coloured gesso.

According to R&F, you can use fluid acrylic paints to tint their encaustic gesso. Yes, R&F encaustic gesso does have some acrylic in it.

1. Tint encaustic gesso with high-flow or fluid acrylic paints

Can you tint encaustic gesso?  
Yes. I would recommend using a fluid acrylic. It will not allow the addition of too much acrylic, which would take away the gesso’s porosity. Since it is the same chemical it will mix in more uniformly than adding another type of medium, which might react to the acrylic in the encaustic gesso.

~ Richard Frumess, R&F Handmade Paints

2. Tint encaustic gesso with Kama Pigments Aqua-dispersions

Aqua-dispersions from Kama Pigments are another great way to tint encaustic gesso. Thanks to artist and instructor Jeffrey Hirst for teaching this to me.

AQUA-DISPERSIONS are finely ground pigments suspended in water that enables you to easily make any kind of water-based paint.

The term dispersion refers to the fact that the pigments aggregates have been separated (dispersed) to their finest level: the final result is an aqueous solution of finely divided pigments with outstanding tinting power. Hence, Aqua-dispersions should not be confused for paint or as a painting technique, but rather as another form in which pigments are available.

Kama Pigments

Think of when you go to the paint store to buy house paint. The cans of paint that are taken from the shelf don’t contain the pigment. When you select a paint chip, drops of pigment are added to the paint.

Aqua dispersions are pigments they don’t contain binders:
pigment + binder = paint.
Aqua-dispersions (pigment) + Encaustic Gesso (binder) = paint suitable for an encaustic ground.

The way I use these pigment preparations is to mix a few drops into white R&F encaustic gesso, stirring with a popsicle stick to combine. I mix up the colours as I need them. It is important to know that you can not mix Aqua-dispersions into molten wax.

Aqua Dispersion vs dry pigment

Aqua-Dispersions are made from the same high-quality pigments sold in powder form. You can use dry pigment, but be careful. There are health concerns when working with powdered dry pigments. Aqua-dispersions are pigments in water, so there isn’t as much of a concern about breathing in dry pigment that becomes airborne.

Give it a try!

I recommend tinting a small amount of encaustic gesso at a time. Keep in mind that the gesso is white so that is going to lighten your colours. I’m enjoying creating mixed-media underpaintings starting with coloured gesso, a variety of collage papers, and mark-making tools before I apply any wax. The underlying history creates a beautiful rich background for encaustic work.

Please add your comments below. If you want to share your work, join the All Things Encaustic Facebook group.

Further Reading:

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 “How to Make and Pigment Encaustic Gesso”

  1. All very useful, Ruth. Thanks.
    It’s great to hear about materials and techniques that broaden our understanding of this wonderful medium. Thank you for sharing this information… this is a great forum.

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