Encaustic painting is an ancient form of art, dating all the way back to the 5th century B.C.E, and ancient Greece. The word encaustic comes from the greek work ἐγκαυστικός, or enkaustikos, which means ‘burning in.’ This refers to the technique of fusing the pigment together with beeswax and damar resin with heat.
The bees wax could be melted down and applied to a wood surface with a brush or metal tools. A heated pallet would keep the medium flowing and easily mixable, and then the artist could manipulate the wax as it cooled. The damar resin was added to raise its melting temperature and to maintain its longevity. Because of the resin, and the natural properties of the wax, encaustic works can be polished, layered in thin patinas, applied with impasto, sculpted, scraped and more.
The ancient Greeks used encaustics for many applications, extending past murals and works of portraiture. Encaustics were also used to highlight sculptures, as well as adorn boats and architecture such as colonnades. The Greeks brought their knowledge to Egypt and some of the most well preserved encaustic pieces dating over 2000 years old come from there.
The Fayum mummy portraits were encaustic portraits that showcased the artist’s ability for realism and detail, capturing the faces of the deceased. These portraits can still be found in museums across the world today.
Not long after the rise of christianity though, encaustic works fell out of popularity. The process of heating the wax was an arduous one, and so other types of mediums that were more accessible, such as tempera, became more popular. It wasn’t until the 18th century, when the preserved walls of Herculaneum and Pompeii were uncovered by archaeologists before artists took an interest in the medium again. Still, without modern technology, constantly heating and liquifying the medium was tedious. Because of this encaustics didn’t really catch on again until the 1950’s, when electric irons, hotplates or a heated stylus became more widely available. The medium was made popular again by prolific artists like Jasper Johns and Fernando Leal Audirac.
Today, encaustic painting is practiced all over. It is a versatile medium that can be used in many different applications, including glazing, collaging, sculpting, stenciling, and image transfers. To watch a master at work, and see first hand how encaustics can be used to create stunning pieces, visit Scugog Arts on Saturday May 13th to watch Linda Virio demonstrate her practice.
For more information visit https://scugogarts.ca/events/encaustics-demo-with-linda-virio/