I recently have been planning to tinker with encaustics. Is it necessary to prepare the surface & how is that done? I know it can be used on canvas & wood panels & there are special clayboards. I would appreciate any advice.
Hi Kathy. I have begun "tinkering" with encaustics already. The big thing to NOT do is use acrylics including acrylic gesso. R & F makes something they call encaustic gesso which is a version (I think) of an oil painting type ground called rabbit skin glue. I got a small jar from R & F and it just looks like and acts like regular gesso so you can apply it in the normal way. I have been using 140 watercolor paper affixed to a board with acrylic medium which won't come in contact with the wax paints but will provide a nice sealing barrier between the more acidic wood and the cotton paper.
All the encaustic paintings I have seen so far have been more like collage than pure wax. A lot of them are more like what decoupage used to look like back in the 1970's. Instead of using a sealer people just pour wax over the surface of the photo. or they embed various things in the wax. I did a transfer that was cool. You melt the wax paint then apply it to your paper or board. then you take a laser copy (won't work with inkjet copies) and turn it face down on the waxed surface. you burnish the back with a spoon to press the inked side into the wax. then take clean water and using your finger or a sponge wet the back of the paper. Then simply rub the paper off leaving behind the inked area. You have to be careful in using this technique if you apply more layers of wax because the melting wax (from the use of the heatgun) can shift your inked bits of paper.
The only thing I've seen done in videos so far that the manufacturer's of the encaustic paints warn against is using shellac over wax and then setting it on fire to get crusty effects. For one thing the shellac has dangerous solvents that when heated can harm you and of course it's highly flammable! the other thing is if wax is heated to the burning smoking point it also gives off harmful fumes. I heated my paints too high once and the paint separated from the damar/wax medium and smoked and gave off an acrid smell. 165 to 200 is the recommended temperature. I use a pancake griddle to set my tin pans of paint on. I bought the paint from Enkaustikos. R & F sells their paint in little blocks which you melt directly on the griddle for a puddle of paint. You can make your own paint by taking oil paints and placing about an inch from the tube on a paper towel to absorb most of the linseed oils. Then you mix it very thoroughly with the damar crystal/wax medium. you can also make your own medium by melting 1 paart damar varnish crystals with about 8 parts of beeswax then combining them.
You can't really paint on canvas with wax. it has to have a rigid unbending support. You can work on paper but the wax will seep into the fibers so you would still need to support the paper somehow.
Thanks for all that info, you've answered a lot of my questions. I did get a "starter set" as a gift but it just had little pieces of photo-like paper. The local art store does sell the "cakes" but they lack any information. I have also since learned that you can buy encaustic beeswax and add oil paint for color. I appreciate you taking the time to answer me. Thanks again.