10 Tips for Working with Encaustic

If you thought encaustic was too difficult, or maybe too time consuming, it’s time to take another look. The September/October 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors has all the information and inspiration you need to get started working with encaustic—and to keep you creating. In this issue you’ll discover that you can make encaustic art, and it can be as simple or involved as you want to make it. Our contributing artists will show you what tools and materials you need to work in encaustic, how to work safely, offer all kinds of encaustic tips and techniques, along with plenty of exciting art. Learn to use stencils with encaustic, incorporate collage, add color and texture, incise, and more. Encaustic is a lot more versatile than I thought. I can’t wait to make some encaustic art. How about you? Here are some highlights from the issue.


1. Work on the right surface. Julie Snidle, who wrote An Encaustic Primer for the September/October issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, calls encaustic “the ultimate mixed-media unifier,” and has all kinds of information and tips for working with encaustic in her article. One of the many important things that Julie shares is that you need to choose a substrate that’s both rigid and porous when working with encaustic. “The melted wax needs to be able to grab on and seep into the surface,” she says. “If the surface is too slick or flimsy, the wax will simply chip off.”

2. Make sure you have the tools you need. Julie discusses how to set up for working in encaustic, and explains the different tools necessary for a good experience. She makes it so inviting. One of the most important things to remember is that you must use natural bristle brushes; synthetic brushes and tools will melt. Natural bristle brushes can rest on the heated surface while you work, keeping the bristles warm and pliable and ready to go.

Having tools within easy reach makes for a safe and enjoyable experience. (Photo by Julie Snidle)

3. Ready, set, go. Before you start your encaustic project, Talliesen recommends heating the board that you plan to use. She says, “Although it is not completely necessary to heat the board first (I often forget), it does help the first layer of wax to flow on.” In her article, Make Your Mark, Talliesen shares how to create a marbled background and how to add a simple carved image, something that will appeal to all ability levels. I love this simple piece. Definitely adding it to my to-do list.

White encaustic paint and encaustic medium create a lovely marbled background for this elegant piece. (Art by Talliesen, photo by Sharon White Photography)

4. Confused about fusing? When working with encaustic medium, it is essential to fuse each additional layer of medium with a heat tool. This prevents the layers from separating. In Using Stencils with Encaustic, Mary Beth Shaw says, “To fuse properly, hold the heat tool perpendicular to the [encaustic] surface, approximately 4″–6″ above the surface. Move it across the piece not too fast, and not too slow. Keep it moving, or it will create puddles. Watch closely. When you can see the wax turn shiny, it is done.”

5. Use stencils! If, like me, you thought stencils were too fragile for encaustic work, think again. Mary Beth Shaw provides lots of information for incorporating stencils in your encaustic work. One of her tips regards fusing while using stencils: move a little quicker, mainly so that the wax will hold the stencil pattern when it cools. She says, “Just move your heat tool over the area for a couple of seconds until you see it develop a shine, then pull the heat tool away quickly.”

Bright red encaustic paint helps emphasize the stenciled motif. (Art and photo by Mary Beth Shaw)

6. Use some of your favorite tools and media with encaustic. Mary Beth also recommends using a stencil to incise lines for texture, and then adding a contrasting color pigment stick to add color in the lines to make them pop.

Use a needle tool, or similar, to incise lines in the wax. (Art and photo by Mary Beth Shaw)

7. Love collage? Yes; include that, too. I love that just about anything you have in your art arsenal can be used with encaustic. Cathy Nichols says encaustic medium is “one of the most versatile substances you can find.” In her Encaustic with Collage article, she shares how to create a colorful background with collage papers. Bonus: Encaustic medium also absorbs graphite easily, making it an ideal background for transferring pencil drawings.

working with encaustic
A simple sketch helps tell the story.  (Art and photo by Cathy Nichols)

8. Itching to etch? Cathy Nichols used a metal stylus to add hand-etched flowers, ferns, and grasses in her piece. For best results, Cathy says the wax should be at room temperature for incising. If you can draw it . . .

working with encaustic
Add some fun etched elements for texture and depth. (Art and photo by Cathy Nichols)

9. Clean brushes mean true color. No one likes muddy colors. Cathy Nichols recommends keeping a tin of melted soy wax at the ready to clean your brushes. Dip your brush in the soy wax after each color, and then wipe it clean with a paper towel to keep your colors pure. Remember, once you use a brush for wax it’s committed to wax.

10. Add texture with 3-D components. Add small 3-D collage elements, such as small rhinestones, buttons, and more, by pressing them right into the wax once it’s cool. Talliesen added small rhinestones in her encaustic piece. (See above.)

The September/October issue has lots of information for working with encaustic and plenty of inspiring art. Give encaustic a try.

~ Barb

Ready for more? Try these resources for more tips for working with encaustic.

Storytelling Art Studio: Visual Expressions of Character, Mood and Theme Using Mixed Media by Cathy Nichols
Expressive Collage Workshop: Encaustic with Imagery DVD by Crystal Neubauer. Also available as a digital download!
Cloth Paper Scissors, September/October 2017
Encaustic Painting Techniques: Mark Making and Color DVD by Cathy Nichols


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