I discovered encaustic art just a few years ago. It was love at first sight, smell and touch. This is a form of art that engages multiple senses. Before you read on, here is your warning: this medium is highly addictive!

Encaustic is an ancient art form, dating as far back as 800 BC in early Greece. The term encaustic means “to burn” and the medium is nothing more than beeswax combined with a natural hardening agent derived from tree sap. The medium is melted, then applied to a rigid support. The medium can be applied either by pouring it to create a smooth etched glass-like surface, or by brushing it on for a more textured effect. The wax is fused by applying heat with a heat gun or torch, and can be scraped, scribed and drizzled with additional wax to achieve a touchable, sculptural quality. The medium is often combined with pigments to create an encaustic paint, but color can also be added to the surface and encased between layers. By following the recommended procedures, oil media and even watercolor, ink, charcoal, pastel and graphite and even acrylic paint can successfully be incorporated into the final piece.

I used the term Mixed Media Encaustic although I feel like that is a little bit of a tautology or a redundant term. Encaustic medium is simply beeswax and a hardening agent, and while it can be scraped, engraved and drizzled and melted to create amazing, textural artwork without a speck of pigment or scrap of fiber, it is receptive to and compatible with so many other mediums and materials that it I don’t think I’ve ever seen it entirely on its own. In fact, since it is naturally translucent, even the substrate it’s built on becomes an integral part of the finished piece. For more information on encaustic supplies click here.

Photo Encaustic Art is a specific type of Mixed Media that integrates photographic images with encaustic. This is a great place to start for anyone who enjoys photography, whether you are a seasoned professional photographer with all the expensive gear or a photo hobbyist whose favorite camera also happens to double as a phone. The art often begins with a photographic image as its foundation. The photo can be mounted on a rigid support and encased in layers of seductive, aromatic hot wax. Alternately, the image can be suspended between the layers or transferred onto the warm wax surface. The wax cools quickly and can be remelted, engraved and manipulated in countless ways for beautiful effects.

Certain styles of encaustic art can get a little pricey but I don’t find that to be true at all with photo encaustic process. Here, the photographic image is the main design element and encaustic medium is used to add texture and depth, so pigmented encaustic paints are optional. To start out, you can easily get by with a few basic pieces of equipment: an electric skillet and either a heat gun or a torch and a few brushes. You can repurpose all sorts of household objects to help build texture in your encaustic pieces and can add color using art materials you probably already own. Of course, for each piece you’ll need your printed photo on a support and the encaustic medium, but that’s practically all you need to get started. For more information on the tools I use, click here.

While photo encaustic art is a great way to begin your journey in the the world of encaustic art, you should be aware of the endless possibilities. Many encaustic artists use encaustic paint just like one would use acrylic or oil paint to create lovely painted works. The medium lends itself best to abstract art, however there are many artists who are able to develop realistic masterpieces with encaustic paint. Artist Dale Roberts is a perfect example of a true encaustic paint master. Below is YouTube interview with him in his studio: