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Gesso

Not recommended, Unless it is specifically designed for encaustic.

What is the alternative? Light colored wood (Maple or Birch) or white encaustic as a ground.

What about clayboard? Even though it is suitable for encaustic, it has a tendency to chip and/or crack off; particularly on the edges. It is simply preferential and other material may be more to your liking.

Watercolor Paper

Hot Press | Cold Press | Rough

The issues involved with encaustic on paper are similar to the concerns of canvas. Supporting the paper is necessary and it needs to be prepared for display beforehand otherwise it the will fail as a substrate. This can be as simple as attaching paper hinges to as complex as sewing velcro onto the top edge of the paper. The major differences between paper and canvas is, that unlike paper, canvas is made up of fibres that are woven and will move and flex. The fibres of paper, however, are fused together, giving more stability and rigidity. This rigidity doesn't mean that paper isn't susceptible to the same effects of canvas, only differently and varying degrees.

Lets talk about SLAG: Slag is when gravity takes hold of your work pulling down on it; think about the way a sheet looks thrown up over a window. Over time slag will occur and how much will depend on how good you prepared your piece. There are a couple of sure-fire ways to prevent slag when using watercolor paper. One is how it is mounted and the second is using the proper paper weight (and by weight, I mean thickness, not how much the paper actually weighs).

Lightweight paper weighs typically around 90 lb, and heavyweight paper typically 300 lb or greater. Lightweight paper is ideal for collage or embedding; however, not for supporting an entire painting. For greater stability choose a heavyweight paper, 300 lb or more. The paper's weight is the weight measured in pounds of one ream, approximately 500 - 22" × 30" (Imperial) Sheets. However, you might come across paper measured using the metric system, grams per square meter (gsm). For example a standard sheet of 140 lb watercolor paper has a metric weight of about 300 gsm; usually the the seller will translate. In addition to weight, and as seen in the above picture, watercolor paper comes in varying degrees of texture; a preferential choice. However, neither are without their problems, rough papers are more difficult to mount and cold press (smooth) papers tend to curl.

Lastly, applying encaustic over a watercolor painting is another addition to using watercolor paper. There should be no additional issues involved unless acrylic based media was used or thick layers of WC paint are on the surface (e.g. do not use watercolor paintings that were done straight from the tube- simply stick with thin layers and watercolor washes).

Inlay or Intarsia

Intarsia is the technique acquired from traditional woodworking (a form of inlay). In encaustic this loosely translates to, "filling in."

To achieve this, incise a line or small area and fill the void with another color- then use a razor blade or printmaking scraper to remove the pooled surface paint. Be careful not to remove to much.

This technique works best when the painting has been given significant time to cool before adding the inlaid wax. It may be preferred to wait for the inlay to cool as well before attempting to remove the excess.

Wood

A traditional and ancient material used for paintings, encaustic being no exception. Compared to other supports, wood offers ease as well as many options in framing (unlike paper). There are choices to consider when picking the right type of wood for your painting. Take care in this process and remember to always use sustainable and eco-friendly material (see fsc) and recycle. Below you can find some suggestions on how and what to pick.

Dimensional lumber: this product expands and contracts across the grain, not with the grain; the amount of expansion depends on how much moisture the wood is retaining. Cracking and checking can and will occur over time. Warping and twisting of the wood is possible; however, this does not always happen- particularly with quarter-sawn lumber. A good example of how dimensional lumber will effect encaustic is to look at the fayum portraits. This information is not to discourage you from working on this traditional material, yet only serves as cautionary advice.

Plywood: depending on the quality and the amount of plies, is the most economical and stable choice for encaustic. Eight to ten ply is suggested; the fewer the plies, the more likelihood of warping and twisting. Plywood has a long history of being structurally sound; woodworkers have been using it for centuries. Plywood also provides a large surface area free of inclusions. You should choose a high grade material such as birch, maple, or oak; in most instances the inner ply(s) are of a differing species than the veneer. I personally choose this product, not only for the above mentioned higher qualities, but the ease in cutting and framing.

Masonite, MDF (Medium-Density Fibreboard), Particle Board, Oriented Strand Board and Other Composites: this material is not recommended for finished works. This type of material is often structurally sound and resists warping and twisting, which make them great for beginners or samples, but not for quality work. The problem within the structure of the material; it is constructed from particles (sawdust, wood chips, etc.), held together by industrial glues, sometimes containing such chemicals- like formaldehyde (generally speaking). In some cases the product is easily effected by heat. The products composite also make the material more susceptible to fire; burning much faster than dimensional lumber and even quality plywood. Some might argue and feel safe with some or all of the above material, but the choice is yours to make; this is only a suggestion and references non-specific commercial lumber/masonite/MDF/etc.

NOTE: This does not include commercially produced artist boards or hardboards- merely non specific masonite and hardboard panels purchased from construction and hardware/lumber suppliers that, without specific knowledge on these products, it is hard to know what is suitable for encaustic or artist panels.

Size, Thickness, Cradled or Not Cradled: it is important to choose a good piece of wood, clear of defects, warping, etc; proper dimension is in addition to type. Cradled panels offer visual depth but only serve the purpose of supporting thin material. A cradled panel is useful when working portable and large scale to reduce weight. High grade 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick plywood is sufficient with works smaller than two feet. When building your own, paintings less than a foot which are built cradled, often only waste material as well as time and effort. You can also choose, instead of cradled panels, to frame your work for a substantial look; framing also protects the fragile edges and supports the entirety of the piece.

Canvas

Canvas and/or linen have been, and most likely will remain to be a traditional substrate. Unfortunately, encaustic on cloth can flex, causing cracking and chipping. Canvas can be utilized for encaustic works if precautions are taken; however, canvas is not recommended. If you prefer the texture and feel of canvas and are up for the extra work involved in preparation, here is some advice on the subject.

Traditionally Stretched: Canvas that is stretched on a frame can and will flex when pressure is applied; most of this occurs during the actual painting process and not as much after the piece is finished (Framing can reduce damage). Slag can also occur, this is when gravity takes hold and the shear weight of the canvas and paint cause the material to weaken over time; thus slag (drooping) occurs. Remembering that more resin introduced into encaustic paint equals harder and more brittle paint, you can reduce the amount of resin by a fraction and this will offer a fraction of flexibility (see How to Make Encaustic Medium and Paint for further detail). However, encaustic hardens over time, so resin reduction only temporarily assists during the painting process.

Prevent the surface from flexing by supporting the canvas; fill the void behind the painting with a hard board or heat tolerant foam. Remove the foam, or board when you are finished or leave it for support. However, time weighs heavily on the surface, regardless of your actions. Remember not to use pre-primed canvas; some gesso's are acrylic based and shrink when heated. However, priming the back of the canvas with gesso, only when finished, can boost the rigidity of the material, but again, time has a way of negating your efforts. Even though traditional stretched canvas can be used for encaustic works, it is not worth the trouble, panel stretched canvas (below) can offer a better alternative- but also has it's issues.

Panel Stretched: Simply stretching unprimed canvas over a wood panel is the best way to go, but really needs to be adhered to the surface. When adhering the canvas to the panel, glue would be ideal, but glue reacts to heat and isn't absorbant. Using the encaustic medium to, "glue," the canvas down is possible, but tricky. Adhesion is necessary to prevent problems like slag down the road.  Atop of most reasons to work  on canvas, the loss of the surface under the wax often negates most reasons to work on it- purely for the traditional feel. Go to Wood (Includes MDF, Masonite, etc.) under, Substrates and Painting Surfaces, for more information on what type of wood surfaces can be chosen that might better suit your needs. Also a post on the Blog on hardboard, might be of some use.

Framing

Framing not only completes the painting, it acts as support and protection; this is especially so with encaustic. A frame does not need to be overly extravagant, rather simple and functional. This simplicity minimizes the impact on the visual experience of the art, protects the painting, fulfills the dealer's requirements, and presents the work professionally. I will be focusing on framing encaustic; however, this information may help serve those framing other mediums.

Framing an encaustic painting should begin when deciding and preparing what to paint on. Listed below are a few of the common choices for surfaces and how to prepare them for framing- before you begin your painting.

Plywood Panel: This is my preferred choice for surfaces; relatively inexpensive, stable, and easily available. Commercial panels are often made of cradled masonite or similar product; however, choosing a quality plywood is often a lot less expensive and doesn't require the cradle. The disadvantage comes when painting large, it weighs more than cradled panels equal in size.

Preparation is simple, just cut to size. There is no need to do anything else; except choosing a stable piece of wood. Cleaning (sanding edges, etc.) the panel up is suggested but not necessary. If you prefer not to frame your panel it is suggested that you sand the exposed edges and make sure the panel you have chosen has no (unintentional) major defects that would distract from the art.

I prefer to alter my panels; allowing the painted surface to be free of the frame; however this requires a circular saw and some light woodworking skill. Additionally this will require a deeper frame which I also make myself. But, if you lack the ability to custom make your panels and frames, this doesn't mean relying on expensive commercial product (e.g. cradled panels).

Cradled Panels: This type of panel generally frames up the same as plywood and comes in many brands, types, uses and purposes. They are all essentially the same, yet may employ another material or ground; paper, clay, gesso, etcetera are all examples of the additional layer. It is good to note that cradled panels often come in different depths or thicknesses. The depth may vary and is often superficial, acting as the body of the painting; often left bare or unframed. Additionally, many artists choose to paint this deep edge to give their painting some three dimensionality; but this is not recommended for encaustic- or in my opinion, in any painting medium for that matter. The reason being: the edge is a very fragile area and unless great measures are taken to protect this edge during transportation, storage, or what-not- it can be extremely easy to damage.  Lastly, be wary of this product, cradles are often made of quality lumber, but the surface (unless specified to be made from a sound hardboard product) can often be masonite or other composite that have their own issues (check with the manufacturer). When making your own panels, choose plywood over a composite unless you are aware of the facts/details in the specified product. For more info on masonite or other composites read Wood (Includes MDF, Masonite, etc.)

Paper: Read Watercolor Paper

Canvas: Read Canvas

Remember if you choose not to alter your panel and you will be framing it, that a traditional frame with a rabbet will touch the surface of the painting about 1/4 of an inch around the edge; depending on the frame. Frames without a rabbet will require you to clean the edge prior to framing.

Thermometer

A thermometer will help you keep the correct temperatures and is a good tool to have when starting out . Once your skills have improved it becomes less vital and you become more aware of how the paint looks, reacts, and feels- almost instinctual. Check out the correct temperatures on How to Make Encaustic Medium and Paint and Temperatures (Melting and Flash Point).

Scribe, Twisted Scribe, Needles, Pins, etc.

A scribe, twisted scribe, needle, pin or other sharp pointed tool are all perfect for incising lines, or writing in the wax; the line can be filled in (referred to as intarsia; a form of wood inlay)- with encaustic, oil paint, or paint sticks.

Some tools of this nature can be modified by adding a handle to make it more comfortable to use; handles can be salvaged from outmoded tools (like button-hooks), broken tools (like clay tools), or purchased from various companies (like Edward C. Lyons).

Razor Blades, Knives, Printmaking Scrapers, etc.



Razor blades, Knives, Printmaking Scrapers, etc. are useful for removing unwanted paint and necessary for special technique such as filling in lines (e.g. intarsia).

Palette


The encaustic palette is a thick piece of non-iron metal with legs (preferably adjustable) placed (about 1/2 in.) over a hot plate or electric burner.

Electric griddles or skillets used in home cooking could be substituted; given that they heat to a high enough temperature and have an adjustable rheostat. Practical for beginning, griddles and skillets are inexpensive alternatives to building or buying a professional palette; however, it is better to upgrade once you have made the decision to stick with the medium.

There are two cautionary notes: Placing the palette to closely or directly on the heat source can cause over-heating and scorching or burning of the paint- causing viscous paint and/or noxious gases. See How to Make Encaustic Medium and Paint and Temperatures (Melting and Flash Point) for more details on proper temperatures. Additionally, if you are using kitchen griddles (et cetera) do not ever use these for food again; they can never be made food safe.

Palette Cups


Palette cups do a lot to assist the artist by making many colors quickly available; and even though not required, they are usually preferred. With your paint segregated into cups there is no need to make a clean area on the palette where colors tend to run together. Also when space is limited on your palette surface you can easily remove the colors you are not using.

Whenever using palette cups keep in mind to stir the paint or the pigment will begin to separate from the medium; some colors do this more quickly.

A few friendly reminders: Err on the side of caution by using a heat resistant glove, a wooden clothes pin, or other tool (e.g. palette cup lifter, A.K.A. pot lifter) to remove hot items from your palette. And mark the cups with differing blacks and whites; it becomes difficult to tell which ones are which in a molten state.

Electric Burner

A Electric Burner is needed to heat the surface of the palette; center the burner and keep it about one half inch from the underside of the palette. Do not place any type of palette directly on the burner; this direct heat will not only burn the paint, but burning encaustic can emit toxic gases that can be harmful to your health. Warning: Gas burners can be a fire hazard; do not use them.

Burnishers

Burnishers have many useful attributes: such as fusing tiny areas, manipulating soft paint, textural effects, or heated to incise.

One use of this tool can be defined as a metal sculpting tool. A specialized use is the ability to make a faceted like surface. Heating the tool first in order to keep paint from sticking; yet, not having the tool to hot that it melts the wax. You are literally forcing the paint down and creating small markings that have a polished appearance; each mark adds to the larger textural surface that has a unique reflective quality.

Polishing

Polishing is slightly unique to encaustic painting; a high sheen can change the entire look of the work, for better or worse.

Polishing an encaustic piece is in no way permanent; it can loose the sheen over a length of time due to environmental effects or reversed by an artist hand. It can also be changed very easily back to a semi-matte finish if desired.

The best results will come from patience; wait a few days for the wax to completely harden, more time should be given if carbon black or other long drying/cooling color is used. After a significant time lapse- use a lint-free cloth, or the palm of your hand to buff the surface; it won't take long before you notice a change.

Be patient, you are creating friction as you polish and as a result heating the surface. Over polishing will soften the surface and result in the original dull state, or worse; pieces of lint in the surface. This problem can be solved by simply waiting a day between polishing. The more patience you have the more polished your piece will become.

Fusing Photographs

Synthetic papers shrink when subjected to heat. Needless to say: when you fuse (Fusing is the act of heating the surface of the paint in order to melt 'fuse' the layers together. Fusing layers together keeps the encaustic wax from chipping or flaking away). When fusing the surface, resin based paper has unpredictable issues such as peeling and buckling. Sticking to real, fiber based (non resin/RC) papers is recommended.

If you are bent on using a resin based paper- mounting the photo to a hard board- wood etc., will reduce buckling/shrinking (but won't eliminate it). Also caution is given when using varying types of adhesive; they can be flammable and resin based- only compounding the problem.
Speaking of flammable, you should slowly fuse layers of medium over the photo with low heat, which helps the paper from being scorched or burned.

`Below is a list of photographic papers thanks to my brother Nicholas.

Gelatin Silver paper- the contemporary black and white paper made with a ph-neutral paper base, light-sensitive and chemically processed. Classic examples are Ilford and Bergger papers. Very attractive to collectors and often used as the measuring rod for the quality of contemporary B&W printing methods. Think Ansel Adams.

(RC papers are not recommended for use in encaustic)
Resin-Coated (or, RC) Paper- a paper made with a polyester or plastic-like base. Comes in both B&W and color varieties. ex.: Kodak B&W RC and Kodak Ultra C-print paper (color). Color RC paper, or C-print paper, enjoyed its greatest popularity from the 70s until just recently; like its black and white counterpart, the plastic base allowed the print to be washed easily and processed much more quickly than fiber-base papers. On a consumer level the C-print is being replaced now by archival ink-jet prints although it is still readily available through Camera supply distributors like B&H photo and Central Camera.
Archival Inkjet papers are varied in their composition and many companies are enjoying the newness of the process and the flexibility to be had with ink-jet printing. Some have a base that is very similar to the polyester varieties used for c-prints and RC B&W prints. Others have very traditional bases made from wood pulps, cotton, or even bamboo. Specialty papers abound. Epson's Premium Lustre paper is the industry standard for a plastic-base type paper that one can expect to have a reasonably long shelf life. This paper is designed to actually appear like what most consumers recognize as a photographic material. My personal favorites are papers that employ a specific clay layer referred to as a "baryta" layer. The baryta layer became a popular standard in the mid to late 20th century gelatin silver papers like Ilford and Bergger. I'm a big fan of the Harman matte paper and the Hahnemuhle glossy but these papers will cost you an arm and a leg!
A significant feature of all of these papers is the surface finish. Whether its glossy, matte, semi matte, lustre, pearl, Albrecht Durer or William Turner (and on and on) and then, whether as a digital print it's duo (that is, two sided) or not, there is a mind-boggling array. Generally speaking, the more you are willing to pay the more archival and the heavier the bond or "gsm" is going to be.
On a final note, some materials are only as available as their specific processes are. As of right now, these processes/papers have suspended production: Positive chem-process papers used for printing positives, or slides, are no longer being produced. Cibachromes, a highly toxic process, with paper noted for its remarkable flatness and its monstrous color gamut, is also no longer available.
Specialty processes are also available such as Lambda and Giclee printing, Lambda being paper exposed with lasers as opposed to a lamp-head. One specific lab that does this printing is gammaimaging.com out of Chicago.
Another resource, especially for digital papers is Blackpointeditions.com. Although I have had no need to check them out I know they contain lists and all sorts of reference resources.

Intaglio (Includes: Engraving, Incising, Etc.)

Engraving, Etching, Dry Point, Mezzotint, and Aquatint: These are all examples of the intaglio process used in printmaking. All are created by removing or incising the surface by physical or chemical force. When employing these techniques into encaustic, they are not used as defined in printmaking. The technique is rather loosely followed, taking what is possible and employing it. Screen-printing or Silk screening will also be mentioned here. To employ intaglio techniques you will need the appropriate tool. Carving Tools, Scribe, Twisted Scribe, Needles, Pins, etc., Burnishers, etcetera- can all be used in this technique.

This technique is a rather simple one, which requires you to carve into the layer(s) of wax by dragging or pushing with a tool. Exposing the layer(s) underneath can easily be achieved by remove only the layer(s) you wish; this takes practice and may require a thick under layer of encaustic. Different tools offer different results: for example a burnisher pushes the paint aside, creating ridges (known as burs in dry point) along the edges of the cup shaped incision; if there are under layers, they will be highly evident- rather than using a straight gouge. On the other hand, the burs can be beneficial by acting as a dam, holding back liquid wax from spilling into another section; this technique takes lots of practice and can be a challenge even for experts.

Screen-printing or Silk screening is really no different from the method used in printmaking, except that you are printing on the encaustic surface instead of paper or cloth. Remember when employing this method to use a compatible ink or paint, some inks may affect the binding properties of the wax if they are fused between layers; if you are not sure, make a practice sample. If you plan to print on the surface of the wax when the encaustic is finished, it is best to fuse the surface lightly.

Fusing or Burning In

You might think that fusing is not a technique, but the application of varying amounts of heat and the force (wind) of heat can produce multiple effects. Fusing is more than a necessity, it is the basic skill that portrays the individuals unique style.

The basic fusing principle is to heat (fuse) the surface layers- between each application. Render the surface to high sheen and then quickly back off; the surface appears to just start to melt.

Further heat application can push (blow) the paint around; depending on desired effect.

Combination of heat application and other techniques will result in a multitude of surfaces. See Inlay or IntarsiaIntaglioCarving ToolsMetal Sculpting Tools, and Printmaking Scrapers for more info.

Collage and Embedding

Defined as an image made from an assemblage of different material; this combination of material can be anything from paper to found object.

Encaustic offers limitless options when it comes to collage. When applying an object into your work you must consider the weight of the item; if it weighs too much and is not properly affixed, it will simply break free. Planning is important when this involves heat, because heat can affect the binder (e.g. wax/encaustic, glue/adhesive) which is holding the item on.

Attaching can be achieved by simply using the encaustic as a binder; you can also use screws, nails, staples, glue, pegs, etc. When using glue remember to use a type not effected by heat; some brands will say if heat affects it, and at what temperature. Testing the glue yourself is always wise.

If fusing will affect the quality of the object and/or the surface of the work, consider waiting until all fusing is complete. At this stage you can attach the object by mechanical means (pegs, screws, etc); this obviously means planning ahead.

For more help on collage or collaging with paper see Tacking Irons and Spatulas (electrically heated).


Building Texture

Texture can be achieved in many various ways; a technique sometimes referred to as scumble. For example, the above surface was created by using a printmaking scraper to scrape off the surface and then reattach it.

The quickest and simplest way is to begin by quickly dragging the brush across the surface. The surface of the panel does not need to be rough (but it can help); texture can be achieved by repeating the process.

Perceived texture or visual patterns are generally described as a surface that is painted smooth yet only a visually detailed surface or pattern exists rather than physical texture. Marbleizing is a good example of this, yet no one visual pleasing technique can be created the same way. Therefore offering a technical description on how to achieve the countless ways to do this would prove exhausting if not impossibly lengthy. Try painting many layers and melting it down smooth. Try carving and scratching into layers. Try flicking, dripping, or slinging the wax on- then melt it smooth. When it comes to encaustic, experimentation is key, and one of the most rewarding. Also read Paint/Pigment Sticks.
Read Burnishers for a faceted technique.

Another technique is by carving back into the wax creating an edge for the paint to grasp onto. This is the same method used in the dry point process of printmaking; ink grasps the bur that is raised in the surface created by the tool. This method also helps you control where you want texture. Do not forget to fuse the paint between each application. Fusing may cause some loss of surface texture; however. the loss is not equal to the gain. And repeat the process for more texture.

Alla prima

From the Italian word which means: at once. Rather than build colors up by layering, the painting is done while the paint is still wet. Or in the case of encaustic- still warm.

This method is best suited for oil paint and is loosely followed with encaustic. This technique would seem quite impossible, yet never-the-less, encaustic does remain soft and pliable; particularly when the panel is small enough to sit on a heated surface. This technique works well on ceramic; which holds the heat for long periods of time. A tool that might serve well for alla prima encaustic is the burnisher.

Placing your panel on a heated surface allows for the wax to stay soft; it can be pushed and manipulated with tools which allow for incising or marking the wax. For more info. see Inlay or Intarsia, Intaglio (Includes: Engraving, Incising, etc.), Scribe, Twisted Scribe, Needles, Pins, etc., Carving Tools, and Metal Sculpting Tools. If the heat is set high the surface will liquefy and stay until cooled; but this has its disadvantages: the wax will literally spill off a unleveled panel, a level panel that has a large amount of liquid wax will spill easily too, colors can become muddled, and lines and shapes indistinguishable. The best method of this technique is to work thin and then remove from the heat to work on thick and detailed areas or work in a semi-soft state by continually warming the surface with the heat gun or tacking iron.

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---------------------------------------{ A Note to Readers }---------------------------------------




Revisiting old topics and filling in holes is quite a chore, yet a necessary one, one that will offer more quality information. For example: recent activity and questions surrounding hardboard and/or masonite, has directed our attention to fill in the blanks on that topic (currently under revision/addition), as well as, more about gesso (specifically encaustic gesso) and other topics (search the tabs), all are in the works. 

Prior years were to get as much general information as possible up and available- a starting point. More and more however, new topics are focused and detailed, and old ones will be getting revisiting; removing any possibility of confusion. 

I should point out that this is a one person operation (takes me awhile to get around to everything, ohh yeah, I should make some art), Anyway, where was I?, oh! one person operation..., even though I tend to refer in posts and topics as we, it is to remove the need to revisit things later when it really is we. All of this whilst working, making art, and whatever may be the case.

As always, I welcome any opinions, comments, and questions- simply contact me.

Thank you
Sincerely
Jonathan Parks