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Crayons in the Realm of Encaustic

Wax is the all important component in encaustic, it is important to understand the different waxes in order to understanding encaustic as a medium. In saying that, crayons seem so easy and accessible when first pursuing or wanting to pursue encaustic. However, crayons are like copy paper is to 300lb handmade cotton fiber watercolor paper. The wax used in a crayon is often not high quality- often low, the pigments are not lightfast- meaning the color will fade over time, along with a myriad of other reasons, all more important is that the wax utilized in a standard crayon is not compatible with quality encaustic paints. Further, crayons are not meant to be heated and melted to a temperature upwards 220ยบ (should I say, off-gas). They do have some use, taking in consideration what was just said. What they lack as the encaustic replacement, they make up with (somewhat), generically and for instance, in learning about encaustic, more-so encaustic monotypes, or how wax generally is effected by heat (fyi: different waxes melt at different temperatures and remember safety). Mind you, I am not advocating crayons as encaustic paint or as the be-all monotype medium, use of crayons may be more financially motivated than anything, ignoring health precautions.

Encaustic is high grade beeswax, having better binding properties in the encaustic medium family of ingredients. The pigment is artist quality, Damar resin, or a harder wax, carnauba or candelilla, is combined with beeswax and pigment to harden the medium, in order to make it less susceptible to damage. A crayon, however, is designed to be non-toxic, for obvious reasons, and encaustic, even when using carnauba as the hardener, most often isn't. This is for many reasons, one, pigments are most often not non-toxic, some even being heavy metals- so to speak: not good for digestion. 

Furthermore, crayons include clays- and as you learn anything added relating to pigment, is pigment, and the clay being neutral or white only serves the purpose as a pigment filler in crayon manufacturing. The opacity and pigment concentration is easily seen when melted and applied to a surface. Also wax itself is a synthetic wax or other wax not compatible with encaustic. It is often softer and more brittle, layers thicker than normal drawing thickness or monoprinting thickness is not advisable because of this.

You may ask yourself, "is there a use for crayons in encaustic?," and the answer is, well, yes, one being I suppose practicing monotypes, but especially, and more to point out, their shape or design. It is a far reach I know, to think shape is the only useful attribute for wax crayon in encaustic. But, the shape and design is perfect in many circumstances where a block of pigmented wax is simply to awkward to use. Also the amount or volume of crayon size is nice when making custom colors where you don't use much of a certain color. For example: if a particular color is not your color of choice and rarely gets used, but you like having many varieties available when needed, "crayon size," is a perfect way to have it. 

Remember there is always words to the contrary, it is sometimes subjective and making your own decisions about their use will arise, but experience will speak the truth. Also not discussed, and to throw another crayon into the bucket so to speak- there are also soy wax based crayons- a vegetable wax made from the oil of soybeans. I will leave that for another article.

To learn more about waxes used in encaustic, read How to Make Encaustic Medium and Paint or read about other types of Waxes and Other Raw Materials.


Candelilla wax from the candelilla plant, is a vegetable based wax that can be substituted wherever beeswax or carnauba is used. Candelilla is yellow in color (similar to carnauba), brown in crude form, with a melting point higher than that of beeswax, 154° - 161° F (67° - 71° C). A higher melting point makes it suitable for tempering like that of carnauba wax.

Ancient Faces by Susan Walker and Morris L. Bierbrier

Similar to, Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces from Ancient Egypt, and includes many of the same portraits; however, focused more to the Metropolitan Museum of Art's personal collection.

Susan Walker and Morris L. Bierbrier, Ancient Faces: Mummy Portraits in Roman Egypt. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art Publications Series, 2000.) 

Mysterious Fayum Portraits by Euphrosyne Doxiadis

This reference is full of information and many color and black and white images. A must have or read for anyone interested in encaustic, fayum portraits, or ancient Greek/Egyptian history.

Euphrosyne Doxiadis, Mysterious Fayum Portraits: Faces from Ancient Egypt. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.)

The Specter of the Golem by Natalie Shifrin Whitson

Sorry this citation may not be quite right.

Natalie Shifrin Whitson, LEONARDO© The Specter of the Golem: The Quest for Safer Encaustic Painting Practice in the Age of OSHA. (MIT PRESS JOURNALS August 2000, Vol. 33, No. 4, Pages 299-304)

Embracing Encaustic by Linda Womack

A step-by-step introductory guide to encaustic painting. Includes many photographs of contemporary artists and a descriptions of their work.

Linda Womack, William Womack. Embracing Encaustic: Learning to Paint with Beeswax. (Hive Publishing; Second edition, May 15, 2008.)

The Painter's Handbook by Mark David Gottsegen

This reference is not in depth and only includes the very basics of encaustic; as well as unadvised methods- such as framing behind glass.

Gottsegen, Mark David. The Painter's Handbook; A Complete Reference. (New York : Watson-Guptill Publications, 2006. rev. ed.)

International Exhibition, London, 1871 by Arthur Beckwith

Although outdated in some respect, this reference is an interesting addition for anyone fascinated with the history.

Beckwith, Arthur. International Exhibition, London, 1871: Pottery. Observations on the Materials and Manufacture of Terra-cotta, Stoneware, Fire-Brick, Porcelain, Earthen-ware, Brick, Majolica, and Encaustic Tiles, Remarks on the Products Exhibited. (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1872.)

A Manual of Fresco and Encaustic Painting by Sarsfield Taylor

A early record containing notes on encaustic.

Sarsfield Taylor, William Benjamin. A Manual of Fresco and Encaustic Painting: Containing Ample Instructions for Executing Works of These Descriptions. (London: Chapman & Hall, 1843.)

Waxing Poetic by Gail Stavitsky

Provides a basic historical and a relatively contemporary history on encaustic.

Gail Stavitsky, Waxing Poetic: Encaustic Art in America. (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2000.) 

Painting popularly explained... by Thomas Gullick

Title speaks for itself.

Gullick, Thomas John. Painting popularly explained: including fresco, oil, tempera, mosaic, encaustic, water-colour, miniature, missal, painting on pottery, porcelain, enamel, glass, &c., with historical sketches of the progress of the art. (London: Kent and Co., 1859.)

Encaustic, Materials and Methods by Frances Pratt and Becca Fizell

Frances Pratt and Becca Fizell, Encaustic, Materials and Methods. (New York: Lear, 1949.)

Color and Culture by John Gage

A western investigation of colors influences on culture with brief descriptions of encaustic. (Not recommended for a source on encaustic)

Gage, John. Color and Culture: Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1993.)

Wax as Art Form by Thelma Newman

A general guide book for the beginner to wax based arts; including encaustic and other interests.

Thelma R. Newman, Wax as Art Form. (New Jersey: T. Yoseloff, South Brunswick, 1966.) 

The Art of Encaustic Painting by Joanne Mattera

A quality resource for encaustic painting. A introductory, historical, and technical guide to encaustic painting. Also see out her website

Joanne Mattera, The Art of Encaustic Painting: Contemporary Expression in the Ancient Medium of Pigmented Wax. (New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 2001.) 

The Artist's Handbook by Ralph Mayer

A must guide and source for technical information on artist material (Not specifically encaustic).

Mayer, Ralph. The Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques: Fifth Edition, Revised and Updated. [New York (Penguin Group): Viking Adult; 5th Rv&Upd edition, 1991.]

Encaustic Workshop by Patricia Seggebruch

Additional resource for encaustic with many photographs, help on getting started, and step-by-step instructions on some techniques; informative for beginners.

Patricia Seggebruch, Encaustic Workshop: Artistic Technique for Working With Wax. (North Light Books, 2009.)

Encaustic Monotypes by Paula Roland

This DVD reference by Paula Roland is available through her website; containing information on encaustic printmaking processes- particularly encaustic monotypes.

Paula Roland, Encaustic Monotypes: Painterly Prints with Heat and Wax. (Studio Galli Films, 2010)

Anti-Fatigue Mat

The anti-fatigue mat is the tool for your feet; this is especially true when you work on a concrete or tile floor and/or if you stand a lot when you paint.

A majority of anti fatigue mats were designed for use in an industrial setting and there are many on the market to choose from.  Cost is fairly inexpensive and can differ with manufacturer and type or style. 

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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
Jonathan Parks