Encaustic brief history

The word encaustic originates from the Greek word enkaustikos which means to burn in, and this element of heat is necessary for a painting to be called encaustic.

This technique was notably used in the Fayum mummy portraits from Egypt around 100–300 AD, in the Blachernitissa and other early icons, as well as in many works of 20th-century North American artists, including Jasper Johns, Tony Scherman, Mark Perlman, and Fernando Leal Audirac. Kut-kut, a lost art of the Philippines, employs sgraffito and encaustic techniques. It was practiced by the indigenous tribe of Samar island around 1600 to 1800. Artists in the Mexican muralism movement, such as Diego Rivera[4] and Jean Charlot sometimes used encaustic painting. The Belgian artist James Ensor also experimented with encaustic.

The wax encaustic painting technique was described by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder in his Natural History from the 1st Century AD. The oldest surviving encaustic panel paintings are the Romano-Egyptian Fayum mummy portraits from the 1st Century BC.

In the 20th century, painter Fritz Faiss (1905–1981), a student of Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky at the Bauhaus, together with Dr. Hans Schmid, rediscovered the so-called “Punic wax” technique of encaustic painting. Faiss held two German patents related to the preparation of waxes for encaustic painting. One covered a method for treating beeswax so that its melting point was raised from 60 to 100 °C (140 to 212 °F). This occurred after boiling the wax in a solution of sea water and soda three successive times. The resulting harder wax is the same as the Punic wax referred to in ancient Greek writings on encaustic painting.

Encaustic art has seen a resurgence in popularity since the 1990s with people using electric irons, hotplates and heated styli on different surfaces including card, paper and even pottery. The iron makes producing a variety of artistic patterns easier. The medium is not limited to just simple designs; it can be used to create complex paintings, just as in other media such as oil and acrylic. Although technically difficult to master, attractions of this medium for contemporary artists are its dimensional quality and luminous color.

Rivera, Diego

Diego Rivera, a memorable figure in 20th century art, actively painted during the 50 years from 1907 to 1957. Mexican by birth, Rivera spent a good portion of his adult life in Europe and the United States as well as in his home in Mexico City. Early in his career, he dabbled in Cubism and later embraced Post-Impressionism, but his unique style and perspective is immediately recognizable as his own. He was involved in the world of politics as a dedicated Marxist and joined the Mexican Communist Party in 1922. He hosted Russian exile Leon Trotsky and his wife at his home in Mexico City in the 1930s. Lived in unsettled times and led a turbulent life, Diego Rivera, widely known for his Marxist leanings, along with Marxism Revolutionary Che Guevara and a small band of contemporary figures, has become a countercultural symbol of 20th century, and created a legacy in art that continue to inspire the imagination and mind.

Diego Rivera’s first government-commissioned mural, Creation was created over the course of a year and covers over a thousand square feet. It is an allegorical composition with mythological and religious motifs.The figures in the mural are over twelve feet high, which were in proportion to the huge pipe organ which surrounded the wall. At the top a symbol, which could represent the Divine Trinity with blessing hands.It also follows old Egyptian iconography of Aton, the symbol of the creative sun. At the bottom Eva and Adam. Over them on both sides the nine Muses. And on the next level the Christian Virtues: From the left: Love, Hope and Faith and on the right side: Prudence, Justice and Strength. In the sky Wisdom and Science.Everything is in classical renaissance style, where similar allegories are common. The figures are based on life models. Note that the picture does not have any political, ideological tendency. The painting technique is encaustic, which means that the pigments were applied suspended in molten wax. A complicated technique which the old Egyptians already knew.

Although it was widely popular, Rivera felt that the painting was too Italian in technique, and he did not like it. During the painting of the mural, Rivera felt compelled to carry a pistol with him at all times, to protect himself from the right-wing students.

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Johns, Jasper

Jasper Johns (born May 15, 1930) is an American painter, sculptor and printmaker whose work is associated with abstract expressionism, Neo-Dada, and pop art.

Jasper Johns’s groundbreaking 1958 installation at the Leo Castelli Gallery of his famous target and flag works changed the current of New York painting and had an extraordinary impact on contemporary art. In the paintings, Johns presents images that move into the realm of objects and wrestle with the validity of representation as a philosophical concept. The targets and flags, in the words of critic Leo Steinberg, were “co-extensive” with their canvases, existing somewhere between a symbol and a thing in the world. Not only did these paintings begin Johns’s successful dismantling of modern art through his ironic analysis of structures and rituals, but they also became the innovative new ground on which a generation of painters and sculptors made their work. Johns’s own career spans from the flags, through the device motif in the early 1960s, into the crosshatch paintings of the 1970s, and to his complex, densely layered recent works.

“One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag,” Johns has said of this work, “and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” Those materials included three canvases that he mounted on plywood, strips of newspaper, and encaustic paint—a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has formed a surface of lumps and smears. The newspaper scraps visible beneath the stripes and forty-eight stars lend this icon historical specificity. The American flag is something “the mind already knows,” Johns has said, but its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection. A critic of the time encapsulated this painting’s ambivalence, asking, “Is this a flag or a painting?”

As Johns explained it, encaustic allowed him to be more efficient and, at the same time, more deliberate in his gestures. In other words, because pigmented wax sets quickly, Johns could add another mark or strip of saturated paper or cloth with the assurance that any previously laid marks would remain unaffected. In this way, each discrete trace was preserved, effectively embalmed.

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Roberts, Verity

Verity paints primarily in encaustic. Originally self-taught in encaustic, over the last decade Verity has attended and participated in numerous workshops, exhibitions and encaustic conferences in the US. Her earlier career was as a film set decorator.

Verity has further adapted the encaustic process, adding media such as wax pencils, digital print transfers and inks. This extraordinarily versatile medium enables the artist to exploit both the opaque and transparent qualities of the wax by layering it – this being a particular feature of the encaustic process. Whether smooth and translucent or thickly textural, the wax forms an emotionally charged surface.

Her inspiration derives from her travels – her travelscapes – recollections both vivid and allusive are built over time. Each painting with its complex layered surface aims to elicit a response: reshaping its own new history.

She spends time in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico where she is represented by Calderoni Studio in Fábrica La Aurora. She exhibits in Sydney at Art2Muse Gallery and is collected both in Australia and intenationally.

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Brimicombe, Dawn

The Jurassic Coast remade in hot wax, it’s possible that Dawn Brimicombe has hit upon a brilliant combination.  Her methods and materials have an affinity with her subject – cliffs and stones and mud and sand can be shaped oddly and worked upon and so can encaustic was medium (filtered beeswax and damar resin) – which Dawn heats and fuses and scrapes and cuts – and her works also carry the glow of happy memories – like pebbles that stay wet and sparkling in the sun.

Dawn has exhibited widely across the UK over the years including group exhibitions at the OXO Gallery and the Cork Street Gallery in London, she continues to work from her Studio on the East Devon/Dorset borders where she is constantly inspired by the sea, the natural world, organic formations, colour, line & texture.

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Gillespie, Angie

Angie Gillespie is an encaustic artist from Eastern South Dakota. Her subject matter is mostly abstract landscapes with stretched out horizons & vast intricate patterns & designs that carry across the panel. Her brightly colored work is luminescent & has a certain glow as light dances between the many layers of wax.

Although self-taught in the realms of encaustic; in a primitive fashion, her love for the medium started as a child. Spending countless summer days at the lake, she’d create little fire pits with a grill top & melt crayons in metal jar lids.


“I loved melting crayons & pouring it on the sand, leaves or rocks. As absurd as it may sound now, as a child I was allowed to play with matches and make fires on the beach. But I was always reminded by my mother, “Make sure you pull your hair back!” I’d walk into the boathouse or garage & my dad would have countless odds & ends all neatly organized on the wall. I can vividly remember standing before all of it, thinking, ‘what can I make today?'”


Now many years later, Angie is consistently pushing the boundaries of what the wax can do & forging new ways to implement those ideas! Her goal is to never stop learning & to always evolve with her work through time & life experiences.


Angie resides in Sioux Falls with her husband, two children, two big pups & a lizard named Frank. She works from her home studio and downtown Printing Studio, APLIS Fine Art Printing – finding balance between everything. In her spare time, she loves to read, sit in her gardens & be silly with her family.

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Tormey, Alicia

She is one of the best encaustic painters and resides in Seattle, Washington .

Alicia Tormey is best known for her organic imagery and inventive techniques that involve a blend of bees wax, resin, shellac and raw pigments.

Wielding a blow torch, Tormey cultivates these materials into ethereal images of distant landscapes, waterways and explosive flora.

Alicia’s work has been featured on the cover of Professional Artist Magazine and in numerous other publications including Encaustic Arts Magazine and Studio Visit Magazine.

She is the recipient of a Grant for Artists Projects (GAP) award from Artist Trust and her works have been included in numerous exhibitions and public collections throughout the United States and abroad.

Tormey was recently invited by the U.S. State Department to exhibit her work in the American Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

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Starting up

Hi, I’m Susana F. Blanco, an artist and researcher.
I am currently collecting data and writing up my dissertation to get my International PhD in Fine Arts.

The main topic of my thesis is as follows:
“The BEESWAX used as material in Arts and its applications from the 20th century to the present”.

I would like to publish here all the data collected to share, not only with the researches collective but with everybody.

I think that beeswax is a wonderful unknown gem that many people do not know yet and I will try to discover it to you here.

I also work at the Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University (Interior Design Department) and, when I show this new technique to my students , they are fascinated.

I will write the thesis in Spanish because I am from Fine Arts University Complutense of Madrid (UCM), Spain. Anyway, here I will share it in English because it is the most universal language.

Please, do not hesitate to ask, comment and even provide new information because this will be very useful for my work. I would really appreciate this 🙂

I will also share my practical research with my encaustic paintings here:(www.susanafblanco.com)

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Also that it will be useful that you share it with others because this is the main purpose of my work:
sharing valuable information.

Thank you!