Making Encaustic Medium

Encaustic painting requires the use of encaustic medium. Encaustic medium is the encaustic paint without pigment. It’s used to extend colors and to create transparency and depth. Making your own medium will save you between 30-60% of out-of-pocket expenses in encaustic painting.

Supplies

  • Refined Beeswax (United States Pharmaceutical (USP) grade so it has been filtered and purified without the use of harsh chemicals or bleaching agents)
  • Damar Resin Crystals
  • Nut grinder or mortar and pestle
  • Kitchen scale (measures in grams)
  • Glass measuring cup
  • Oven mitts
  • Crock Pot with digital built in thermometer or electric skillet with same
  • Ladle
  • Muffin Tins or Pans
  • Wooden spoon

Important health and safety notes:

  • Once you have used kitchen utensils for encaustic painting, never use these utensils for cooking, even if they look clean, ever again
  • Work outdoors or next to an open window while you’re melting the wax and damar. At the very least, wear a dust mask, even better, a NIOSH approved mask
  • Wear eye protection
  • Use caution when working with hot melted wax making sure to wear proper protective clothing including long sleeved shirts and long pants. Keep cool water nearby in case the hot wax gets on your skin.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby

I create my own encaustic medium by melting beeswax and resin together. I use 100% Pharmaceutical Grade beeswax for my more clear applications and unfiltered beeswax that I get from beekeeping when I want a natural warm glow to my images. Damar resin crystals are used to harden (read: cure) the wax, raising its melting point. Adding damar resin also allows encaustic paintings to be polished to a high gloss for a luminous effect, or the wax can be modeled, sculpted, textured, and combined with collage material.

Beeswax is the oldest and purest wax in the world. At honey harvest time the honeycombs are carefully opened to allow for honey to drain from the comb. The bees seal the honey into the combs with wax “capping” placed over every cell filled with honey. This capping is removed at harvest and is used in the production of beeswax.

There are many formulae for mixing encaustic medium. The old recipes usually involve ingredients that when heated may become toxic such as linseed oil and or turpentine. I don’t follow these old recipes because of health concerns. Instead, I stick with the new basic school of thought on encaustic medium, 1-part damar resin crystals to 8 parts beeswax. Different ratios provide different results. Over time, you’ll figure out what works best for any particular application. Less damar resin crystals make a more pliable medium; more damar resin crystals make the medium heavier, and often brittle.

Method

Grind damar resin crystals in nut grinder (or use a mortar and pestle)
Melt damar resin crystals at 200-225 degrees in clean skillet or crock-pot stirring occasionally (do not use a reactive cooking surface such as a cast iron skillet; do not overheat)
Lower heat to 165-185 degrees
Add balance of natural beeswax

Make sure to NOT overheat. If you burn encaustic medium, you release toxic Alde Hyde and acrolein fumes. Burning also weakens the structure of the wax and changes its color, encaustic medium is useless once it’s burned. It’s best to use an electric griddle or a crock-pot with a thermostat. Stir regularly to ensure that the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Stir until the entire mixture is molten.

For the first level of refinement, pour the medium mixture into a glass measuring-cup or espresso frother. Leave larger bits of debris (which include bugs, tree bark and or elephant hair from the dammar resin) in the bottom of the crock-pot. Wipe this debris out of the crock pot with a paper towel while still warm. Don’t allow debris to cool and then reheat, it will smoke.

Pour the encaustic medium mixture through a fine cheesecloth-lined metal strainer into muffin tins or cake pans. Allow to cool. Once cool, turn pans upside down, remove medium cakes. You may see bits of debris on the bottom side of the medium cakes. Scrape any remaining debris from the bottom of the medium cake so that it doesn’t become part of your art.

More to read and watch:

How to make encaustic medium video
Encaustics FAQs

Purchase Raw Materials or Ready-Made Medium

Jerry’s Artarama
Fine Art Store

R&F Paint
Dick Blick

In my next blog post I’ll tell you everything I know about encaustic painting tools.

Encaustic Painting 101 Series


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