Encaustic paint is truly different from every other kind of paint. It looks different, smells different, feels and behaves differently. All encaustic paint comes in solid form. Heat must be applied for the wax to become liquid. Encaustic paint does not dry, it hardens. Quickly. For this reason, an encaustic artist must work with purpose and speed. This can be exhilarating, or exasperating, depending on your method of working, and your goals. Or maybe just your mood that day!
You can see my paints above. I’ve ordered them from R&F Paints, but a quick internet search will turn up several other suppliers. I like the quality of these paints, and have relied on them for years now. The little round cake off to the right is a color I mixed to have on hand- you can custom mix colors in small muffin tins, or in recycled small cans. If you put the muffin tin in the freezer, the paint will pop out, and if you mix it in a can, you can just leave it there and put it on and off your pallet as you need it. I find that the solid paints are very concentrated, and I usually dilute the color with clear beeswax medium. To use and mix the paints, the block of paint is touched directly to a hot pallet (at aprox. 200-220 degrees), and it instantly melts into molten paint. A little goes a long way. A natural bristle brush is used to apply the paint, and it hardens quickly on the surface of the painting. How much working time you have between the moment your brush leaves the pallet and the hardening of the paint and brush depends on how hot your pallet is, how warm the surface of your painting is, and how warm the room you are working in is kept. I have a small space heater in my studio for cold days or nights- mainly because it extends that brief working time.
Just like other types of paint, different colors of paint behave differently- some are more transparent than others (manganese violet, cerulean blue, zinc white), some tend to separate if they sit on the hot pallet (cerulean blue, indigo, zinc). Some are more ferocious than others (alizarin crimson, phthalo green), and tend to dominate when mixing with other colors. The earth colors can be ever so slightly grainy sometimes. R&F offers a color chart for ordering their paints that are actually made with little squares of paint- and if you are thinking of ordering online, it is a great resource to have, as it gives you some clues as to the nature of each color.
Some artists make their own paint, using beeswax medium and powdered pigment. I’ve never tried this, and if you decide that this is the way you want to go, I’d do some research on handling powdered pigments safely. Sinopia Pigments, Earth Pigments, and Daniel Smith are all resources for powdered pigments.
I have mixed my own colors using beeswax medium and a dab of oil paint. In this case, you want the mixture to be mainly beeswax. If you use too much oil in the mix it will neither harden, nor dry properly. Not good. So just a little pigment to a greater amount of wax. This is really handy if you already own oils, and have a limited color range in the pre-mixed wax blocks. It’s easy to occasionally mix a little of a custom color this way. Powdered graphite can also be mixed with wax medium to create a warm grey with some luster, and you’ll feel just like Jasper Johns.
Whether you buy your paint, or mix your own batches of color, you’ll want to get to know your paint. A great way to do this is to create your own color charts. I’ve been working on this project myself, and it has taught me so much about my paints. And I’ve discovered some really unusual, subtle colors in the process by mixing unlikely colors together. Here is how I approached this project:
First, I made a list of my colors. Then I created grids on printmaking paper (other thick, absorbent paper will work too). I wrote the first color at the top of the page, and painted the color next to it. This was my base color. Then, I labeled each of the boxes with the remaining colors. I mixed each color with the main color, and some clear beeswax.
I added a bit of white for each stroke, increasing the tint a little each time. I designed it this way because I often work with tints. For the next chart, I’ll delete Alizarin Crimson off the list, so the charts get a little smaller each time. When I’m done, I’ll have a sample of how every color interacts with every other color in my pallet.
Here is the finished chart. (See what I mean about surprising color combos? Check out the great earthy orange you get by combining green gold with alizarin crimson!)
Depending on your techniques, color range, and inclinations, you could use this idea in a variety of ways. You could make charts exploring shades, or transparency. You could design a color wheel instead of grids like these. The point is that a systematic exploration is a great way to get to know how colors in this medium (or any medium) behave.