Encaustic Technique #7: Smooth Surface Tips


It seems that for many encaustic artists, the smooth surface is like the holy grail. Beeswax painting lends itself to almost instant surface texture. Wonderful, to be sure, and fun to exploit, but sometimes we want something glassy and smooth. Developing a smooth surface especially on any piece over, say, 12″ x 12″, takes patience and restraint. Although I cannot boast a perfectly smooth surface on my paintings, and in fact don’t aim for that, they do fall in the category of smooth rather than textured. I tend to use the smooth texture to contrast with the final touches of paint that I use to create a subtle relief (see above). Here are my tips for working toward a smooth surface in your paintings:

1. I use a heat gun to fuse, and am very careful to not over-fuse. The wax should not be blown around, or you will create a wavy surface. I’ve also read that torches can work well.

2. I use a wide (4″) hake brush to lay down layers of clear beeswax. The hake brushes are inexpensive, and have a fine texture that lays down smooth, thin layers of wax.

3. Scraping the surface from time to time with a razor blade will even out your surface and encourage subsequent layers to go on smoothly. If you use intarsia in your paintings, this will be a built-in texture regulator.

4. When I want to lay down a smooth layer, I turn the heat up on my wax slightly. Usually I keep it at 200 deg. F., but I’ll turn it up to 220 or so for brief periods. The hotter wax is more likely to smear color directly beneath it, so use this tip carefully.

5. If I am putting down more than one layer of smooth was, I alternate the direction of my strokes with each layer. I load my brush, keeping it nice and hot, then use one sweeping stroke to cover the entire width of the painting. Then I apply a stroke beneath that one, etc. When that layer is done I turn my painting a quarter turn, and put down another layer, etc. I fuse every two thin layers as I go.

6. Many artists use a “pour” method for their paintings. They tape the edges of their painting to create a lip that comes up to create a clean edge. Then pour the hot wax onto the surface. The drawback is that this can melt and/0r pit the surface of any painting beneath the pour. This is worth experimenting with, though, as I’ve seen some really beautiful work done this way.

6. Some artists use a solvent at the very end to smooth the surface. You can put a bit on a rag and rub the surface. What I’ve noticed about this technique it that it creates a matte finish. The painting must be buffed periodically to maintain a glossy finish.

7. Which brings us to buffing. You’ve created your smooth surface, and you want to make it look glassy? Clean, lint free rags work. I like to use white t-shirts that I get from the thrift store, wash and dry, and then cut up. Another option is to use chamois, which is completely lint-free, and can work up a high shine. You don’t need anything but your buffing rag and some patience. Work on small sections at a time, rubbing lightly in small circles. This is a great way to “polish” your finished piece.

What about you? do you have any smooth surface tips you’d like to add? Leave a comment, and add to the list.

15 thoughts on “Encaustic Technique #7: Smooth Surface Tips

  1. Diane Bailey-Haug

    I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your blog. I especially enjoyed your comments about sharing. We can never exactly copy another’s work but can gain inspiration from it. I intend to use your tip # 7 in a beginning encaustic class. You have some great pointers regarding smooth finish (if that’s what you want).

  2. Stephanie Clayton

    fantastic advice. i’m so intrigued by this medium. i’ve just begun studying encaustic, have yet to actually try it. (i’ll be starting it once i move my studio…big plans ahead!)
    thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  3. Margaret

    In the last two months I’ve begun to seriously explore encaustic and I was excited to find your site. Right now I’m at the stage of figuring our all the variables so I can consistently create what I want. Advice from someone who is obviously comfortable with the medium is very helpful and much appreciated. I love the monochromatic colour scheme and organic feel to your artwork above.

  4. Beth Haynes

    One more technique for a smooth surface which I learned from my son Benjamin.

    We have been using primarily claybords so I don’t know how this would work with other base surfaces, but we have both had great success placing the claybord right onto the palette and letting it heat up thoroughly from bottom up. If I want it to be really smooth and level, I will turn off the palette and let it cool down without moving the claybord until the wax is firm.

    I have only used this technique to smooth out the lowest layers and haven’t done it after I have put on layers of wax that I would not want to melt together. I can see that it would be fun to experiment with this technique and see what happens.

  5. Robin & Norm

    Hi, thank you for your very good information and advise, I am very new to encaustics and have been looking for info on how artists make some aspects of their paintings so precise, ( circles, lines, dotted lines etc.). I shall look forward to more blogs. Robin

  6. donna page

    Hi Lisa,
    Thanks for your blog. It is so helpful. Love you work. I have just started encaustics and love them.
    I am curious how you achieve the fine black line work? It looks like a technical pen. Is that just a small brush and wax? Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  7. aruntabear

    Question…. besides loving your blog etc, and thanks, how did you make the small black dots within which, or outside of which you placed the white wax. Sorry, beginner here with this technique, and this may seem obvious to others… I like to stipple on paper and wondered what I could use on wax.
    thanks again….

  8. Teresa Totaro

    Hi Lisa,
    Are you still working with this medium? My friend and I have been experimenting with wax and would love to talk to someone with more experience than us!

  9. Gina T

    I’ve came across a great use for old stalkings – I use them to buff my final layer of encaustic when I’m finishing up my work. Make sure to use the part of the stalking that is most sheen, this gives your finished piece a great shine, & reflects the light that hits it.

    Great Blog, Lisa!

  10. Matt

    I apply an encaustic wax finish over my acrylic on panel paintings. I love the smooth shine on the finished work. When I started doing this I was having trouble with a cloudy finish but found that it was due to to layer being too thick. Thinner is better and a good buffing with a microfiber cloth (like the ones for cleaning eyeglasses) makes for a great finish.

  11. Dixie

    I love texture & having seen Alicia Tormey work ,I was blown away.SO I had a go with wax , no plans , just having fun!I added Acrylic ,which I mainly use ,Bingo I am well &truly hooked!

  12. tonipacker

    How do I thin my medium? I heat it a little over 200 but between filling the brush and putting it onto the panel itself, it thickens and is hard to brush on.


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