Tag Archives: encaustic color

Encaustic Technique #6: Beginning Intarsia

 Intarsia techniques truly set encaustic painting apart from other painting mediums. It is a technique that borrows from wood, clay, metal, or fiber intarsia where a different color material is physically inserted into the base color or surface. It is an exciting technique with a distinctive appearance, one that often leaves the viewer scratching their heads and wondering, “how did they do that?!”. It is a technique best employed when you want crisp edges and contrast, with a smooth surface.


To begin, I brushed on several layers of color- blue and green, for variety- and fused the surface with my heat gun. Then I let the wax cool down. I tried to get the surface as smooth as I could. You’ll see why in a moment. If you are a true perfectionist, you might want to take a single blade razor, and, holding it perpendicular to the paint surface, lightly scrape it until it is level.


Next, I incised the surface with a variety of tools. From left: a small exacto knife (the outline of the smaller flower), a plastic clay tool (the wavy shallow lines in upper right), two more metal clay tools (wide strip far right), an awl (used to draw larger flower, write with, and make dotted lines at lower left), a sewing tool (wavy dotted lines lower center), a fork (lower right), and above, a set of numbers originally used for imprinting sheet metal (center). You’ll want your designs to be fairly deep, and flick off any large burrs of wax that may curl at the edges of your wax. If you make a mistake, you can usually re-fuse and start again when the wax cools.


Next, I brushed on a contrasting color of encaustic paint, filling in the designs in the wax. I used a vivid yellow, just to make this easy to see. Sorry if this is hurting your eyes! You may find that if your paint is really hot, you start melting your underlayer with your brush strokes. In this case, turn down your palette heat a bit, and use more of a dabbing motion than a brush stroke. Either way, you want to fill those incisions. 


After letting all of the wax cool to room temperature, take your single razor blade and carefully start scraping the surface, keeping your blade at approximately a 45 deg. angle. remove the curls of wax as they build up on the razor, or they will stick to the painting when you least want them to. It is not showing all that well in the photograph above, but the result is color inlayed into the wax, with a nice level surface. I’ve left the left side of the flower unfilled to demonstrate another technique later. I’ve also left the lower right portion only partially scraped back, so that you can see what it looks like mid-scrape. It can be a nice effect, with a little halo of color around the marks, and random areas of color. Also, you see little bits of yellow here and there- that is where my surface was not absolutely level. Paint settles into the low areas, and I had to stop scraping before they were gone, or I might have lost too much of the design. 

At this point, you can keep on adding layers, and building your painting surface. Keep in mind that if you fuse heavily right after using this technique, you will lose the crisp lines, and your design will melt together. Also, sometimes different colors melt at slightly different temperatures, so this can cause a mess. With some experimentation, you will learn when to stop. I usually fuse very very lightly, or add a few layers of clear wax before fusing to protect the design. 

I hope this is helpful! I’ll continue the intarsia technique next time, with a slightly more advanced approach.

Encaustic Technique #4: Color


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.