How to Make Your Own Encaustic Paints

01
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What Is Encaustic Paint?

How to make encaustic paint

Libby Lynn

Encaustic painting uses a form of paint where the wax is the main substance used as the binder. The term "encaustic" sounds a bit intimidating and dangerous because the name tends to make us think of caustic and dangerous chemicals, but it's nothing like that.

The term "encaustic" is derived from Greek, meaning simply "to burn in." The "recipe" for encaustic is simple: pigment plus wax (typically a mixture of beeswax and damar resin). You melt the wax, mix in the pigment, and you have encaustic paint.

Working with encaustic paint is quite different from using oil or acrylic paint because you have to heat the paint in order for it to be spreadable. You also need to fuse the paint to the support and existing layers of paint, again with heat.

But first, you need some paint. This step-by-step will show you how to make your own encaustic paint.

You will need:

  • Paint pigment (in powder form) 
  • Damar crystals (a type of resin)
  • Beeswax
  • A pan to "cook" the ingredients
  • A muffin tray (a silicone one makes it easier to get out the "paint muffins"
  • A hot plate or heating element (to put the pan on)
  • A metal or plastic spoon to stir the mix
  • Something to measure off portions of the liquid wax (a washed out, small tin can for instance)
  • Oven gloves to protect your hands

Always work with encaustic paints in a well-ventilated area, and don't overheat them. You just want the wax liquid, not on the boil!

So, let's learn a little more about the ingredients. First up, what is damar resin?

02
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What Is Damar Resin?

How to make encaustic paint

Libby Lynn

Damar resin is a natural resin from a tree. It seeps out of the tree from a cut, similar to how maple syrup is harvested from maple trees. It dries in large lumps or crystals. You melt these and mix them with beeswax for encaustic paints.

Damar resin is mixed with beeswax to harden it and raise its melting temperature. It also keeps the paint translucent and prevents blooming (whitening). It can also be polished to a glossy shine.

How much damar resin you mix with the beeswax is a matter of personal preference. Typically it's between four and eight measures of beeswax to one measure of damar resin, depending on how hard you want the final result to be.

Next, you have to melt the beeswax.

03
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Melting the Beeswax

How to make encaustic paint

Libby Lynn

The process is simple: put your pot onto the heat, add in the beeswax, wait for it to melt. Then, put in the damar resin and stir as this melts. Don't get impatient and turn the heat up high as beeswax and certain pigments (such as those using cadmium) gives off potentially noxious fumes above 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Beeswax will melt at around 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

The next step is to melt the damar resin.

04
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Melting the Damar Resin

How to make encaustic paint

Libby Lynn

Be patient! Damar resin doesn't melt as readily as the beeswax and is quite sticky. If you find there are bits of detritus from the damar resin, such as bark, don't stress. It'll form part of a painting's character.

After this, prepare the pigment.

05
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Powdered Pigment

How to make encaustic paint

Libby Lynn

How much pigment you use for each "paint muffin" in your tray is a matter of personal preference. For example, how much of a medium you might add to oil paint is up to you. Know the characteristics of your pigments, whether they're transparent and opaque, as this will also influence how much dry pigment you use. Don't use too much pigment because if there's not sufficient wax to "stick" it down, the paint will flake off.

Start with one or two spoonfuls of pigment. Remember you can always melt it down later again and add more pigment if you decide to.

Always be aware of art materials safety when working with pigments, not least knowing whether a particular pigment is poisonous or not. Avoid breathing in the pigment and don't blow it off a surface if you spill some, but wipe it off with a damp cloth.

Next, you have to mix the pigment and wax.

06
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Mix the Encaustic Medium and Pigment

How to make encaustic paint

Libby Lynn

Work carefully, as the wax is hot, obviously. Pour some of the beeswax and damar resin mix into the sections of the muffin tray. Use a small container to do this rather than trying to pour some from your pot. Bend a small tin can so it's got a bit of a spout, for instance.

Don't fill each section to the top as you want to be able to mix the pigment and medium without it sloshing out. Use a different spoon for each color to avoid cross-contaminating your colors. Keep stirring until the pigment has "dissolved" into the wax. If your hot plate is big enough, put the muffin tray on it to help keep the wax soft and make this easier.

Lastly, leave the encaustic paints to harden.

07
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Leave the Encaustic Paints to Harden

How to make encaustic paint

Libby Lynn

When the encaustic paints have hardened (allow at least an hour), you can pop them out the muffin tray for easy storage until you're ready to paint with them. If they're stuck tight, use a little heat to melt just enough to pop them loose.

Now you've got your paints prepared and ready for your next encaustic painting session!