Encaustic 101: Getting Started

Are you interested in painting with encaustics? Here’s where to start!

Step 1:

Education. Want to teach yourself? Buy and read “The Art of Encaustic Painting” by Joanne Mattera. This is the most accurate and up to date guide on encaustic painting that has been printed in the last 50 years (there are other books, but accept no substitutes – some contain erroneous information). You can find it used for $14; new for $29.95… it’s worth every penny. Rather take a class? Check the R&F Paint website – they host workshops throughout the U.S. Are you an artist? Or just exploring this as a hobby? Either way, do your homework and ask yourself “Why Encaustic“? And keep in mind, this blog post is no substitute for a class or a proper education. Follow the advice above for your safety and the integrity of any work you create.

Step 2:

Supplies. You can see a money saving list of the best supplies on my Encaustic Supply page. If, like me, you are on a budget, here’s a list of less expensive tools you can substitute:

$). Instead of the $200+ heated palette, I purchased a $25 electric skillet from Target. Make sure it has an accurate temperature control. No iron! This will work if you only want to paint with encaustics and have no immediate plans to make large encaustic prints.

$). I got 3 galvanized steel pots for .99 cents from Ikea. Go even cheaper and use leftover tuna cans!

$). Can’t afford to buy the expensive containers of pure Sennelier pigments? In small quantities, you can substitute melted oil bars from your local art store for pigment.

$). Remember: Heat and plastic don’t mix! No synthetic/plastic paintbrushes or palette knifes. Looking for something cheap to mix your paints with? Try those free wooden stir sticks from your local Starbucks!

$). Check your local thrift store for used muffin pans and sauce pots with a pour spout on the side. It doesn’t have to be pretty if the price is right!

The most expensive item you’ll have to purchase is the heat gun. Unfortunately there’s no substitute tool out there (no, your hair blower won’t work). Thankfully, my local Jerry’s Artarama employee took pity on me and signed me up for their mailing list… which, coincidentally came with a 40% off coupon for one item. I love you Jerry’s! You do have the option of working with mini blow torches and such – though most beginners are a bit weary of open flames. You’ll find the heat gun is well worth the cost. Feel free to experiment other heat tools (irons, etc.) once you’ve got the hang of it.

Step 3:

Safety. Read the attached document on Venting Your Studio for Encaustics. It’s important and it’s also easy to do! (It basically involves a cheap fan and an open window, so there’s no excuse not to do it). I further recommend you spend the little bit extra to buy soy wax for cleaning your brushes (as apposed to parrafin). It’s cheaper, safer and better for the environment. You should also take comfort in the fact that encaustic paints are one of the safest, non-toxic art mediums around when used properly.

Encaustic 101: Getting Started. Tutorial by Haley Nagy.

These are the basic ingredients for starting painting with encaustics. I’ll go into details in a future blog…