Encaustic 101: Making Your Own Paints

Are you ready to make your own paints?

Have you already read my blog on getting started in encaustics? Then read on!

Step 1:

Supplies. (You can find a great list of money saving options on my Encaustic Supply page). You’ll need damar resin, beeswax and pigment. If you are new to encaustics, I suggest you start with a 1 pound bag of resin and a 5+ pound bag of granulated white beeswax from R&F Paints. If you are feeling more adventurous and want to buy in bulk, you can save a lot of money by buying plain bricks of beeswax from any of the following vendors: Rudy’s Honey, Strahl & Pitsch, or Dadant. (Note: You are looking for real beeswax, not “cold wax paste”, such as Gamblin or Doralands cold wax medium. Cold wax medium is toxic when heated – avoid!).

You are looking for bleached white beeswax. However, this term can be misleading. Retailers often use the term “bleached” to describe wax that has been chemically bleached as well as wax that has been “bleached” by a natural filtering process. What’s the difference? Wax that has been chemically bleached retains those chemicals, which can later react with your pigments. Not to mention emit toxic fumes when melted. That’s a big no-no. Filtering wax is a simple process that removes the pollen and debris that discolor wax over time. The results aren’t 100% white, but there are no chemicals in filtered wax to worry about. Safety first people! Don’t think that bar of filtered wax you just got is quite white enough? Just bleach it in the sun for a couple of days. Seriously – it works!

Step 2:

Shake & Bake. The best encaustic medium is made with a 1-8 ratio of resin to beeswax. There are two ways to follow this recipe. You can either measure by weight or by proportions. I found a handy-dandy online chart for those who will be measuring by weight.

If, like me, you don’t have a cooking scale at home, here’s a neat trick for measuring by proportions. Simply scoop one spoon full of resin into a container and then set aside 8 spoon fulls of wax into a separate container. Repeat a couple of times until you’ve reached the capacity for your melting apparatus. Viola! You’ve just mixed a 1-8 ratio of resin to beeswax.

Encaustic 101: Making Your Own Paints. Tutorial by Haley Nagy.

Obviously, this method will only work if you are using granulated wax… or have taken the time to shred the wax with an old cheese grater. But what about those big, chunky rocks of resin? I suggest you break them apart before measuring. Put the crystals inside a plastic bag and smack them a couple of times with a hammer. The smaller you break resin down, the faster it will melt.

Encaustic 101: Making Your Own Paints. Tutorial by Haley Nagy.

Step 3:

Snap, Crackle, Pop. Make sure your studio ventilation system is on before proceeding to the next step. Resin melts at 225°F and pure beeswax melts at 150°F. First, turn on your electric skillet, put it between 225°-250° F, add the resin and cover.

Encaustic 101: Making Your Own Paints. Tutorial by Haley Nagy.
The resin will go through various stages while melting: from rock solid (will pop and crackle), to a goo with a sticky film on top, and finally ending in a clear honey colored liquid that resembles amber.

Encaustic 101: Making Your Own Paints. Tutorial by Haley Nagy.
Sticky!

Encaustic 101: Making Your Own Paints. Tutorial by Haley Nagy.
When the resin has almost fully melted, get ready to mix in the beeswax.

Encaustic 101: Making Your Own Paints. Tutorial by Haley Nagy.
Encaustic 101: Making Your Own Paints. Tutorial by Haley Nagy.
Pour in the wax and recover. See the honey color of the melted resin against the white of the beeswax?

Mix thoroughly with an old wooden spoon. The resin tends to stick to the bottom, so make sure to scrape the skillet as you stir. Once the mixture has reached an even consistency and the resin is completely absorbed, reduce the temperature to 150°F. Allow the liquid to actually cool to 150°F before pouring it into your muffin pans.

Encaustic 101: Making Your Own Paints. Tutorial by Haley Nagy.
I find it easier to first pour (or laddle) the wax into an old sauce pot with a pouring spout on the side – and then use that to fill the muffin pan safely. Even then, splashes happen, which is all the more reason to let the wax cool to a lower temp before transferring it.

Now let the wax cool and harden – then simply pop the cakes out of the pan! At this point, you have made encaustic medium! To make encaustic paints, add one extra step before allowing the wax to harden in the muffin pan. Mix powdered pigment into the individual molds filled with medium (I recommend non-toxic Earth Pigments). I suggest you stir with some of those free little stir sticks from your local coffee shop. Make sure to follow standard safety procedures for working with pigments – wear a breathing mask (respirator) and rubber gloves to prevent inhalation/ingestion of the powder.

You might notice some debris from the resin has settled to the bottom of your paint/medium. Simply rub the cake on your hot skillet and wipe off the grit on a paper towel. Use paper towels to clean your skillet while it is still warm.

Do your paint cakes look lopsided? Is it colored at the bottom and clear at the top? There are two things that would have caused this. Either you didn’t stir the pigment thoroughly – or you didn’t allow the wax to cool enough before transferring it to the muffin pan. The hotter the wax, the longer it takes to solidify – which allows more time for the pigment to settle at the bottom of the pan. You can still use these lopsided paints – just melt them from the side so that the clear medium and saturated pigment can mix in the skillet.

Check back for tutorials on how to set up your station for encaustic painting, transfer an image onto the wax and much more!

Encaustic 101: Making Your Own Paints. Tutorial by Haley Nagy.

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