Encaustic is the very earliest known form of paint, predating oil, fresco and tempera. It was first used by the Greeks over 2,000 years ago. After Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 33BC, a large number of Greeks went to Egypt bringing their ideas and customs. It was in Egypt that encaustic reached its highest artistic expression with the wonderful Fayum mummy portraits, which are as vibrant and fresh as they were when they were painted.
Encaustic paint is beeswax and pigments mixed with a little damarresin. The damar raises the melting point of the beeswax, hardens it and gives the paint its unique optical depth. I make my own paint, using ancient recipes, adding raw pigments including hand ground cochineals, mica, clays,sand, fibers and natural materials. I incorporate wood, plaster, found objects, paper, hair, tar, metal leaf, sometimes working in 3D.
I begin by melting the beeswax mixture. The molten material is then applied to the surface, either wood or canvas or an armature. Metal tools or brushes can be used to shape the paint before it cools, or heated metal tools can be used to manipulate the wax once it has cooled onto the surface. Because wax is used as the pigment binder, encaustics can be sculpted as well as painted. Other materials can be encased or collaged onto or into the surface, or layered, using the encaustic to adhere it to the surface.