Substrates and Painting Tools

Porous Surfaces: The molten-pigmented wax or the wax medium should be applied to a porous surface, such as paper, fabric, wood, plaster, etc. Once the first layer is fused with a heat source (I use a heat gun and others use a small propane or butane torch) then other layers of coloured wax or medium can be added  and continually fused until the painting is finished. 

The most common substrates are paper and wood panels. Paper comes in different variety of weights from rice, kozo, and tissue papers that are very thin and transparent, to cardboard and 300-lb watercolour paper, etc.   One can also use different papers as college elements which can be embed into the wax. Artists also may use a hotbox and add colours of wax onto the heated surface and then take a print of the design. These designs are printed on different absorbent papers. Check out Paula Roland‘s hot box and her processes. 

I use heavy water color paper and, when the painting is finished, will mount the image onto a panel or frame it. The issue with wax on paper is its fragility and can crack if bent or folded so one needs to protect the painted surface by attaching the paper onto a ridged surface. Or, be careful not to bend the painting when creating a scroll or hanging the paper without a frame.

In addition to using paper, I predominately use a birch panel that I purchase from an art supply store.   I do, at times, mount paper onto a panel to get a white background and I do like a paper surface to paint on, or I just apply the medium and wax pigment onto the raw panel. One can also use gesso that is specifically made for encaustic.  

Note: I also find it difficult to take the wax off the sides of a panel so I do use masking or painter’s tape that I wrap around the frame. When the painting is finished I will take the tape off the sides.

The following images show how I attach the watercolour paper onto the panel.  The first picture show the equipment needed.  In the second and third picture I show how to glue one side of the paper and the top of the panel.   Then take a old credit or hotel card and scrape the glue to the edges.  Press the watercolour paper onto the panel.  Use the roller and go over the paper and panel.  I sometimes use an old iron on a low setting and iron over the paper and this also presses the paper into the panel.  I leave a heavy book on the panel overnight.  



Tools to paint with.

Brushes:   They come in all shapes and sizes. I use large brushes for applying large areas of paint to the smallest ones for fine lines. Brushes come in flat, round, natural or acrylic. If I am applying large areas of paint then I usually will use a flat natural bristle brush. Remember, the wax is hot so can melt acrylic brushes. I try to keep my temperature under 200 degrees so this heat will melt my brushes if they are acrylic so I do not keep the small brushes in the wax for too long. I will just dip the small acrylic brush into the wax and then add the lines onto the surface of the painting.   For mixing my colors of wax I use predominately hog hair bristle and for details will go to the softer natural brushes.   Brushes are expensive and I use cheap ones that can be purchased at hardware or dollar stores. I also buy small soft bristle brushes at an art supply store. 

In the picture below the brushes on the left are bristle brushes for painting larger areas with liquid pigmented wax.  I like painting with the short handles.  Then, the fan brushes are great.  I use them to build up texture onto the surface.  Also, the sides make great lines.  The bamboo brushes next to the fan brushes are great to paint details with.  The liquid wax just holds in the bamboo brushes and I can make fine lines and also use the tips to do dots and swishes of lines.  The next group are the small acrylic and natural soft bristle brushes. These are used to paint my fine lines.  I use #3 – #0.  

Brushes for Encaustic

It is wonderful painting with wax because I do not have to clean brushes.  I have a brush for each colour.  Also, if a brush is dirty, I put the tip of the brush onto a hot surface.  The wax melts and I can clean it off with a paper towel. Or dip the brush in medium and take the wax off with a paper towel.  

Paper Towels – a must for painting. I use a lot of paper towels to clean the surfaces of the hot plate and for cleaning my brushes.

Scraping Tools

When the liquid wax is applied to the surface there may be times when you have to scrape the wax down when it is cool.   These scraping tools and  artist’s knife are used to scrape the surface of the wax.  I also use a carving tool that has a small curved surface.  This is great to get into small areas to scrape away a line or scrape down the textural surface.  The tool on the far right also has a small round opening and is also used to scrape down small areas that I can not get with the larger metal scraper.  My favourite tool  is a flat blade which is used for scraping down the surface.  Additionally, a spoon can be used to burnish a collaged element into the wax.  The wooden cotton swabs can be dipped into the wax and then used to create wonderful dots.  


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Spoon to burnish the surface, to make the surface smooth, and to embed collage elements.  


Wonderful cotton swabs for making dots and blending colors.

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Blades and their holders.  I just use the blade when scraping down the surface.  You have to continually clean off the accumulated wax from the blade or else that wax will end up back on the surface and intermingle with the wax underneath.  This is hard to fix.  

Hot Tools

In this section I talk about the hot tools that I use to make marks.  I will describe each one and talk about its usage.  I use a small flat nosed plier to unscrew the hot tool from the base.  Also, I use the metal eye dropper to take the liquid paint and then add the liquid paint to the Tjanting (Batik) hot tool.  



The first one below is great to use for lines.  As  you can see the tip has a division in the centre where the wax accumulates.  I can dig this tip gently into the solid wax or into liquid wax.  When I draw with this pen it makes these fine lines but is hard to control when the wax flows out at the beginning.  As you can see the wax is a bit wider at the beginning and narrow at the end of each stroke.  This tool takes practice and is hard to control.  


The following pen nib I bought at the Vendor’s room at the International Encaustic conference.  It was $25.00 just for the nib.  I was very disappointed with the way the nib scratched into the wax layer when I tried to do lines.  It is not the same as the previous nib that came with the hot tool.  I did get two sizes of these writing nibs so they were expensive.  I will keep working with them but I do think other tools do a better job when making lines.  This tool works best when dipped into the liquid wax.  


Metal brushes come in straight and angled.  They do make great lines, but as you see below they  start off as dark and then move to light.  One can get different brushed lines with these hot tools.  Love the effect of going from transparency to opaque.  


The following is called the  Tjanting (Batik) hot tool.  I use the metal eye dropper and add liquid wax into the bowl and then put the pin into the bowl.  The white around the plug is wax that has hardened.  Once the tool gets hot the wax melts.  This pin plugs up the hole on the bottom and then when you hold the bottom onto the surface and move it the pen gets pushed up and then the wax flows out.  You can make dots and flowing lines.  One has to be careful because the pointed nib can easily drop out of the bowl and then the wax comes out and makes a mess, as you can see below.  These Tjanting tools come in three hole sizes – small, medium and large.  


As you can see below, both of these pictures show the batik tool used to make lines.  I do like this tool because I can add interesting lines to the surface of my paintings.  


Finally, the brush can also be used to make lines.  In this example, I use the smallest brush that I can find.  It does incredible lines.  One can combine the different tools to make different surface treatments. 

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The following encaustic painting is the underneath layer. I used a wide bristle brush for the first few layers and then just the bamboo brush for the surface texture.  It is 24″ X 48″. A bamboo brush is great for adding small and wide marks as well as dots.  I will be adding my gauze covering on top of this painting.  





Author: Anna

I am a painter and sculptor and have a studio beside a beautiful lake. For the past 40 years, I designed and built puppets, masks and sculptures and had solo exhibitions of these works. In 2013, I went back to painting and started working in encaustic. I am interested in issues of identity in terms of weavings as coverings to protect or to hide. The intersecting lines that I create over landscapes create an internal conversation versus the external between nature vs. nurture. Or how actual or psychological barriers erected in an environment can disrupt a cherished place. My engagement with woven structures speak to complex dialogues between identity and psychological barriers. My second passion is teaching. I try to encompass more than teaching my students art techniques. I encourage students to, not only learn the language of art, but to also engage in critiquing art. Additionally, we continually explore ways to enhance one's voice through art in relation to contemporary and historical issues. Encaustic adventures is a blog where not only processes and techniques are taught, but hopefully this sites will engage in a dialogue about the making of art, notions of voice, identity, themes, and ways to establish a body of work within an historical contexts.

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