Encaustic painting is a process that combines dry pigments with wax which has been softened with heat. In more modern times, the softened wax would be combined with resin. The purpose of doing this is to fuse the pigment to the painting surface to producea durable finish.
Enkaustikos, the Greek for "burning in", was one of the main painting techniques used by ancient Greeks and Romans. They would heat the surface to be painted and the palette they were using with charcoal burners and worked with a two ended metal spatula or a brush. Sometimes they made cuts in the design with the heated end of the spatula and then filled these with paint.
There are some examples of these early encaustic painting still surviving, include portraits painted on the wooden sarcophagi of mummies found in late Egyptian tombs and Roman murals discovered at Pompeii. Encaustic painting was still a common method of painting in the Early Christian times some examples of which include the Virgin and Child Enthroned in the Monastery of St Catherine on Mount Sinai, in Egypt.
Having fallen into disuse around about the 9th century, ecaustic painting has never really been revived, however it has been used with some sucess in the 20th Century for painting murals and the process is made easier by adding resin to the mixture and the use of electrically heated palettes.
A Fascinating Hobby
One method of creating encaustic paintings today is to use specially designed low heat tools to melt formulated beeswax blocks that have been coloured with lightfast pigments. The soft wax is then applied to a specially coated cards which allow the wax to move freely across them whilst in its molten state. (If you tried this process on normal card or paper, the wax would simply soak into it.)
These vibrant colours can be worked into all kinds of patterns allowing even a novice to create beautiful abstract art. With a little more effort, the four basic effects that can be produced by the painting iron can be used to form simple landscapes and fantasy art.