Lessons learned and observations made in the first two attempts at making encaustic paint in six years.
Attempt one: 8 parts white beeswax pellets to 1 part damar resin (by weight)
Attempt two: 8 parts white beeswax pellets to 1 part damar resin (by volume)
In attempt one, I tried to melt the damar resin then mix the wax into the liquid. The resin wouldn’t melt in a double boiler, so I transferred it to direct heat on the hob and promptly burned it (whoops).
On the second attempt, I added the damar crystals to the wax. This was more successful (i.e.: they melted without burning) but the damar crystals didn’t fully melt into the wax and I became concerned about leaving it on the heat too long, in case the wax started to discolour.
WaxSmashing the resin crystals to reduce their surface area would almost certainly help, but that carries the risk of airborne particles – not a good thing while I’m still using the living room as a studio and sharing the space with my asthmatic partner.
Under my current working conditions, I’m not convinced that direct heat is the wrong way to go, but it clearly requires a more cautious approach.
On the first attempt, I added the wax in one go. In hindsight, this was clearly a bad idea. On the second attempt, I added it in four lots, which was far more sensible.
Elementary stuff but, since I messed it up the first time, it bears documenting.
I poured the result of the first attempt into a metal food tray and found that it stuck to the sides of the container as it dried. Getting it out will involve either destroying the container or melting the whole block and decanting it into a more suitable receptacle.
The result of the second attempt went into silicone cupcake cases. These have been far more forgiving, and the wax cakes can be removed easily. Definitely the way to go in future.
I added colour to the second batch in the form of oil paint, which had been squeezed out onto kitchen roll to draw out some of the oil. The paint was laid out in approximately 1.25 inch lines and left for a little under 48 hours.
I mixed this into the wax while it was still cooling in the silicone moulds and, after some mashing, it mixed fairly well. There are some issues with the distribution of the pigment which is particularly evident in the paints made when the wax was cooler and they’re none of them as pretty or as bright as shop-bought paints, but they’re functional and significantly cheaper.
Measuring the wax by volume seems to be the way to go. The stickiness of the first product was unappealing and, although it could have
been caused by any number of factors, weighing the wax and resin is more time-consuming and doesn’t offer noticeably better results.
Melting the wax (in batches!) before adding the damar was not an unreasonable thing to do, but I’m conscious that the wax changes consistency and colour as it gets hotter. I’ll need to do some reading on the properties of wax and damar before making a decision on whether to melt the wax or the damar first.
Silicone moulds are hands down the way to go if I’m making wax cakes. The Enkaustikos-style tins have a certain appeal, but heating that much wax is going to take a while, and the tin will be a swine to clean if it gets contaminated with another colour. The cakes can be melted individually, cut, weighed and mixed methodically.
When making coloured wax, I need to be do it one cake at a time, leaving the bulk of the mixture to stay liquid. The pigment isn’t as evenly distributed and, although aesthetics weren’t high on my list of priorities, the waxes coloured later in the session look like lumps of frosting which will certainly make stacking them harder even if it doesn’t come back to bite me in some other fashion.
Notes for next time:
- Wear an apron
- Make paints one at a time
- Take more photos!
- Explore ways to completely melt damar into the wax
- Use pigment for colour (not feasible until I have a dedicated painting space)
- Use wax blocks for colour
- Check material properties – melting points, flash points, discoloration temperature, hazards…
- Carnauba wax