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wax

Post #120 • October 3, 2003, 1:54 PM

Athens: A gentleman here has been doing research to revive the ancient techniques of painting in encaustic. Efrosine Doxiades has been in communication with him, and this is what she reports.

There are three methods of painting with wax, two hot, one cold. The simplest is to heat metal cups on a double-broiler, put beeswax pellets in the cups with some ground gum mastic for hardness, drop in some powdered pigments and paint with it. You have about two seconds to get the paint out of the cups and onto the surface before it dries. Using a heated stylus you can buy a little time. A modern variation is to add turpentine and damar varnish to the heated wax. The negative health effects of turpentine are probably overblown, but heated turpentine produces fumes that are pernicious, if not lethal. This is best avoided.

The second method is to allow the contents of these cups to cool and harden. Take a metal tool with a flexible, flat tip – a dental spatula is ideal but a palette knife will do – and heat the tip over a lamp filled with alcohol (oil burns too hot and makes a dirty flame). Dip the tip into the cup of wax, which will liquify on contact, and paint with it.

The third method is to saponify the wax, called the Punic method. Melt beeswax and a pinch of mastic and stir. In a separate pot, boil one cup water with a quarter teaspoon of baking soda. Add the water to the wax to create a half & half mixture. This produces a gel that is water-soluble at room temperature. Combining it with powdered pigment produces a cottage-cheese-type paste that can be made smoother with a little water and a lot of mixing. One might try to mull the pigments with water as one does with egg tempera before combining with the wax.

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