Polishing encaustic

How to care for your encaustic painting


Brief Background Information About Encaustic

Encaustic painting refers to artwork involving the heating of wax to generate layered works of art full of depth and texture, and the possibilities are endless. The term “encaustic” comes from the Greek word “enkaustikos,” which means, “burning in.”

Encaustic artwork is the result of fusing wax, layer by layer. My art incorporates mixed media materials such as oil paint, India ink, alcohol ink, pan pastels and other mark making mediums into my encaustic work.

Encaustic is a medium that has been around for about 2000 years. It dates as far back as the 5th century B.C. and is therefore a time-honored method of art. However, it is important to take good care of encaustic paintings. So, if you’re an owner of encaustic work, here are some tips on how you can care for your encaustic paintings.

As with almost all artwork, avoid exposure to very bright sunlight

When displaying your encaustic artwork, do not expose it to direct sunlight. This is true for all types of artwork, so hopefully this doesn’t come as a surprise. Some pigments can fade over time when exposed to harsh sunlight.

Avoid storing or transporting encaustic artwork in environments that are very hot

Storing or transporting encaustic paintings in areas with high temperatures can cause the wax to soften or even melt. Beeswax melts at 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Encaustic work should not be transported or stored in locations where the temperature exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit, because beeswax can soften at such temperatures. I do not recommend ground shipping where temperatures in a delivery truck might damage the art during the hottest times of the year. Overnight shipping is more expensive but has a much better chance of not sitting too long in a truck.

If a painting must be shipped during warm temperatures, be sure to have lots of insulating peanuts or other packing material around the artwork. As an extra precaution, secure the artwork to a piece of cardboard that is surrounded all around by at least 3 inches of packing material.

On the whole, if you do all you can to ensure that your encaustic artwork is shielded from high temperatures, the artwork will be just fine.

Avoid storing or transporting encaustic work in environments that are very cold

While very warm temperatures can cause encaustic painting to soften or even melt, cold temperatures (40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder) can be harmful as well.

I’ve heard many stories of work being shipped during winter temperatures in the US, with unfortunate results. If a shipping container is not handled properly and dropped, the entire encaustic painting can shatter or crack. If you must ship an encaustic painting during cold weather, wrap it in at least 3 inches of packing paper and fasten it to a piece of cardboard.

Hanging encaustic paintings

Good care of your encaustic painting also involves being conscious about where and how you hang it on a wall.

I use D-rings and wire on the backside of large cradled panels (paintings larger than 36 x 36 in.) and sometimes use two screws on the hanging wall that are level, about 6 inches apart. This ensures the painting will be level and will stay that way!

Give your encaustic painting a nice buff for a high polish

One thing I love about encaustic paintings is that you can really get a nice high polish to bring out the depth of all the layers within your art. All you need is an all-cotton cloth or the palm of your hand. Caution: remove any rings before buffing with your hand. One of the joys is bringing out the beauty of encaustic layers and noticing the lovely tactile feeling of the wax. Do NOT use a paper towel as it may cause scratches.

To polish an encaustic painting, take a cotton cloth (or palm of your hand) and just rub gently in circular motions, and you’ll get a beautiful, high sheen! If you compare the encaustic that you’ve polished with one that is unpolished, you’ll notice there is a huge difference between the two. An encaustic painting can become dull and lose its sheen over time, so just give the painting a quick buff and the shine will be restored! It takes about a year to cure entirely, so the more you polish the longer it will stay that way.

I hope these simple tips are helpful in the care of your encaustic paintings! For beautiful results, remember to occasionally give your encaustic paintings a quick buff.