Health & Safety
Since you will be working with hot wax and electrical equipment that generates heat, the essential requirement is concentration. Turn equipment off when not in use, do not carry hot wax around without assistance. Use common sense.
Although I have painted, with care, onto stretched canvas, it is flexible and any movement may crack the wax. Far better to use a rigid surface that can withstand subsequent pressures and incisions. I use rigid plywood, grey board or canvas board. It is important that the surface is non porous, which can be accomplished with an under painting of pure wax medium, however I prefer to work on a white surface and tend to prime the surface with gesso.
Refined beeswax is the standard wax used for Encaustic medium, together with a hardening agent. Refined wax rather than bleached, which overtime can return to its original yellow colour. To minimise costs I add a quantity of paraffin wax, which is less expensive and colourless. To this mix I add a small quantity of hardening agent, carnauba wax, originating from a South American plant. It is important to keep the wax just below 100C to keep it free flowing to paint, too much beyond 100C and the wax may discolour.
It is possible to buy blocks of coloured wax medium to add to the molten wax, which are usually come in basic colours, but I prefer to add my own oil paint or powdered pigment to obtain the colours I’m looking for. The amount of pigment added to the molten wax will determine the transparency of the paint, yet different colours vary in opacity, so it is preferable to add small quantities of pigment at a time and test the result.
I suggest using an aluminium dish, as used by takeaway restaurants, on a hotplate, to hold pure Encaustic medium. For colours, a six piece deep muffin tray holds small quantities of different colours.
The rule is to go natural, synthetic brushes, are to be avoided, since any plastic material is likely to melt in the hot wax. My ideal is inexpensive broad bristle brushes, which come in a variety of widths from one to eight cms wide. Inexpensive brushes are preferred because ideally it is one brush per colour, although, with care, brushes can be cleaned in hot wax medium.
It is essential that each layer of wax is fused with the preceding layer, this is ideally carried out with a heat gun, carefully used. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the waxes are fused by keeping the right distance from the wax and continuously moving the gun to avoid developing pits in the surface. The layers are fused when the surface takes on a sheen. Alternatively a small travel iron can be used to fuse and smooth the wax, as well as making unique patterns.
I enjoy experimenting with different tools that may have an interesting effect upon the surface of the wax. Pottery tools, pallet knives, cheese scraper and various kitchen utensils, anything that makes a mark into the wax can be used.
Before waxing the board any mark or collage can be placed on the surface, which may show through on the final piece. Whilst layering, transfers, material and any shallow object can be imbedded into the wax to make unusual and exciting visual effects.
Outside the Box
You will find that working with hot wax and pigment provides a whole new experience and opportunities compared to more conventional mediums. The secret is to explore, experiment and not be confined to any predetermined expectation.