Dating back to the Ancient Greek, where shipbuilders used bees wax to weather-proof the hulls of boats, encaustic is a process that uses wax, resin and pigment to create art. Famous artists like Diego Rivera who used encaustic to create government funded murals in Mexico like Creation. Karl Zerbe, a professor at the Boston Museum School and a trained chemist, studied the encaustic medium and created a ratio of eight parts beeswax to one part damar resin and one part Venice turpentine. Zerbe and his colleague David Aaronson were featured in the 1949 book Encaustic Materials and Methods. Jasper John’s encaustic work in the 1950s and 1960s introduced a larger American audience.
The encaustic process begins with a porous surface like a wood panel. From there many thin layers of wax and pigment are fused onto the surface with a heat source like a blow torch. Temperatures cannot rise above 220 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain the integrity of the wax. Layers of wax create depth and texture can be created with tools should the artist want to manipulate the wax as it dries. The wax and resin mixture, when painted through many layers gives pieces a unique richness of depth that is hard to create with paint alone.
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