4-days Encaustic Painting

I just spent 4 days at an encaustic painting workshop in Northern Wisconsin. Dillman’s Bay Resort to be specific. Sarah E. Rehmer was the instructor; and a better instructor for the subject I imagine is difficult to find.

Encaustic as an art medium has been around since about 500 B.C.
See more about the history of encaustic painting at

We four students in the class were fairly new to the medium. Speaking for myself, I was an absolute beginner.

We started before the beginning by making some interesting papers for use later in the week. Using 10 gal coffee filters (!) and some rusty bits; Sarah had brought automotive brake rotors and other bits for us to pull the rust onto our filters with a mix of water/white-vinegar (1:1). We wrapped the mix up in a plastic sheet and let them (as Sarah says) “cook”. Before the end of the day we had also added the contents of some herbal teas to the mixture. Rose hips and hibiscus add a nice pink-purple tone. Camomile with ? mixed adds some dark blue, like blueberry juice.

We also collaborated by making random marks with a set of strange implements, string, dried flowers, and more dipped in india ink on lightweight watercolor paper. We made enough of that so we could split it up later in the week and add it to our compositions. It was a great way to start off the workshop.

Next up we were introduced to the heat control needs of the encaustic medium. Melting medium, paint and sizing boards got us producing in no time. With fans in all the windows, pulling exhaust out of the room and other safety considerations (electric cords, etc) we were in a safe zone of art making. Warming plates, applying wax and wax-paint followed by fusing the wax to what had come before.

There’s a lot more to this encaustic than I ever imagined. Much more than using acrylics.

Because the inked paper dried fairly quickly, we were able to use it right away. We cut sections of the sheets to fit our encaustic panels with matte medium and gave them a bit of time to dry. We couldn’t use them until they were dry. But they were ready to *size* by the end of the day.

Sizing a panel simply means coating it in 2-4 layers of fused wax medium. You do this no matter the starting surface. Panels that weren’t to receive paper were gesso-ed. Panels by Ampersand specifically for encaustic didn’t need gesso; and could go right to sizing.

The kind-of rules of the road: wax doesn’t like water nor oil. Wax adheres best to wax or waxy things. Try to keep your working surface to less than 20 non-wax things. Every layer of wax, paint or other waxy things need to be *fused* to the wax mass below. Fusing is where you *melt* but not quite melt the surface wax to the underlayer. You can melt all the way down to the support, but more often than not, you do not want to do this. Fusing, like everything else gets better with practice. Fusing is intended to act like the glue that keeps the whole thing together.

Once the wax is down, fused or not, you can scrape back through layers for a kind of erasing, and for other effects. This gives encaustic a subtractive manipulation quality in addition to simply adding more and more of anything.

Embedding papers and little objects is interesting and adds complexity to the pieces. We learned natural fibered things work better than synthetics due to the heat-related concerns of construction. Some materials all but disappear. Air bubbles can be a nuisance, but there are tricks to handling them without going goofy.

Encaustic paints come in a wide variety of useful and spicy colors. Some are made with natural ingredients, organic pigments; others with chemically created pigments. Wide variety.

Good sources of materials:

Cheap Joes
Dick Blick

Primary product makers:


I enjoyed the workshop very much. I’m going to try to incorporate this into my toolbox. It is a lot of work to produce finished pieces; very manual and at times tedious, fatiguing even. But the end results can be such that you just can’t get any other way.

Besides straight up art, you can use encaustic to create panels for printmaking. Especially collagraphic-supporting efforts. The textures can be incredible and impossible to produce other ways. Relief or intaglio printing are possible from an encaustic plate.

Have you used encaustics to create something? Please share!

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