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Modern Encaustic

What is it

Despite having its origins in Ancient Greece and being widely used among the Romans, the encaustic technique is almost unknown. For those curious to know more, here's what it's about.


The technique

Modern encaustic retains the same artisanal preparation and the same natural components as the ancient one.

Encaustic is a painting technique whose origins date back to the first century AD, a time in which it was widely used among the ancient Greeks and Romans. Over the centuries it was gradually abandoned due to its complexity. Encaustic came back into fashion only at the beginning of the 20th century, arousing the interest of numerous artists thanks to the advent of electricity. The main difficulty of encaustic painting, in fact, is the need to have continuous sources of radiated and direct heat available. Originally obtained through the use of braziers, today it is possible to obtain the necessary heat using electric plates and gas torches. The encaustic practiced by contemporary artists is therefore defined as "modern". However, the modernization of the technique has not diminished its artisanal character, the use of natural materials and substances remaining necessary. Encaustic paintings are particularly resistant and durable works of art, just think that some paintings from the 1st century have come down to us. AD performed with the same technique.

Encaustic paintings do not require protection, such as glass or plexiglass. Thanks to the presence of natural resin in the binder, the surface of these works becomes increasingly resistant as time passes, making them resistant to insects, humidity and atmospheric agents. The only care they require is an occasional polishing performed by passing a very soft and dry cloth over the surface of the painting.

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The binder is obtained by melting and mixing the natural ingredients that compose it, i.e. virgin beeswax and Damar resin, while hot. Powdered pigments are subsequently added to the binder to obtain the colors with which to paint. The ideal pictorial base for encaustic painting is an untreated and sanded wooden panel , supported on the back by a frame of the same material. The raw wood must be previously impregnated with twelve layers of binder, spread with a brush and melted with a direct flame. To paint , natural bristle brushes are used, immersed in colors kept at a temperature of 80°-90° degrees centigrade. It is important that the colors blend with the underlying binder layers via the flame of the gas torch. The latter not only has a fixing function but allows you to obtain many pictorial effects, essentially becoming a "fire brush".


An ancient art to create contemporary works

The rediscovery of encaustic in contemporary times has encouraged experimentation by many artists, producing a vast array of new creative possibilities for this technique.

Encaustic paintings, thanks to the heat they require, can be transformed over and over again. With the flame of the torch it is possible to mix, blend and move the colors previously applied to the surface, making them tactile or perfectly smooth. While the pictorial surface is warm, it is possible to make scratches, incisions and partial or total removal of the painting from the pictorial panel. On the cold surface, alcohol inks, India ink and shellac can be used. Among the many possible effects, the most peculiar is the burning of shellac which can only be done on encaustic surfaces. The liquid shellac, applied with a brush to the surface of the painting, retracts when subjected to the flame, giving rise to textures, weaves, curved lines, circles and other irregular and fascinating figures.

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