According to Roman historian Pliny the Elder, encaustic was used as early as the fifth and fourth centuries B.C.E. It is made by melting beeswax with a small amount of resin and then adding pigment while the mixture is still molten. The artist works quickly out of the pot, for the wax begins to harden as soon as it leaves the heat source. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Jasper Johns was virtually the sole practitioner of encaustic. Today, thousands of artists have caught on to this ancient, luminous medium, yet most art lovers are still unaware of it. Mattera provides a fascinating history of the art and several excellent technical chapters on waxes, pigments, papers, brushes, etc. Studio safety takes high priority since, unlike quiet media like watercolor, this one brings with it the possibility of studio fires and wax burns. Though no book can capture the mutable incandescence of encaustic, this one provides enough inspiration and solid technical advice to kindle the interest of any artist. For a good history of the medium in America, see Gail Stavitsky's Waxing Poetic: Encaustic Art in America (Rutgers Univ., 2000).
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Joanne Mattera is the author of several books, including Navajo Techniques for Today's Weaver (1975) and Rugweaving: Techniques for Two Harness (1979), both for Watson-Guptill. She lives in New York City.
I want to drown myself in a vat of beeswax every time I leaf through these gorgeous paintings. Solid information about the varieties of wax and mediums and practical suggestions... Read morePublished on March 16 2004 by Carrie