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Ancient wax technique gains new fans

JENNIFER FORKER br />The Associated Press Modified: February 22, 2013 at 6:46 pm •  Published: February 22, 2013

For this reason, Lang, Woolf and Rankin work in well-ventilated studios. Each recommends having open windows and a fan near the workspace.

"Once (the beeswax and resin) melts down . and cools, it's past (having) any kind of the toxic element to it," says Lang.

Additionally, because encaustic involves fusing one layer of wax on top of one or more other layers, a heat source is needed. Woolf uses an open-flame torch; heat guns and even some irons — specific to the task, not clothes irons? also work. Woolf recommends experimenting to find the equipment that works best. Her book lists basic supplies, as does Rankin's.

"Used carefully, encaustic is safe, natural, luminous, versatile, and a great way to either start painting or open up your creativity if you're an experienced artist," says Rankin, of Marin County, Calif. —

Encaustic paint starter kits — the color is pre-mixed with the wax and resin — are available online. Woolf and Lang buy their paint supplies from R&F Handmade Paints' online store. Woolf also teaches workshops for the Kingston, N.Y., paint manufacturer.

While Lang is self-taught — using Rankin's book — he recommends taking a class to learn encaustic technique. Woolf agrees.

"It seems very complicated, but it is really quite simple," she promises. "Once you learn the basics, it's incredibly forgiving."

Other artists' testimonials:

"The medium does things you're not totally expecting," says Nadine Swahnberg, a Denver artist and minister. "You do have some say in the matter, but there's a 'miraculousness' to it."

"Encaustic is fun to do and the product is mysterious and beautiful," says Susan Garwood, a Lincoln, Neb., artist.— "I love the great depth you can achieve ... when stuff is about three layers down, it takes on a whole new meaning."

And Mona Marshall of Austin, Texas, says: "I love it because it allows me to scratch into the surface to discover the image rather than build it in the traditional way."