How to Care For Encaustic Art

Galbraith, 2013, Encaustic and Oil on Found Wood, 16" x 26", Vincent Colvin

Detail from “Galbraith”, Encaustic and Oil on Found Wood, 16″ x 26″, Vincent Colvin, 2013

I’ve noticed that there are concerns and misconceptions out there about encaustic art and how to care for it in your home. I wanted to shed some light on this and provide a guide for understanding more about the medium for artists, galleries and buyers/collectors. I’ll do this in 2 posts.

Fayum Funeral Portrait, 98-117 A.D., Encaustic on wood. (That's old! Older than any oil paintings on wood in existence I know of...)

Fayum Funeral Portrait, 98-117 A.D., Encaustic on wood. (That’s old! Older than any oil paintings on wood in existence I know of…)

The take away from all this: Encaustic is one of the oldest and most archival of all paint mediums. The care of it is not very different than that of any oil painting.

Care for Your Encaustic Painting:

What is it?: Encaustic is a painting medium made of natural beeswax and dammar resin.

Sunlight: While it is not recommended to display your encaustic piece (or really any work of art) in direct sunlight, do not fear the heat of the sun. See below.

Temperature/Mositure: In your home as long as temperatures do not drop below freezing or get over 160 degrees your encaustic piece will remain unchanged. Normal home temperatures fluctuate between 60 and 90 degrees. I have had many pieces in very cold temperatures with no issues, think Philadelphia-snow-magedon no heat… I have displayed works that get sunlight in the morning or afternoon with no damage to the work over years of time. I have even displayed encaustic work in the bathroom, a place with quick temperature changes due to steamy showers and seen no issues or change in works. Wood substrates should be sealed on the back to discourage moisture absorption.

Surface: In the first year your work will go through some slight changes. The piece will become more clear over time increasing the beauty of the surface and transparency between layers. Occasionally, gently wipe dust off of your piece with a clean and lint free rag. I prefer lint free cotton rags, or even better eye glass/computer cleaning cloths. Optional: With a new clean rag, for encaustic that has a smooth final surface you can gently buff, in a circular motion, the surface of the wax. This will add a beautiful sheen to the work and discourage dust buildup on the surface. In the first year if you want the sheen all the time in the work you may need to do this once a month or so. After a year when the wax cures you will rarely to do this to keep the sheen, maybe once a year. Note: Works with high surface texture or oil paint on the surface should not be buffed in these areas. Dust these with a soft brush.

Shipping or Moving Homes: Transporting encaustic is best left to an art handler as is any high quality work of art. If you choose to do this yourself there is a right way, a wrong way, and an easy way.

  • Living in the "Danger Zone", How I brought my work to my recent show.  Rented a cargo van and got the A/C steady to beat the TX summer heat.

    Living in the “Danger Zone”, How I brought my work to my recent show. Rented a cargo van and got the A/C steady to beat the TX summer heat. Worked great for this short distance.

    The right way is to build a box unique to the piece that allows the encaustic surface to never make contact with anything other than a silicone release paper. Contact the artist or an art dealer to make this.

  • The wrong way is bubble wrap or newspaper or transporting in anything hot, ie: back of the moving truck during summer or your car without the A/C on, your hot trunk etc.
  • The easy way is to go to the local arts and craft store and buy a few large clear plastic bags that are designed for buying sheets of high quality paper like Arches or Rives. Even better, also buy silicone release paper and cover the surface first. You can wrap the piece in the release paper, plastic and then foam or bubble wrap, put it in a box etc. Still  be sure to consider temperature. This way is suitable to get the work to a destination, but not a good way to store the work long term.
  • Do not lean an encaustic work against a wall, or any art work, on its front edge, you may damage it.

Wrapping Up: Okay so this sounds like a lot of special consideration right? Well honestly, not really…. lets consider an oil painting on canvas. It needs to be dusted and cleaned yearly or more, to be displayed out of constant direct sunlight, to be properly packaged when moving or it can warp or the canvas can be torn, be protected from extreme temperatures or the paint can crack or flake off. There really is very little difference.

Generally when I am transporting works, I wrap them as I mentioned in plastic and take them directly to the destination. When I stop on the way I keep the A/C on and the car running ( I live in Texas now after all) When I ship them I send large works with a art shipper and small works overnight (not in the summer). In most cases encaustic can be repaired if an accident occurs. Contact the artist to see if they can provide the service. I do, if anyone needs advice or help just let me know.

My next post will be about the archival characteristics of the encaustic medium! Stay tuned. – Vincent

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