Teaching Students About Encaustic Painting


Encaustic painting, an ancient art form dating back to the 5th century B.C., is a versatile and engaging technique that has gained popularity in recent years. This method of applying pigmented beeswax and resin to a prepared surface creates unique, multi-dimensional artwork. As an educator, it’s essential to understand and effectively teach this technique to ensure students can successfully explore the encaustic medium. This article will discuss the history, materials, and methods for teaching encaustic painting in the classroom.

The History of Encaustic Painting

Encaustic, derived from the Greek word “enkaustikos” (meaning “to burn in”), refers to the process of fusing pigmented wax layers using heat. The technique was first used by ancient Greeks and Egyptians for painting ships, portraits, and mythology scenes. The most well-known examples of encaustic artwork are the Fayum funeral portraits from Egypt dating back to 100-300 A.D., which showcase stunning details and durability.

Materials for Encaustic Painting

1. Encaustic paint: Pre-made encaustic paint is available in various colors in art supply stores or online. Alternatively, artists can create their custom colors by mixing dry pigments with beeswax and resin.

2. Beeswax and damar resin: Beeswax is purified for use in encaustic painting, while damar resin enhances its hardness and shine. These ingredients should be melted together to create a medium for pigments.

3. Substrate: Choose a rigid substrate, such as a wood panel or cradled board, as flexible surfaces like canvas can cause cracking in encaustic paintings.

4. Brushes and tools: Natural bristle brushes are ideal for applying encaustic paint while sculpting tools and palette knives help in carving, scraping, and shaping the wax layers.

5. Heat source: A necessary component for fusing encaustic layers, heat sources can include heat guns, propane torches, or griddles.

Teaching Methods and Techniques

1. Introducing Encaustic: Begin by discussing the history and significance of encaustic painting with students. Show examples from various artists and periods to inspire ideas and demonstrate the diversity of the medium.

2. Safety and Preparation: Ensure proper ventilation in the classroom, and educate students on safely handling heated materials. Prepare surfaces with encaustic gesso or use unbleached beeswax as a base coat on wood substrates.

3. Demonstration: Clearly demonstrate techniques such as layering wax, fusing layers with a heat source, incorporating mixed media elements (like collage or image transfers), sculpting, and carving the wax.

4. Guided Practice: Provide opportunities for hands-on practice, encouraging students to experiment with various techniques. Offer support and feedback during this process.

5. Display and Critique: Give students a chance to share their work with classmates, discuss their process, and what they learned from the experience, and provide constructive critique.


Educating students about encaustic painting can ignite their creativity while deepening their understanding of art history. By providing a safe environment to learn about materials and methods, educators empower students to explore this ancient technique while creating unique visual expressions. With its myriad possibilities for color, texture, and depth, encaustic painting deserves a place in any comprehensive art curriculum.

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