Encaustic art is art which is made by melting wax and using it as a pigment medium. The result is a rich, vibrant, textural work of art which can be endlessly manipulated with an assortment of tools. While many people associate encaustic art with melting crayons as a young child, the art form is actually thousands of years old. Several museums and art galleries have examples of encaustic art from places like Ancient Egypt and medieval Europe, for people who would like to see historical examples of the art form.
The waxes used in encaustic art vary. Beeswax is the classic medium, although other types of wax can be used as well. Most encaustic artists use blocks of wax which have already been dyed, but it is also possible to purchase pure pigments for the purpose of coloring your own wax. Some companies also offer wax paints which are in a semi-liquid form, for artists who do not want to use melting irons.
The melted wax is daubed onto a sturdy backing and then spread as desired. It can be manipulated just like ordinary paint with the assistance of brushes and other tools, or it can be allowed to cool so that the wax can be carved. In either case, the texture of the finished work can be altered with the assistance of heat lamps and similar tools which will soften the wax, allowing artists to work and rework it until they are satisfied with the end product.
Wax painting can get quite messy, so most artists like to wear protective clothing and use barriers on their workbenches. In addition, molten wax art requires heated tools such as specialty irons, so artists need to work carefully to avoid burning themselves. A piece of molten wax can create a nasty burn, and some artists like to wear gloves and long sleeves for this very reason.
If you want to start exploring encaustic art, you can set yourself up with some very basic tools and acquire more as needed. To start, you will need blocks of wax designed for encaustic art, along with a sturdy heat proof canvas. Some companies manufacture special paper just for encaustic art, and your art store should have some available. You will also want to pick up an encaustic iron, and you may want to think about textural tools such as brushes and a stylus so that you can manipulate the wax as you lay it down.