How to Begin an Encaustic Painting

By Nicole Tinkham

In a previous blog post, we discussed the materials needed to begin an encaustic painting. For a refresher, you can view that post here. Now that we have our supplies ready, it’s time to dive into the different techniques used in encaustic painting! In this post, we will be reviewing: patterns, landscapes, collages, and using paint brushes. Let’s begin!

To achieve the following patterns, you will be using a lightweight sealed card, iron, waxes in two colors, and a soft tissue pad for buffing. When pattern is complete, let the wax dry for about 10 seconds and then polish lightly with a pad of folded tissues. When finished, clean the iron by wiping it down with tissues.

  • Dabbing: Apply two colors of wax onto the iron and dab over the surface, reloading the colors when necessary. “Dabbing” is simply laying the iron down on the project and lifting back up. Continue to dab until you are happy with your pattern.
  • Shuffling: Apply two colors of wax onto the iron. Starting at one side of the paper, lay the iron on the page and “shuffle” it across to the other side. You are simply dragging the iron across the page, pausing along the way to get a shuffled look.
  • Wriggling: Apply two colors to your iron. This time you will be moving the iron backwards across the page while wriggling the tip sideways, creating a zig-zag trail. Continue the process until you are happy with the pattern.

Unhappy with a pattern you have created? No problem! We’ll show you how to use it to create a simple landscape. For this tutorial you will need an iron, soft tissue pad, waxes, and a previously-worked card.

  1. Pass your iron over the previously-worked card a few times. This will re-melt the wax.
  2. With your tissue pad, wipe about a third the width of the card for the sky. Make sure to work quickly while the wax is still warm!
  3. Push the wax up into the sky portion of the card with the rounded edge of the iron. This will create hills on the horizon.
  4. Now with the point of the iron, push the wax upwards to create mountain peaks. If needed, add more wax.
  5. For the foreground texture, dab the surface of the card with the iron making sure the top edge of the iron does not touch your work.  You can support the card with your fingers so you have control over the point of contact.
  6. To add grass, cut into the wax with the edge of the iron. You want to press and slide forward to create slightly curved lines.
  7. To add birds, dip the tip of the iron into a dark wax. Placing it on the sky, quickly flick it outwards, first one side, and then the other creating a bird shape.

Other surfaces
So far we have talked about using sealed lightweight cards as a surface when doing encaustics. These cards are the best to use when starting out because they allow easy re-working. When choosing a different surface to work on, think about the absorbency of the surface.

  • Non-absorbent: The encaustic cards are non-absorbent, meaning they can be re-worked.
  • Partially-absorbent: These are surfaces like copy paper or parchment paper, which do not allow previous markings to be completely removed.
  • Absorbent: When using absorbent surfaces such as cotton, silk or watercolor paper, it is not possible to remove color.

Using paint brushes


Here is where you will need a few extra materials than when using an iron. You will have to melt the wax in tins over a hot plate or griddle which will act as your palette. Remember, the warmer the paint, the smoother the application will be! There are no hard rules on encaustic painting, but we have added a few tips to help you along the way.

  • Support: When using brushes, wood is a good surface choice. You can paint right on the wood, the first layer being a clear wax which will then be fused into the surface.
  • Fusing: Since you are applying the wax with a brush rather than an iron, you will need to fuse the layers of wax together. To do this, simply go over each layer of wax with a hair dryer or heat gun.
  • Once you have several layers down, you may begin carving and scraping. You can use just about anything to do this (cookie cutters, razor blades, dental tools, etc.)

*Hint: Remember to keep your brush on a hot tray so the wax doesn’t harden on the brush!

Encaustics are translucent, making them perfect for collages. When choosing objects to use in your collage, make sure they are absorbent and compatible with heat. Once you decide what you want to use, place it down on the wax and using a wooden spoon carefully burnish the paper into the wax. Make sure there are no air bubbles! Apply 1-2 layers of wax over the item and fuse. You can apply as many layers as you want as long as you are fusing between layers.

While there are several different encaustic techniques, we hope the few mentioned above help you get started. If there is something more advanced you would like to learn, let us know. It might just be our next blog post! Have an interesting tip/technique not mentioned in this post? Please leave a comment below!


Image used under Creative Commons from Sultry/sulky/silly

For more information about our art supplies stop in, give us a call (941-747-2995) or visit! For a list of our upcoming workshops, check out The Artist’s Corner.

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