• Alicia Tormey

Encaustic Arts Magazine Article

I recently wrote an article for Encaustic Arts Magazine about making your own encaustic medium. I thought it would be nice to share it with you.


HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN ENCAUSTIC MEDIUM


Technically speaking, there's really no need to make your own encaustic medium. High quality, commercially made products are always just a click away. However, you may find it more economical to make your own medium and you can customize your blend of ingredients according to your personal preferences.

Encaustic medium is made by combining beeswax with a natural tree gum known as damar resin. You can then mix pigments into the medium to create your own wax-based paints. 

I'm going to explain why damar is added to your wax and share with you the process that I use to make my own medium.

It's important to note here that I'm talking about damar resin crystals in their natural state and not damar varnish. Damar varnish is never used in combination with encaustic and it's highly flammable and toxic when heated.


Damar resin is an important component of encaustic paint. It’s a natural, heat soluble resin, that when blended into beeswax adds clarity, hardness and durability. But more importantly, damar elevates the overall melting temperature of your paint making it much less fragile than pure beeswax.


Beeswax alone begins to melt at 145°F and damar resin begins to melt at 220°F. When beeswax and damar are combined, the overall melting temperature of your medium is elevated to 168°F giving your paint more resistance to ambient heat once your artwork is completed.


Because damar is a natural material, it often contains organic debris that is naturally collected in the resin as it forms. When the damar is liquified over heat to make medium, any foreign materials, such as bark and insects, are released into the medium and must then be filtered out. If the organic debris is left in your medium it can potentially discolor your wax over time so it’s recommended that you remove as much of the organic matter as possible to keep your medium clear and your paint colors true.

(See my method at the end of this article for filtering your medium.)

When making your own medium it's important to be aware of the safe ratios of damar to wax. If your medium doesn't contain enough damar than you wont realize any of the benefits. If your medium contains too much damar it will become very brittle and prone to cracking and chipping.



In order to get the benefits of the damar you must have a minimum of 10% damar to wax and a maximum ratio of 30% damar to wax. Commercially made encaustic medium generally falls around a 20% ratio of damar to beeswax.


Recommended ratios of damar to wax:

Minimum: 10% damar to wax

Maximum: 30% damar to wax

Ready-Made: 20% damar to wax


It’s important to remember that encaustic gets harder over time. It takes about 18 months for encaustic to reach its full hardness. During the curing period, your wax can become more brittle and fragile if there's an excess of damar in your medium. So keep this in mind when you are making your own.

My personal preference is to work with a ratio of around 15% damar to wax so this is the recipe I'm going to share with you.


Alicia’s Encaustic Medium Recipe:

Materials:

1.6 oz to 2 oz (about 1/4 c) damar crystals

1 pound of beeswax

Equipment:

Electric skillet or frying pan with temperature control

Large fan for ventilation

Wooden stir stick

Silicon loaf mold

Ribbon loop tool

Tip: Don’t grind or crush the damar before melting: It will be easier to filter out all the organic debris later if it’s left in a larger, natural form.


Process:

Assemble your raw materials using the proper recipe ratios of beeswax and damar.

Preheat your pan to 245°F / 118 °C and melt your damar first at the higher temperature to the point that it liquifies and resembles taffy. (About 8 minutes.) Don’t leave your hot pot unattended at this stage. Watch your pan closely when first melting your damar as you may need to adjust your heat periodically for this step. Your pan should not smoke.


Tip: While your damar is softening, you can stir in a small amount of beeswax to speed up the liquefaction process.


Once your damar is liquified, reduce heat immediately to 200°F/ 93°C and add in your beeswax.

Continue to stir periodically as the wax melts to evenly distribute the damar throughout your medium.

Once the wax and damar are completely liquified and well blended, filter out the organic particles using my tip to follow.



Method for cleaning your wax:

Once you have blended the beeswax and damar:

Transfer your medium into a silicone baking mold.

Allow medium to solidify.

Remove from mold.

*The organic debris released from the damar will settle to the bottom where you can then scrape it away once the wax is cool.

Turn upside down and scrape the debris off the bottom using a looped ribbon tool. Save your scrapings and remelt them.

Repeat this process until it’s too dirty to salvage, then discard your scrapings.


For a free step-by-step video tutorial on how to make your own medium visit my website at: https://www.aliciatormey.com/tutorials

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