A Brief History of Encaustic Art

Encaustic Art is one of the earliest art mediums known to man.

Encaustic Art was first practiced by the Greeks and Romans over 2,000 years ago. It is generally accepted that this art form bridged the gap between the earliest cave paintings and the use of water colours and oils that we know today. Recent carbon dating of early Aboriginal cave paintings in Australia indicates that beeswax was used with ochre colour over 5,000 years ago. Encaustic is a Greek word meaning ‘to burn in’ and that is what the ancients did when painting the portraits of the Pharaohs on wooden tablets. 

How difficult must it have been in those early days to first find the beehive, extract and separate the honey from the wax, colour the wax with earth pigments and travel from Pompeii in Greece to Egypt to paint a picture of a deceased dignitary. The colours obtained from earth pigments were rather drab and because of that and the subject matter Encaustic Art was known for centuries as the Death Art. 

Whilst a closely guarded secret for centuries many painters such as Da Vinci, Edwards, Muntz, Reynolds are all known to have experimented with the encaustic process. In more recent times artists such as Rivera, Aronson and Jasper Johns became accomplished encaustic artists.

In 1986 Welshman Michael Bossom overcame the difficulties in the encaustic process by using modern thermostatically controlled equipment. He then developed a range of tools, pre-coloured wax blocks, instruction books and DVD’s. These products assist enthusiasts to quickly master the encaustic process as no conventional painting skills are required. To quote Michael “To be creative you can’t exactly know what you are doing”, and “this requires a certain attitude of trust or faith as creativity is simply your willingness to take a step beyond”.

See www.encaustic.com for more information.