Working with encaustic photography


I get asked a variety of questions regarding the encaustic process so I thought I would share a few things I’ve learned along the way. Fine art, Hahnemühle prints are a thick paper, almost like light cardboard, that is handled with gloves to avoid finger oil on the prints. When the 3M archival glue used to attach print to the cradleboard has dried overnight, and the print carefully trimmed, then it’s time to start waxing.  Applying coats of the wax and damar medium to the print is done using wide Hake brushes, a special goat hair brush that ensures a smooth wax application. I use the term ‘smooth’ loosely as it takes practice to fine-tune the amount of wax that flows onto the print to avoid a mess. While the temperature of the wax affects how liquid it becomes before it is dangerously too hot to work with, brushing too slow applies too much wax, while fast strokes leave bubbles or streaks.

The second image is a good example of the very first coat of wax going onto the print. As you can see, the first coat is critical because the paper cotton fibers adsorb the wax like a towel and leave a very uneven surface. It is this first coat that really envelopes the minute paper fibers and ensures that the ink and image will be ‘entombed’ and last for a very long time.

Each individual layer is then carefully scraped of excess wax for even distribution, which improves with each successive layer. The layers are ‘fused’ or gently melted after each application in order to bind with the layer below. I use a torch to fuse all but the very first layer which is done with a heat gun so as not to accidentally incinerate a spot on the print which, of course, I have done.  Some encaustic artists build a thick cake by adding dozens of textured and colored layers of wax.  I use few layers to achieve a silky but even textured surface with the principal aim to make the image glow!

Dan Tarradellas