There are as many methods for painting with wax as there are creative minds to come up with them. Youtube is filled with tutorials on various encaustic methods. The one secret other artists have not yet unearthed is to work on a pre-heated surface. The ancients painted on super heated boards and the wax flowed like paint.
Preparation of the surface (paper, canvas or board). Paper needs no priming. I have done quite a few experiments with wax on wood. The best results I have had were on boards that had vegan gesso applied and then tonal under painting with water color. Oil and acrylic gessos are not recommendable because they seal the surface and the wax cannot penetrate. Hot wax does not bond very well with either oil or acrylic. (See the watercolor page for the recipe for vegan gesso.) When working on canvas, I use unprimed canvas and apply the wax so that the wax penetrates deeply into the fabric. I stretch the canvas after the picture is completed.
To begin painting add wax to the pans to melt. You can use crayons created earlier and remelt them or start with new wax and add pigments directly. I do not use Damar Resin because, as the painting ages, it may lead to cracking in the surface.
Remember 200º Fahrenheit is the cutoff. Do Not Exceed 200º Fahrenheit. Get a grill thermometer to ensure the temp does not go any higher. While the wax is melting, put a board onto the griddle and allow it to heat. When the board is heated and the wax melted use a brush to to apply wax to the heated board in the same fashion as if it were paint.
Simply paint a watercolor painting. Use the backside of preprimed canvas. Do not try to use the primed side because watercolor will not stick to it. I am still experimenting with wheat paste gesso.
I use a simple electric pancake griddle set to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. I also have a barbecue thermometer setting on the griddle to be certain the temp stays below 200 degrees Fahrenheit. (Above 200, wax discolors, can give off toxic smoke and eventually catch fire. Stay below 200 degrees Fahrenheit!) I preheat the canvas and then paint hot wax onto it.
Once you are happy with the wax surface, you can stretch the canvas. It does not need to go behind glass because the wax is permanent.
A couple of very useful books:
"The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques" by Ralph Mayer -I really enjoy Mayer’s Handbook and have often thought of following his recipes for doing small frescos. It is an intriguing idea.
"LEONARDO on Painting" edited by Martin Kemp. Although not about ancient processes this book is a treasure box of commentaries that any painter today could use . . . “an invaluable reference work for art historians as well as for anyone interested in the mind and methods of one of the world’s greatest creative geniuses.”
Ready made materials:
R&F Handmade Paints specializes in the manufacture of encaustic paint.
Make your own paint:
Douglas and Sturgess (San Francisco) – source for ingredients for vegan gesso as well as a source for pigments, binders and wax.
Kramer pigments (New York City) – rare and hard to find pigments as well as binders for making your own watercolor paints.
Sinopia (San Francisco) – rare and hard to find pigments.
Many art supply stores carry dry pigments. You can also order them online. Jerry's Artorama has great prices.
Pure beeswax can be found in art supply stores and hobby & craft stores.
Wheat paste - check art supply stores and hobby & craft stores.