How Beeswax Became the 55-lb Monkey on My Back

Encaustic painting supplies can be expensive. A pound of encaustic medium typically goes for $21, beeswax and damar resin can each cost $16/pound, and a block of pigmented wax roughly half the size of a Snickers bar varies between $15–25, depending on color. That’s for one color which, in art, isn’t going to get you very far.

When I first dipped my toes in encaustic painting, I was just beginning to dabble in fine art. Setting up an encaustic “kitchen” at home was a reasonable expense. I made do with a $25 pancake griddle from Walmart, which I still use, in place of the more professional $260 R&F hot plate. I also made my own encaustic medium (beeswax and resin), and added powdered pigment to make encaustic paint. I already had a heat gun, thanks to a previous failed endeavor, and with a trip to Home Depot and the Dollar Store, I stocked up on the remaining essentials: a box of 97-cent hogs bristles, soft rags, measuring cups and clothespins to handle the hot tins of wax. I was now ready for action.

Since then, I’ve become even more enamored of encaustics, and I can’t let it go. I love its textures and translucency, and the physical requirements of scraping, fusing, and wax applications satisfy my desire to work with my hands.

Today, I’ve created enough work to exhibit at a few venues but most of my creative output has been small in scale. I need to go big. I want to go big. I had already ordered large wooden panels months ago which have been propped up against the wall, waiting. The only thing holding me back was commitment.

Going big means more wax and more wax means more money. The only way I could make this affordable was by purchasing beeswax in bulk, and the minimum order was 55 lbs. Add to that 10 lbs. of damar resin, and I was left contemplating a $500 purchase.

“Do I really want to do this?” I asked myself. Indeed, could I afford to? Self-doubt began to creep it. Was I ready? Did I have enough gusto, talent, and ambition to fill a large canvas? I considered switching to oils and acrylics for affordability, if only for a split second, but deep down I already knew the answer. It was too late. I had become addicted to encaustics. The real question was, “Could I afford NOT to do encaustics?”

Even as I knew what I had to do, I sat with the indecision for months while the monkey on my back got heavier and heavier. There’s something to be said for deadlines. I had more shows coming up quickly, so I made the purchase.

This weekend, I happily primed a 36″x36 basswood panel with four layers of white encaustic paint. It was a big job, time-consuming and tedious. There was lots of fusing between layers, scraping of wax ridges to smooth the surface, another application of wax, more fusing, and on it went, hours of mindless bliss, and it was gratifying.

I’m now staring at a blank canvas… but hopefully not for long. Larger canvases are waiting in the wings. Encaustics has its grip on me alright, and I’m going big.