Demonstration of use of encaustic wax in art

Phil Madley

Encaustic wax is also known as hot wax painting. This is a very old process used by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, and is derived from the Greek word enkaustikos, meaning "to burn in".

Phil explained that modern techniques commonly use readily available wax blocks (based on beeswax) in a wide variety of colours. Unlike other media, the wax is applied to the required surface using heat and usually modified after the application. Phil usually applies the wax using an electric iron. The applied wax is then manipulated by applying heat in a controlled way. Various tools include the iron itself, electrically heated stylii of various shapes, and hot air blowers.

Phil with some of his tools of the trade.


Phil started his demonstration by rubbing a wax block on the faceplate of the iron to achieve a fairly even coating and then 'ironing' this onto some card, repeating as necessary until the card was covered. He then applied the edge of the iron to the card to melt the wax, moving the iron slightly,then reapplying the iron in a series of steps, resulting in the effect shown below.

Next Phil showed the versatility of the iron to create a design by using the straight edge to produce radial lines then using the tip of the iron to produce dots.

Phil then produced a design by applying different colours to the mount card and blending them using the surface of the iron. A series of radial lines were then created as before. This was then followed by applying additional colour using a heated stylus with a hollow tip.


When asked how was it possible to complete his designs to fill the mount to the edges, Phil replied that he often doesn't bother; sometimes better designs appear by cropping portions of the work to produce a more satisfying image.

Before the tea break, Phil showed a quick example of drawing directly with the iron by creating the figure below.

In this example, Phil showed another way of blending the colours. A layer of yellow wax was applied to the mount followed by some blobs of green wax. After applying the iron, the result shown below was obtained.

Phil then demonstrated painting a seascape. The faceplate of the iron was first coated with white wax, and a few blobs of blue wax added. This was then slowly wiped across the mount to produce the sky. Darker blue/green wax was then applied to the lower half of the picture to produce the sea area. This was then manipulated using the iron and heated stylus to produce the waves. The distant boats were then defined by lightly scaping away the surface layer of wax.

After the wax was cooled, it was polished with a soft cloth to produce the result below.

The next technique involved the use of a hot air blower.

Some blobs of colour were applied to the mount by holding wax blocks to the faceplate of the iron and letting it drip onto the card.

The hot air blower was then applied to blend the colours and move them around. This technique works well with the use of some metallic colours - in this case, silver.

The finished design

Phil showed some examples of his previous work. The example above shows an impressionistic cityscape, while the example below is an expressive seascape.

Altogether a most enjoyable evening.