Getting tired of your same old paints? Make like the Ancient Greeks and Romans and give encaustic paints a try. In this method, which dates back more than 2,000 years, a pigmented mixture of beeswax and damar resin is heated until it’s supple enough to apply with a brush. Encaustics dry with a subtle, glossy sheen and are ideal for layered work, making them a great alternative to textured mediums like oils and acrylics. Also, most companies making encaustics today avoid using chemical solvents and synthetic adulterants, meaning they’re an environmentally friendly option. Below are five encaustic paints that we think deserve more buzz.
R&F Encaustic Paint Starter Kit
For the whole kit and kaboodle, consider this starter set by natural paint manufacturer R&F. The Kingston, New York–based company sells brilliant, vibrant, top-of-the-line encaustics in scores of colors. You can buy each individual color in 40-milliliter or 104-milliliter blocks, and some colors come in giant 333-milliliter bricks as well. This set gives you five of the small cakes along with common tools of the trade: brushes, palette cups, cleaning wax, trays for melting, an instruction manual, a color chart, and even unpigmented encaustic pellets you can use as a transparent layer or dye as you wish. It’s a great buy, and all you need to do is bring the heat.
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Enkaustikos Hot Cakes Encaustic Wax Set
Picking between R&F and Enkaustikos, another premier New York–based encaustics manufacturer, is like picking between your children. So trust us when we say Enkaustikos’s Hot Cakes set takes a very close second on our list. Enkaustikos sells its encaustics as thin bars (keep reading for more info on those) as well as in the 45-milliliter metal tins provided in this set. We prefer the tins for brushwork, because all you need to do is set them on a hot surface, wait, and voilà—the wax will melt inside the tin, and you can simply dip your paintbrush in. When you’re finished, simply allow them to cool and harden. You get six Hot Cakes tins and two brushes, plus two types of wax medium and a tin of cleaning wax. The set is pricier than R&F’s, but still a smart buy.
ANOTHER GOOD CHOICE
Enkaustikos Hot Sticks
The appeal of stick-shaped encaustics is that you can grasp them: Heat one end and simply grip them like a crayon. No brush, no problem, right? Not exactly—the hot wax melts quickly, and you can end up with burned fingers if you’re not careful. Enkaustikos’s solution is to wrap its 13-milliliter Hot Sticks in protective paper sleeves that you can adjust or trim as you go. They come in all the evocative hues of their Hot Cakes counterparts, and you can easily buy individual replacement paints when you run low.
A GREAT ALTERNATIVE
Cray-Pen Wax Pucks
These are a little different from the other paints on our list. First, they aren’t strictly encaustics but crayon wax, meaning they’re made from paraffin rather than beeswax. This set is meant to be used with a Cray-Pen, a heated, hollow stylus that allows detailed wax linework and color blending; even so, any manner of heating tool should work for these adorable little wax pucks. (And we do mean little: They’re about the size and thickness of four stacked quarters.) They may not satisfy the experienced encaustic painter, but the price is definitely right: A sampler platter of 32 colors can be had for less than $10.
Encaustic Art Fantasia Selection Wax Blocks
This is a great under-the-radar option for those looking for a basic variety pack. Tucked in a retro box, these eraser-size sticks come in 16 richly varied colors, from mattes to metallics. The quality of these innovative, German-made sticks, which combine multiple wax types, is superb for the price. Already wishing you could buy more? Alas, you’ll have to buy direct from the U.K.-based distributor to get sticks à la carte like competitors R&F and Enkaustikos.