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Artists who paints in oil en plein aire. Member of the three member Plein Aire Cottage Artists. Members: Mary Rose Holmes, Violetta Chandler and Helen Tilston

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Encaustic Painting Using Beeswax & Pigment

Memories of Yesterday Encaustic Helen Tilston
American Flag by Jasper Johns
The first encaustic painting that caught my attention was Jasper John's, the American flag, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City more than 30 years ago.  I was spellbound and wanted so much to touch it, it is such a  tactile medium.  The burly guard read my mind and did not let me out of his sight and I did not get to touch it. 

Encaustic,  a wax based painting medium characterized by luminous colour and a lush surface, flourished more than 2,000 years ago in Greco-Roman Egypt.

Encaustic painting
, also known as hot wax painting, involves using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. The liquid/paste is then applied to a surface—usually prepared wood, though canvas and other materials are often used.  It is then fused to the canvas by blow torch.Layer upon layer of wax and pigment is built up.  It has a luminous quality and a transparency.  The glow from encaustic is magical.  It can be further polished by rubbing the palm of ones hand on the surface  The aroma of beeswax is an added bonus when working in encaustic.  There are synthetic waxes available and more commonly used  for economical purposes.
"Places I have been" Helen Tilston encaustic on canvas

When a Student is ready, the teacher appears.

One day while walking past Ontario College of Art and Design, I stopped in and found that there was a course in encaustic painting commencing in a week. I immediately signed up.  The course was in the old OCAD building during the summer of 1998 which was one of the hottest summers I can remember. OCAD was not airconditioned and one can imagine 16 students with hot wax on burners, blow torches and enthusiasm. Many times hot wax fell on my toes and blisters were common.  We worked on smaller practice pieces but our graduation piece was to be 30" x 40".

Since my graduation from the old campus,  OCAD has a new state of the art building. Ontario College of Art & Design's $42.5 million campus redevelopment, completed in September 2004, features the Sharp Centre for Design, designed by acclaimed British Architect Will Alsop, of Alsop Architects in a joint venture with Toronto-based  Robbie Young & Wright Architects.
Blessings -Encaustic painting by Helen Tilston
God Bless the day I found you Encaustic  Helen Tilston
Home  Encaustic by Helen Tislton
Irish cottages by Helen Tilston Encaustic

A well ventilated studio, preferably a garage, shed, barn is best suited to working with encaustic as it is quite messy. 

Time for a cup of tea and toast with honey.

So my honey bees, how is your weekend?


  1. Gorgeous Helen, I love the smell, texture & luminosity of beeswax!
    Beautiful encaustic works, well done!
    Happy weekend, Kerry

  2. Hello Helen, I have never heard of this way of painting, or seen it before. How beautiful it is! I love using beeswax to polish my old wooden boxes, it has such a comfortable smell...Jane x

  3. Hello Helen:
    Well, one's first thought has to be, how highly dangerous this all is. But, the results! They do, as you say, positively gleam and glow, a quality apparent thousands of miles away and looked at on a computer screen.

    What so appeals to us is your subject matter. A simple door here, a window there, now a group of cottages - all everyday items which, so often, are passed by but here, through their luminosity and intensity, achieved by the technique which you describe so well, are transported from the ordinary into something very different and very special. These are quite something and, once again, we find ourselves filled with admiration at your undoubted talent as a professional artist in every sense of the word.

    To go in a completely different direction, only last week we were at an exhibition, The Eight, of the work of eight Hungarian painters in the years before the First World War, heavily influenced by what was happening in Paris at the time, but who went on to develop their own ideas, the principal ones of which were in the portrayal of light. We thought of you.

  4. So interesting... I didn't know you could use this media on canvas! The only things I can compare it with is what, in Italian, we call "ceralacca" (sealing wax) which, apparently is made by mixing resin with marble dust ( cera means wax, in Italian and lacca can be translated as laquer, which you probably already know!)

    Does the wax you used in your lovely work come in every colour or are you limited to certain shades?

    Thank you for yet another interesting post, Helen!


  5. GoodMorning Kerry from french & Sparrow

    Yes the smell of beeswax if certainly intoxicating and is an added benefit to working with encaustic paint. Thank you for your support and visit.
    My best

  6. Hello to Jane The Booklady

    I agree Jane, encaustic is rare and once you see one painting in encaustic it will always draw your attention when you next go to an exhibition where one is displayed.
    I lends itself to abstract work too.
    I am sure your polished beeswax boxes are a delight to be around.
    Thanks for visiting and hope you have a wonderful week
    Helen x

  7. Good Morning Lance & Jane

    So lovely to see a note from you first thing on Sunday morning. Thank you.
    Your lives are always enriched by your participation in the arts. The exhibition you speak of, The Eight, sounds absolutely fascinating and I am itching to know more. I wonder if it will be a travelling exhibit.

    Encaustic is a magical medium and it lends itself to abstract work. One mastered the blowtorch can act like a fine pen and one can draw and move the wax around the surfact in sculptural forms. I have so many thoughts and plans for encaustic work, which of course if totally different to plein air painting.

    Wishing you both a very special week and I am looking foward to your next post. Mad Boy will linger with us for a long time. I have returned and re-read it, with the greatest amusement, and it reads like a short play with all the wonderful comments entwined into the story.I feel you have raised the level of blogging and the engagement with readers is so heartwarming. Your posts are like a large family gathering with several personality types giving their opinions and one can imagine how many quiet ones are watching and listing without comment. Truly beautiful
    Helen xx

  8. Hello Anna
    Thanks for visiting. Ceralacca sounds very interesting indeed and I will be on a road of research with this medium - thank you.

    Once the beeswax is melted Anna, any colour pigment can be added, I use oil paints as my added pigment. The difficulty is using a large range of colours is in keeping the individual pots or cans hot and fluid. I use a two ring electric burner as my fire source.

    I hope to make a short video some day on painting in this medium

    Wishing you a week of joy

  9. Thanks, Helen. You are showing me new things... very interesting, indeed. I think ceralacca is different from encaustic painting, but there are affinities. I'm not sure whether anybody actually used ceralacca as a media for painting, or art in general,as ceralacca is a sealant. I'll do some searching, I think...

    A HAPPY WEEK to you, too!


  10. How beautiful these paintings are! I often use beeswax and had no idea it could be used in this way. I do understand you wanting to touch the American Flag painting on seeing it for the first time. It would have been the very thing that would have drawn me to it also. Hot wax does indeed burn, so I imagine you must have to learn to be very careful when creating your picture.
    I am sure the wonderful smell will make up for the spills!
    I hope you have had a lovely weekend.
    Abby xx

  11. Hello Abby My Spotty Pony

    Thanks for stopping by and you are right hot wax is painful and one just has to wait till it is cool enough to pull away. Footwear becomes destroyed and also it is difficult to remove the wax from clothing. So quite messy but like you said the aroma more than makes up for it.

    Wishing you a peaceful, productive week
    Helen xx

  12. I had never heard of paintings using beeswax or pigment. What an interesting effect, I really feel I want to touch the paintings. I like all of these, particularly Memories of Yesterday. Beautiful. thank you

  13. Hello Magic & Drudgery

    Thank you for visiting and your kind comment on my painting.

    Yes, it is such a tactile medium and must drive museum guards crazy. Ha ha.
    Wishing you a wonderful week

  14. What a beautiful artwork you've done, Helen! I've heard about encaustic painting, but never seen one. Thank you for giving insight into that rare painting technique. As always, wonderful post, Helen.

  15. Helen dearest, I have never seen the likes of these method of expression; these are stunning works and you have already captured your dream....thank you for coming to visit with me...you are so very talented my friend. Happy day, Anita

  16. What wonderful work Helen and there's nothing more intresting that tactile art. You have such a beautiful talent.
    Thanks so much for your lovely comment. My sister and I are often up into the wee small hours chatting away when I stay.
    Have a lovely week Helen. XXXX

  17. Hi Helen, once again you are educating us in the world of art. I had never heard of encaustic painting, but I think I would love to try it. I use beeswax and pigments in my painted furniture finishes and love to use them both. Although you photos are wonderful I think you would have to view this work close up to fully appreciate the texture and patina. So glad you enjoyed Cushendun, thankyou so much for your lovely comments. I loved what you said to the Hattat's about their blog, I do so agree with you. Have a wonderful week, love Linda x

  18. Dear Helen,

    I did not know people make paintings with materials like this. It looks interesting. I would have loved touching it too :-)!

    Happy new week,

    Madelief x

  19. awesome outfit &post!!!!
    congratulation honey!!=D

  20. Hello Laura @ luxeinteriordesigns.com

    Thank you for your delightful compliment on my encaustic paintins.
    Like you said it is a rare medium, possibly due to few teachers and perhaps the danger element attached to the executicion of the art.
    Laura I truly appreciate your visits.
    To a wonderful week
    Helen xx

  21. My dear Anita
    So lovely to hear from you. Thank you for your kindness and compliments.We can all learn so much from each other, it is wonderful being connected to bloggers, like yourself Anita, who are constantly growing, glowing and learning.
    Wishing you the joys of this summer.

  22. Hello Jacqueline
    Thank you for your kind comments. Yes, encaustic is very tactile. Art is my passion and the hours just seem to disappear and there is never enough time, as you well know.
    I will be thinking of your and your sister and wishing you the type of week that dreams are made from.

  23. Hello Linda @ Flowers on my Table

    Thank you for your kind words Linda.
    It is so great that we are all sharing our knowledge and we all learn from each other. Cushendun looks like a wonderful place to hole up in and paint a series of encaustic paintings. The Hattatt's are very special and bring so much joy to all of us. They exude kindness, wit, intelligence, humour and caring and I think they wrote the book on manners!! Do you agree?
    I am looking forward to seeing your painted furniture incorporating beeswax.
    Time to buzz off Linda Good Night

  24. Dear Helen,


    Thank you for stopping by. Yes, Madelief you and I would both get in trouble with the Security Guard at the Museum, trying to touch the encaustic paintings.
    I love the series you are working on presently and I am going to be waiting with bated breath to see your completed projects and art.
    Wishing you goodness this week.
    Helen xx

  25. Hello Silvia

    Thank you for your kindness and for stopping by.

    I enjoyed your sweet comment (honey)
    That was witty. Thanks for the smile
    I am enjoying following your blog
    To sweet friendship

  26. Hi Helen

    I am with you on Jasper Johns, I love his work along with Robert Rauschenberg's. I can think of nothing better than a big open space and being inspired by their work. Years ago I attempted one similar to Jasper John's American Flag. I love birch trees and created my version, calling it 'Silence of Trees'. Wow, I haven't thought about that in ages!

    I love your work...and your thoughts on creating art. You are also very kind to have commented on my recent posts. It is very much appreciated!

    Wishing you many many happy creative inspirations Helen :)

    Jeanne xx

  27. I did not really know of this technique Helen....thank you for such an informative and beautiful post....Happy painting....xv

  28. Hello Jeanne Henriques

    So nice to meet a fellow admirer of Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg. I hope you still have 'silence in trees'
    I am sure it would look beautiful displayed in your library.
    Have a great week
    Helen x

  29. Good Morning Vicki Archer
    Thank you for visiting my blog.
    It is so great to learn from our fellow bloggers and thank you for all that you share

    Helen x

  30. How beautiful! The blue door really pops and it looks so soft. I love the way it looks when the light shines on it! I'm sure is smells good, too! ♥

  31. Good Morning Lavender Dreamer
    How beautiful! The blue door really pops and it looks so soft. I love the way it looks when the light shines on it! I'm sure is smells good, too!

    Thank you kindly for your comment and visit. The beeswax shines so beautifully when the light hits it and the aroma of beeswax is heart warming.
    Have a glorious day

  32. I believe I like the 'Memories of Yesterday' encaustic best. An enlightening post.

  33. Hello Suze

    Thank you for commenting and always lovely to get feedback on favourite paintings. Many thanks and looking forward to reading your posts

  34. Yes Helen, I do so agree about Jane and Lance and their impeccable manners. I also think that they raise the game for everyone around them. When you read the comments on their posts, the standards are soo high, the wit and repartee is just wonderful. I feel like I need to get back to school for some English lessons! Love Linda x

  35. Hi Linda

    I so agree with you on Lance and Jane's command and use of the English language. But it is their hearts that comes through in their writing, just like you Linda. You have a passion for life and everyday living and you express yourself beautifully.
    To a great weekend. Tell Lois to keep painting and thanks for her good wishing on me winning the coffee cozy

  36. I watched the video on your homepage and it is so moving.
    Your beautiful childhood and amazing family are such an inspiration, I could feel the love that flows freely through your painting to all of us. Thank you for sharing your story of love and gratitude.
    Thanks for your comments, I truly appreciate your visiting.

  37. Laura@luxinteriordesigns.com

    How lovely of your to visit again Laura and take time to watch my video.
    I am flattered.
    The video was made by a Canadian TV chanel, Fidelity High Definition TV, the camera man and director has just returned from Antartica and were fascinating. It still airs on TV in Canada and is one of their evergreen pieces, in that they run it prior to longer documentaries.
    I am loving following your blog, your posts are fascinating.
    Thanks again,
    Helen xxx

  38. Hello dear Helen!

    I also loved that the video doesn't seem to have been staged, it's fresh and sincere and touching... It's so good that it's still running - more people can discover you and your art!


  39. Hello again

    I am glad you feel the video is fresh.I was nervous intially and feared bearing my emotions when talking about my late parentis (puffy red eyes don't look good on film)
    You are right Laura professionals have a way of making us at ease by their encouragement.
    I love your blog and it is a honour when I see you have visited me,
    My best,

  40. l love the OCAD building...now a Toronto landmark. My friend Stephen Quinlan (illustrator) taught at OCAD.
    You and I have frequented the same areas.