Waxes and natural resins Binders and stabilizers
Waxes are an important ingredient in oil paint as a stabilizer but for Encaustic they are the binder itself. It was the Ancient Greeks who developed the practice of mixing pigments into refined Beeswax for easel painting and the medium has seen a resurgence in recent years. Dammar, more associated with varnishes and some painting mediums is an important ingredient in Encaustic. Some other natural resins are included here for completeness, and in case the artist also chooses to make varnishes in the studio.

Resins are like gums, hard substances produced by trees. The difference is that gums are water soluble and resins are not Gums are discussed here.

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Oil binders


Acrylic binders

Beeswax Natures perfect wax.
Although there are many other waxes both natural and synthetic, Refined Beeswax remains the ideal wax for the artist making paints in the studio, and for those artist's using Encaustic. Beeswax as supplied by Apiarist's  is a yellow colored wax that is unsuitable in that form as it contains a small portion of honey still, and various impurities from the lives of the bees and their environment.

Refined Beeswax has all the impurities removed and then it is poured into thin slabs   that are bleached in the direct sun. The resulting wax is clear, pure, and has excellent plasticity and melting temperature that is well suited to Encaustic techniques. Its pale color is permanent and will not adversely affect colors in any substantial way.

Carnauba wax The hardest wax
Carnauba wax is added to encaustic by some painters to increase the hardness and therefore durability of the artwork. Carnauba wax is the hardest wax available and is harvested in flakes from the leaves of a palm tree that grows in Brazil. Its color varies fro a light brownish color to a light yellow. The color makes little difference when added as a minor portion to Beeswax. Obtainable from artist's supply stores, especially those who specialize in pigment and paint making supplies.

Damar The best resin
Damar is the least yellowing of the natural resins and so is recommended for varnishes. It is the one natural resin that is comparable in quality to the synthetic alternatives for this purpose. In encaustic it is added as a hardener, and it is this hardening that imparts great durability to the medium as the paints are no longer susceptible to easy mechanical damage from handling as would be the case for Beeswax on its own.

Damar comes from a South East Asian tree and is sold in various grades named for their point of shipping. There is quite a lot of differences between Damar's from different areas. The best 2 are Singapore and Sumatra which is also called Batavia. Singapore tends to be smaller pieces and has longer fragments whereas Sumatra tends to be in larger rounder lumps. The color of the best grades is from water white to deep straw. The best selected grades are almost all water white lumps.

Damar is soluble in Gum Turpentine but not Mineral Turpentine. To dissolve the Damar put the required quantity of resin into a cheesecloth which is made into a bag shape and then tie the neck of the bag with a length of string. Pour the required amount of Turpentine into a wide necked container with a lid. Make a small hole in the center of the lid and pass the string through it. Replace the lid. Tie the string to a pencil and place across the lid. The bag should be suspended on the string fully inside the turpentine, but not touching the bottom of the container. It will take 2 days for the Damar to dissolve, the cheesecloth will filter any extraneous matter with the Damar lumps.

A good varnish can be made with a proportion of 600g Damar to 1 liter of turpentine (5 lb to 1 US gallon) This is then thinned as needed to the appropriate amount to suit brushability requirements for individual jobs.

Damar can be added to the Beeswax in various proportions as suits individual requirements from a minimum of 10% to a maximum of 35%. The Damar resin is added directly to the wax and the two are melted together before the addition of the pigment.

Mastic A Mediterranean resin
Mastic was probably the main resin available to the Ancient Greeks for Encaustic. Both are inferior to Damar. Mastic is softer than Damar and although it starts as clear small lumps called 'tears' (the best is 'Chios' from Greece) it eventually yellows or darkens. It is soluble in Gum Turpentine and the instructions for using Damar above apply to Mastic as well.

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