Sunday, August 29, 2010

Care and Display of Encaustic Paintings

Wax has been used throughout history as a preservative and a protective sealant. It is impervious to moisture and will retain its look over long periods of time. Encaustic is one of the most durable of all artists' materials. Despite its high archival rating, the encaustic painting does need special care.

1- Environment --
The oft-asked question is, “Will it melt?” And the answer is “Well yes, of course it will”. But the melting point of encaustic medium 155ºF. Encaustic artwork should be kept between 35-120ºF. That means, in the home, keep paintings out of direct sunlight. In my home my paintings are often hung near sliding glass doors with a southern exposure. They are in indirect light, never receive direct sunlight, and are fine.

Also avoid wall areas that are above heaters or near incandescent lights. Use common sense!

2- The Surface and the Edges -- “Bloom” is a dusty, hazy look that often appears on the surface of a new encaustic painting. It’s caused by elements in the medium that reach the surface during the initial curing period of a month or so. Gently buff the surface of your new painting with a soft old t-shirt or a similar very soft cotton cloth or chamois. After the first few months, buff the surface to suit yourself, depending upon how high a gloss and level of transparency you enjoy seeing.

The surface of an encaustic painting will scratch. If a scratch occurs, consult me. Repairs might be possible.

In my paintings the wax extends right up to the edges of the panel and often drips over. So the edges and corners are vulnerable and the wax may chip off if subjected to a hard knock. Be careful and protect them. (Try not to drop your painting!) Edge and corner chips and cracks are more difficult for me to repair.

3- Framing --
Ask your framer to use a “float frame” for your encaustic painting. The height of the frame should be sufficient to protect the highest parts of the painting. The recess around the edges should average 3/8”. A properly sized float frame will protect the surface, the edges, and the corners. Experienced framers will know how to proceed.  (More detail on pages 4 and 5 in this PDF:

4- Packing -- For transporting a small painting, some artists assemble a box with an inner padded cradle for the painting, lined with glassine opposite the top and sides of the painting. (Glassine is a special paper used, in this case, to minimize abrasion and to keep the wax from sticking to the padding.)

An alternative to this custom-made box is, of course, bubble wrap. First, wrap your painting in a sheet of glassine. Next, wrap the piece in bubble wrap, bubbles facing away from the painting. Pay attention to protecting the edges and the corners. You might want to put additional padding there. Place the bubble-wrapped painting inside a box. Be aware of temperature extremes during transit and do not subject the painting to very cold or very hot conditions. (Don't put it in the trunk of your car!)

For shipping, put your inner box inside another, larger box with lots of cushioning (packing peanuts) between the inner and the outer boxes. This insulates as well as cushions. If you're using a commercial shipper, try to ship in Spring or Autumn, so as to avoid, as much as possible, those temperature extremes. And of course cross your fingers.

☛ Chapter 16 "Preparing Encaustic Art for Display and Exhibition". Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide to Creating Fine Art with Wax. Lissa Rankin (2010)
☛ Chapter 5 "Preparing and Exhibiting Your Work". The Art of Encaustic Painting: Contemporary Expression in the Ancient Medium of Pigmented Wax. Joanne Mattera (2001)
Packaging and Packing Encaustic Paintings, by Rodney Thompson (no date; accessed 30Aug2010)
Float Frame Variations for Encaustic Art, by Chris A. Paschke (June 2009)

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