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I experimented with 100% carnauba wax and pigment on a hide glue gesso ground. As you probably know it was hard and glossy, but brittle, and it was easy to chip off. I am reluctant to add dammar because it may yellow. I considered Canada balsam, but after looking into it seemed that it might have the same problems as dammar. Could a hydrogenated rosin help, or microcrystalline wax? II found an article from the food industry that found polysorbate 60 was an effective plasticiser for carnauba, but I think that would make it susceptible to moisture. I understand my responsibility to do my own tests, but any suggestions on what I might test?
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While I do incorporate a short exploration of historical encaustic
techniques into my classes, I am not an expert in this medium. I will reach out
to one of our moderators to chime in. However, I cannot resist making a few
statements in the interim.
My first question here is why start with an overly brittle
material and add theoretical plasticizers to soften it? The other direction (eg
softer wax with a harder addition) seems to have sufficed for a couple of millennia.
In essence, why not start with beeswax and add a hardener to that to achieve
your desired level of hardness/flexibility. Harder waxes like carnauba or candelilla
or soft natural resins have been logical and compatible additions.
Carnauba on its own is going to be very hard and brittle. It
is usually added to other waxes to increase harness. While we do recommend
against using dammar or any soft resin as an additive to oil paint, much of
that is due to its continued its solubility in the solvents that would be used in
any future conservation treatments, this is less of an issue with encaustic.
The wax inherent in encaustic is always going to be sensitive to aliphatic and aromatic
solvents, probably to a greater extent than the dammar. Therefore, the resin
addition does not threaten the future existence of the artwork.
Dammar does yellow to an extent, less so than almost any
other of the natural resins. I have not seen comparative studies between dammar
and Canada balsam but my own paintouts suggest that they are probably not
hugely different in their yellowing in similar concentrations. A wax medium of
20% dammar and 80% beeswax should not yellow to a great degree. It will yellow
a bit, however, and become slightly more brittle over time. Kept to this
percentage, that should not be a problem as unlike oil paint, the wax itself
does not yellow at all and this would not be a cumulative effect.
If this were my preferred medium. I would experiment with
stepwise additions of carnauba to beeswax to come up with a medium that
fulfilled my needs. I would then compare this to a beeswax/dammar recipe to see
if it differed greatly or offered any benefits.
"The other direction (eg softer wax with a harder addition) seems to have sufficed for a couple of millennia. In essence, why not start with beeswax and add a hardener to that to achieve your desired level of hardness/flexibility"
Good point. I didn't know what formulation had been used for millennia. And I guess because I'm compulsively curious and experimental,. But also when I experimented I liked the jewel-like quality of the pigmented carnauba. I wanted to see if I could get a tough film without yellowing for low pigment volume concentrations. If the yellowing of dammar at 20% is not very noticeable I might be trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.
If I want a tough clear film with no yellowing for low pigment concentrations acrylics might be a good idea.
Also, a thin enough application of 100% carnauba and pigment absorbed into the gesso so that I could hardly mark it when I scratched it with my fingernail.
This is an older thread but I just received this very detailed reply from Richard Frumess, owner of R & F Encaustics:
I don't know if you're familiar with the
painter, Rifka Angel. She painted in encaustic from as early as 1932
until her death in 1988. It is possible to consider her as perhaps the
first encaustic painter in the US to consistently use the molten wax
method (as opposed to saponified wax or wax in oil paint). However, she
used, according to sources, carnauba and montan waxes rather than
beeswax -- two extraordinarily hard, high melting point waxes. Having
organized an exhibit of her work in our gallery in 2005, I found many of
the paintings to be highly fragile. In some cases, large areas flaked
off during transportation. Both the natural brittleness of the waxes and
the difficulty in adequately fusing the paint without blurring the
definitions of her composition would have contributed to its fragility.
Carnauba as a hardener.
You mentioned carnauba as a hardener for beeswax. We've done comparison
tests between added damar resin (no solvent) and added carnauba. Damar
resin, added incrementally increased the hardness of the beeswax
incrementally; whereas carnauba added incrementally increased the
hardness geometrically, going from hardening to cracking the beeswax
with only a slight increase in the amount added. We therefore hesitate
recommending its use as a hardener.
Pigment as a hardener. However,
a large contributor to the hardness of encaustic paint is the pigment.
Some pigments make the paint film fairly soft, others make it quite
hard. We did an 8-year test of several colors and were able to determine
that, while they all go through a curing (hardening) process, that rate
differs among the various colors.
Yellowing effect of damar. The
yellowing effect of damar on encaustic that you mention is noticeable
mostly on the unpigmented medium. We've done tests in which we placed
two sets of panels in different light settings to see the affect that
light had on them. One set of panels was coated with white
filter-bleached beeswax. The other was coated with encaustic medium (9
parts filter-bleached beeswax to 2 parts damar resin by weight) which is
slightly yellow. The films were drawn down to a 10 mil thickness. One
panel from each set was placed in a window sill receiving indirect
sunlight. Two others were placed on a wall receiving ambient fluorescent
light. The remaining two panels were put in a drawer. After several
months they were compared to freshly coated panels.
Window light. The
beeswax panel in the window had bleached even further than its original
whiteness. The encaustic medium, on the other hand, had darkened and
yellowed. This was due to the heat affect of light that will darken
damar, a fact noted by in papers by René de la Rie from the National
Ambient light. Both the beeswax and encaustic medium panels had changed very little.
Absent light. Both
panels in the drawer had darkened but not yellowed. This is a natural
occurrence with beeswax and is easily reversible by exposure to light.
Microcrystalline wax, in contrast, will darken in light due to oxidation, a condition that is not reversible.
Richard, thanks very much for your reply. I found the information about the geometrical hardening when adding carnauba especially interesting. I have also noticed some pigments harden the wax, and a thin application at close to ideal pigment load wouldn't show yellowing. The addition of mica and wollastonite or any pigment that makes the melted paint thixotropic might also make it harder?
Thixotropy. I am not familiar with wollstonite. But looking it up, I see
that it is made up of about 50% silica. So what I know of silica in wax may be
applicable. Silica will thicken encaustic. But whether it gives the paint a
thixotropic property is hard to say since we’re dealing with heat, not
brushing, transforming encaustic from solid to liquid. Even then, once melted,
the shearing factor of brushing does not greatly increase the fluidity of the
paint the way it does with a silica/linseed oil gel.
Color affect. Testing of
silica in colored encaustic has shown us that it has a slight dulling effect on
pigment color. This is likely because its texture causes a diffusion of light.
Hardening. Silica does
not seem to have a hardening effect on encaustic. Encaustic with silica will
harden over time, but that is more likely from the effect of the damar and the
pigment on the wax than of the silica.
Mica. As far as mica hardening
the paint or making it thixotropic, my only reference would be our pearlescent
colors, which are iron oxides & titanium dioxide bonded to mica. We do not
find those colors to be particularly thixotropic.
Thanks so much Richard.
It is really wonderful to have this info from all of your testing now on the site.
Thank you Richard for your thorough replies. I said thixotropic but I should have said thickening. I was thinking of platy or needle-like filler/pigment particles. I am under the impression that they add strength to oil and latex paint films and that they might also lend strength to encaustic films. I thought that I might maintain a high pigment load and also make the paint transparent. But it seems, as you say about silica, that fillers are more transparent in oil than in beeswax.
I do think that encaustic brings out the beauty of transparent pigments like your Indian yellow. Encaustic brings out the beauty of colors that tend to yellow in oil, like Egyptian blue and azurite, Encaustic also brings out the beauty of some transparent Earth colors like catlinite and siderite. This is why I am asking these questions, and I do appreciate your generosity in sharing your time and knowledge. I understand better the reason for dammar in Encaustic.
BTW 25% Canada balsam melted with 75% carnauba gave off overpowering fumes, was highly flammable, hard as a rock, and flaked easily off of a RSG/chalk ground, as people more experienced than me would have predicted :)