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This post is about how to maintain encaustic paintings. Encaustic paint, as oil painting, cures with exposure to the air through an oxidation process, and until about 6 months after the last time we have heated the wax we can not consider that it is cured. During this curing process the wax continues to harden and if your painting has not been protected from the dust it is possible that it does not shine or even has traces of dust or dirt.

The structure of the wax changes considerably during the curing process and until it has not completely cured you have to be very careful with both the products that are used and the temperature at which they are used.

How to maintain encaustic paintings week to week

Care from week 0 to the week 6

The best thing to do nothing at all, not clean it or of course not rub it to give shine. In summer, with temperatures over 30 degrees it is best to keep the protected picture under cellophane paper to prevent dust from entering, but not prevent it from coming in contact with the air.

Cares from week 6 to the week 12

From the sixth week the surface of the wax will have already hardened enough and can be left directly in the air without protection. The inner layers will still be tender and the surface will be very sensitive to scratching but will not pick up dust. Avoid polishing during this period as polishing produces heat and can soften the surface

Care from week 12 a week 24

If the thickness of the wax surface does not exceed 5 mm the surface will have sufficiently cured and you can carefully clean it if dust has adhered. At the end of this post we explain how to clean encaustic painting.

Care from week 24 a week 40

As of week 24 the wax will have almost completely cured and you can clean it if necessary and even rub it to give it shine. At the end of this post we explain how to clean the encaustic paint and how to give it shine

From from week 40 onwards

Once the wax has hardened you will be able to clean and polish it and it will be quite durable.

How to Clean Encaustic Painting

It is possible that the surface during the curing period have attracted dust or even shows finger prints left during manipulation . Although the medium, if well formulated, is not especially sensitive; it is always preferable not to use aggressive products for cleaning.

Cleaning with saliva

Saliva is an enzymatic solution that has been used in the cleaning of pieces of art since the eighteenth century … Not long ago the comments of a conservative of the MOMA of New York (1) (2) who confessed used saliva to clean Picasso’s Avignon ladies shocked art fetichists.

Not long ago shoeshine men working in the squares and at the gates of Spain’s busiest cafes spat on customers’ shoes to get an unmatched mirror shine. So did the soldiers to polish their boots.

Using saliva with a cotton swab and then rinsing with distilled water is a process that works well because of an enzyme called amylase that breaks down the fat and protein chains by breaking it down into simpler elements like amino acids. It is soft enough not to damage or need ventilation or other measures.

Cleaning with saliva is effective but it is slow, there will even be people who consider it unhygienic … The truth is that to clean with saliva you have to keep certain precautions like waiting a certain time since you eat, drink enough water and, of course, do not reinsert the swab into the mouth after it has been used. There are even experts who point out that saliva cleans better if you are happy since stress affect the amylase content of saliva …

Enzymatic cleansing

Enzymatic cleansing is a process by which protein and lipid deposits are removed from the surface of contact lenses. Most contact lens cleaning solutions contain enzymes that are actively involved in the removal of lipids and proteins. Enzymatic cleaning (proteolysis) occurs when the enzymes contained in the solution break down proteins and fats into simpler substances, such as amino acids.

It works wonderfully on encaustic surfaces to clean them with a soft cotton impregnated with enzymatic solution, yes, solution of cleaning the lenses. It has all the advantages of saliva and none of its drawbacks. Just rinse the surface with water, better distilled, to finish.

How to polish encaustic wax surfaces

One way to prevent wax surfaces from attracting dust is to give them gloss by rubbing or polishing. Rubbing can be done by rubbing with any fine material but the rubbing produces heat that reactivates the wax.

Polished with nylon mesh

Nylon has often been used to give shine given the multitude of contact points that are microscopically eroded the surface triggering it to shine. The problem with these materials is that they induce static electricity causing electrical attraction on the dust and that friction generates heat that reactivates the wax.

Polishing with paper

The best shine is obtained by rubbing with Japanese polishing paper. This paper has very fine fibers and, once crumpled and extended, allows a very fine polishing that does not produce heat by friction or static electricity. This is the paper used in Japan to polish lacquers with the Japanese resin based laque technique (3).

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Notes-  multimedia

¹) News in the New York Times about spit cleaning (inglés)

How to Clean a Dusty Picasso at MoMA: Use Your Spit – The New York Times

(2) The same news in Spanish

El MoMA revela su secreto para limpiar obras: la saliva

3) Video urushi lack technique

NODATE Chabu “Fuki urushi” authentic wipe lacquering method – YouTube

This post is also available in: Spanish