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Mix your own encaustic wax colors


To be in control of one’s own color palette can take years or even a whole life. A thrilling way to speed this process is by mixing your own encaustic wax colors.

Once you have succeeded in buying ready made encaustic colors (in Europe, is a giant task), you may have decided you will never do it again, you probably waited weeks, payed a fortune and at the end you did not get the hues you expected, or you cannot get the hues you dreamt of combining the ones you bought .

Pigment science as said is thrilling, but you need to have a certain experience and knowledge before you can get  successful results. Mixing your own encaustic wax  colors with traditional ready made oil colors tubes can be a good starting point to learn a bout pigments. The colors you will get will be most appropriate for encaustic painting in over-imposed layers, but will probably be too weak to get good results with monoprinting. For monoprint use I suggest you use dry pigments, I will write about it in a different post Mix your own (II).

Selecting your tubes

The first step will be selecting your oil painting brand and series. Most european countries have their own fine arts traditional brands (Windsor and Newton UK, Schminke D, Sennelier FR, Talens NL, Titan S). If you come from other art disciplines (I come from Schmincke watercolor), I would recommend you use the same brand you are used to, since you are already familiar with their color palette (and will also bring back memories that will immediately give you the right mood …), otherwise I would select one you can easily get without prior ordering  in your local fine art supplier.

Most oil tubes brands have at least 2 or 3 different color series (hobby & professional) with very different prices and qualities. Since color is the one thing that makes encaustic so special, I would directly go for the professional series, otherwise you can be somehow disappointed with the results. Even if they are not precisely cheap, you will not need so many different tubes, since we will make our own color palette based on a few primary colors.

Selecting the colors

Before selecting the colors the first thing is to look at the labelling, In the label you will find crucial information, see to it that the tubes are correctly labeled, with complete and clear information. The labelling should look like the one I show you below.

mix your encaustic wax colors: labelling

 Make sure you can find the following information from every hue:

  • Pigment content: will tell you exactly which pigments make up the colour
  • Permanence rating: going from extremely permanent to fugitive
  • Opacity rating: from transparent  to opaque

Single pigment

If you came so far as to decide to mix you own encaustic colors, I am sure you know at least the basics of color mixing, otherwise you can find good information in internet.

But if you never mixed pigments before, you will probably don’t know that single pigment formulations are purer in hue and cleaner in colour than equivalent colors derived from mixtures of pigments. Single pigment hues provide therefore a larger number of colour mixes before resulting in muddy effects.

Please note that single pigment colors are NOT the primary colors, actually brands like Windsor and Newton have more than 60 singles pigment oil colors, 13 single pigment blues for instance, some more permanent than others and with different transparency grades.

MIxed pigments inevitably lose some degree of chroma or brightness, but they are in the market to achieve other goals like more permanence or specific hues that no longer exist as single pigments (the poisonous emerald green for instance)

mix your encaustic wax colors: single-pigments

New organic vs inorganic pigments?

New organic pigments, are often know as modern pigments (Quinacridrones Magenta, Phthalos Blue and Hansas Yellow). Organic pigments are formed from complex carbon chemistry and are synthetically derived in laboratories; they are more transparent, have higher chroma and when mixed together create very clean blends before getting mutted. I like them very much, but if what you want is to give your painting a “natural” atmosphere, you better use the traditional color palette.

Since in the oil tubes you don’t get any information about heat stability or or fumes health hazards of the specific pigments, before you buy the pigmented oil-tubes confirm that the pigments are heat stable and not hazardous checking in the web-sites of commercial encaustic colors providers like RF Paints, if they use the specific pigment in their compositions, you most probably are in the safe side (with Prussian blue I am not quite sure, but we will talk about this in another post)

how many colors do we need?

There are probably as many theories of the correct color mixing palette for artists as artists.The goal is to create within a reasonably small selection of colors, the potential to mix the widest range of colors. But to give a straight away answer, to start with I would suggest a 8 single pigment color palette: cold and warm yellow, red, magenta, cold and warm blue, cold green and the titanium white.

Transparent or opaque?

Depends very much on your own color preferences, but opaque light colors and transparent dark ones would not be a wrong first approach.

Procedure to mix your encaustic wax colors

It is very simple. To obtain a muffin-size cake of each color:

  1. Remove the excess of oil by extending approximately 10 cm of oil paint directly as it comes from the tube in absorbent paper (like watercolor paper) and let it stand 24 hours.
  2. Put in the bottom of a tin the “dried”  oil-color paste and an encaustic medium cake, put the tin on your heat palette.
  3. With a wooden tool stir constantly to get a smooth and uniform pomade
  4. Pour the mixture in a mould and let it cool

This post is also available in: Spanish