Encaustic Painting

Source: The Martha Stewart Show, July 2008


Give a photograph a wonderful vintage look with an innovative technique called encaustic painting that uses melted wax and pigments and dates all the way back to 800 B.C.

Resources: For more information about encaustic painting, or to have artist Leah Macdonald customize your personal photo using this classic technique, visit Tools and materials used in this craft are available at most art-supply stores.


  • Professionally printed personal photograph

  • 1/2-inch thick piece of plywood

  • Gesso

  • Paintbrushes

  • Palette knife

  • Yes paste

  • Brayer hand roller

  • Fine-grade sanding paper

  • Beeswax beads

  • Teflon pan

  • Electric griddle

  • 4 evenly-sized plastic objects (such as the plastic used to keep takeout pizza from touching the box)

  • Lipped baking sheet

  • Level

  • Paint scraper

  • Galkyd and galkyd-light paint

  • Oil paint

  • Painting medium

  • Mixing containers/paint pallets

  • Picture frame


  1. Begin by choosing a photo that has about 75 percent light versus dark colors, as light-colored photos have a much better success rate. You can use black and white, color, or sepia-toned prints. Be sure to use a professionally printed photograph, as prints from an ink-jet printer like the ones people have at home will not stand up to the heat of this process.

  2. Cut a 1/2-inch-thick piece of plywood to the size of the photo. Paint the plywood with gesso to make it archival.

  3. Apply Yes paste to the plywood panel with a palette knife. Smooth out air bubbles, removing excess glue from underneath panel with a brayer hand roller. Allow to set for 24 hours.

  4. Mount the photo on the plywood by lightly sanding photo edges to wood with fine-grade sanding paper.

  5. Place mounted photo on top of four evenly-sized plastic objects (such as the plastic gadget you find in the center of takeout pizza which prevents pizza from touching the top of the box) on a lipped baking sheet. Use a level to ensure the panel is level.

  6. Melt beeswax beads in a Teflon pan on an electric griddle set to between 200 and 250 degrees. Pour melted beeswax over the surface of the photo, making sure the wax is smooth, not globby.

  7. Once the wax turns opaque (after approximately 30 seconds), scrape excess wax from edges with paint scraper.

  8. You will be making a mixture with multiple types of paint. Begin by selecting a color of paint based on the dominant colors in your photo. For black and white photos, choose a light gray, light blue, or lavender shade depending on the contrast of the photo. For color photos, you way want to use more than one color of paint depending on the colors in the photo. The colors present in the original photo will always work the best.

  9. Make a mixture of equal amounts galkyd and galkyd light (resin-based painting mediums) in your chosen color. Make a separate mixture of oil paint in your chosen color. Mix this oil paint with a painting medium until it reaches a spreadable consistency. Then dip paint brush in medium mixture, and mix together all paints into a clean container.

  10. To tint surface of wax, use a paintbrush to apply paint in two strips along two opposite sides of the photo surface.

  11. Dip the paint brush in medium mixture, and uniformly spread it over the surface of the photo to smooth paint.

  12. Let cure for at least 24 to 48 hours.

  13. Place finished photo into frame.


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