Day of the Dead Bear Skull Vanitas Encaustic Beeswax Painting

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About: As with all great notions it started with a daydream; move to Alaska and settle down in a cozy cabin, next to a lake, with my beloved other, my dogs and family. Paint and make ART to my hearts content. It's...

Encaustic wax art is pure organic beeswax and dammar resin. The pigments are high quality cakes of wax made with natural ingredients like oil paints. The word Encaustic is Greek which simply means to burn in. The wax is melted on a hot pallet and applied to the substrate hot, it cools instantly, then each layer is then reheated and the next layer is applied. This fuses the layers together and gives it integrity.

Encaustic painting is like nothing else it has depth and luminosity that other mediums cannot achieve. Because the wax is malleable there are infinite possibilities. Each painting is a one-of-a-kind work of art.

Encaustic paintings require simple care: The melting temperature of wax is 160 degrees F so do not leave it in a car in the summertime. In extremely cold temperatures the painting becomes vulnerable to cracking so keep it inside and if the edges are not protected the paint can chip off. If that happens, I will gladly repair the painting for you. One more thing; for awhile the painting will get a cloudy appearance called a bloom: Simply take a soft cloth and buff the surface of your painting and it will glow.

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Step 1: Apply Encaustic Gesso

Take a cleaned skull and paint it with Encaustic Gesso to give the smooth skull some teeth and help it to accept the layers of beeswax I am about to apply.

Let the gesso dry.

I used a double epoxy glue at the jaw to hold the top and bottom together (not shown).

Step 2: Paint on Encaustic Medium

The encaustic medium is pure beeswax mixed with raw damar resin, 8 parts wax to 1 part resin. This is melted together in a crock pot. I paint of 2 or 3 layers of this medium.

Each layer of wax is fused with a heat gun or torch to barely melt the top so the next layer will be ready to accept subsequent layers.

Step 3: Fuse With a Propane Torch

Fuse and work the surface of the wax with a propane torch or a heat gun. The technique is to hold the flame sideways move over the surface quickly and try not to melt the wax back off (unless you want to). I am going for a smooth shinny surface.

Remember: After each layer of beeswax fuse with the torch.

Step 4: Paint on the Skull With Encaustic Paint

Next the encaustic paint is melted in tins on a hotcake griddle, I choose a nice fleshy color for this bear skull because encaustic beeswax paint is fleshy and malleable and the skull needs some life.

Step 5: Fuse the Encaustic Paint

Again fuse this layer of paint. I applied several layers and did some touch ups, this is a little tricky since the skull is not a flat surface. Do not get hung up on perfectionism imperfections are inherent to the medium and add character in my opinion.

Step 6: Inspect Your Work

Look around for any touch ups that might be needed.

Step 7: Add Temporary Tattoos

The surface has cooled a little but and is smooth and soft, perfect for temporary tattoos. Just follow the easy instructions for applying these tattoos, I choose Day of the Dead for this particular bear skull.

Step 8: Admire Your Handiwork

The temporary tattoos are on there to stay and this bear is ready to party.

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