Encaustic paint is a beeswax based medium that is kept molten throughout the painting process. This is achieved through the use of a heated palette and such contemporary implements as electric hot air guns, irons, etc. This availability of modern heating equipment makes the painting process a much less formidable technique. The medium can be brushed, sculpted, layered, masked and textured and the finished work can be polished to a high gloss. The durability of encaustic is due to the fact the beeswax has a relatively high melting point and the fact that it is impervious to moisture.
Encaustic painting is an age-old technique first practiced by Ancient Greek artists - the Greek term “enkaustikos” means “to burn in”. Greek artists were using wax paint to adorn sculptures, murals, boats, and architecture.
Perhaps the best known of all encaustic work are the Fayum funeral portraits painted in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. by Greek painters in Egypt. A significant Greek population had settled in Egypt following its conquest by Alexander, eventually adopting the customs of the Egyptians. This included mummifying their dead. A portrait of the deceased, painted either in the prime of life or after death, was placed over the person's mummy as a memorial.
Many of these pieces have survived to our own time, and their color has remained as fresh as any recently completed work. Beautiful examples of this work can be seen in the Egyptian section of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.