Encaustic is a Greek word meaning “to heat or burn in” (enkaustikos). Heat is used throughout the process, from melting the beeswax and varnish to fusing the layers of wax. Encaustic consists of natural bees wax and dammar resin (crystallized tree sap), although other types of wax can be used as well. The medium can be used alone for its transparency or adhesive qualities or used pigmented. Pigments may be added to the medium, or purchased colored with traditional artist pigments, most encaustic artists use blocks of wax which have already been dyed. Metal tools can be used to shape the paint before it cools, or heated metal tools can be used to manipulate the wax once it has cooled onto the surface. The result is a rich, vibrant, textural work of art which can be endlessly manipulated with an assortment of tools. The texture of the finished work can be altered with the assistance of heat lamps and similar tools which will soften the wax, allowing artists to work and rework it until they are satisfied with the end product.
While many people associate encaustic art with melting crayons as a young child, the art form is actually thousands of years old. Encaustic painting is an ancient technique, dating back to the Greeks, who used wax to caulk ship hulls.
As a technique is also observed in widespread in Byzantine art, in the heyday period of Iconoclasm, when it started to pass into the background and eventually to recession and decline. Typical examples of images produced is the image of the 6th century found in the Orthodox monastery of Saint Catherine's in Mount Sinai and that of Christ Pantokator 6th or 7th century which was one of the first images of Christ developed in the Early Christian Church and remains a central icon of the Eastern Orthodox Church, also located in Saint Catherine's Monastery in Mount Sinai.
Perhaps the best known of all encaustic work are the Fayum funeral portraits painted in the 1st through 3rd centuries A.D. by Greek painters in Egypt