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Hot wax painting: Art you can't mess up

JoAnn Bott Anderson is working on fostering a revival of encaustic painting in York.

The art form, using beeswax and resin melted down, was started by Greeks thousands of years ago and isn’t as popular today, she said. But because of the art’s flexibility, a few years ago Anderson fell in love with encaustic painting after taking a class.

She had done acrylic, oil and water color painting before, but she thought watching what happened with the color flow of encaustic painting was really neat.

“You can control it to a certain point, but only to a certain point,” Anderson said. “It’s like you start with an idea, but the wax almost takes over and creates its own thing.”

She retired from the business world and became a substitute teacher before retiring to pursue art. She teaches encaustic painting classes at the York Town Craft Guild.

“It keeps me out of trouble and provides a little income and it’s fun,” Anderson said.

Everyone she has taught so far loves encaustic painting because you don’t have to be an artist to do it, she said. You don’t have to be able to draw because the wax does things for you. You’re just choosing your color, blowing it around in liquid form on a board and you end up with something really cool, she said.

Anderson gets her beeswax from a local beekeeper, but materials can be purchased pre-made. The board is first primed with three coats of mixed wax and resin and then fused with a heat gun or torch.

The wax mixture is then mixed with oil paints to create color in liquid form using a hot plate and tins. It is painted on to anything porous, like a board with a brush, and then fused with heat to build up colors and texture. You can create as many layers as you want, 30 or more, and it can be carved into and sculpted, making areas that are higher or lower from the base.

You can’t mess up because you can keep building layers over anything you don’t like, Anderson said.

“It’s really an interesting medium to try out if you’re just getting into art,” she said.

This technique can also be used to make a textured collage using newspaper clippings or scripts from books. The art form is achievable, meaning it hardens over about a 6 month period and is almost indestructible, except by heat. It lasts longer than an oil painting because it is mixed with wax and won’t crack over time, Anderson said.

If you go

JoAnn instructs a workshop once a month on a Saturday at the York Town Craft Guild, 639 N. Franklin St.

She teaches basic elements of using encaustic medium including how to paint and layer, texturing and collage incorporation. She also teaches  how to make the materials to make it easy an inexpensive.

No previous experience is required. For more information, visit