3 Addictive Projects to Use When Introducing Students to Encaustic Art

We have all seen the melted crayon projects from Pinterest. In fact, I saw so many last year during our genius hour presentations that I wanted scream. Melting crayons is fun, but there is SO much more you can do with the art of melting wax, also known as encaustic. I know it might sound dangerous or difficult, but I promise these three projects make it easy to introduce this medium in any classroom.

Note: Wax can give off harmful fumes, so be sure you are working in a well-ventilated area. In addition, these projects require heating elements. You will have to decide if they are suitable for your student population.
 
encaustic
 

Project 1: Encaustic Drawing

 
encaustic 1
 
This simple project allows students to experience the magic of watching the colors melt and mix.
 
Materials

  • Large warm surface, like an electric griddle
  • Unwrapped crayons
  • Drawing paper
  • Low temp glue gun (optional)

 
Steps

  1. Warm the griddle –low or medium heat generally works well.
  2. Lay the paper onto the warm griddle.
  3. Draw slowly with unwrapped crayons onto the warm paper. As you draw, the crayons will melt to create a wax image.
  4. You can also “draw” by feeding the unwrapped crayons into a low temp glue gun. If you’d like more information, Allison from the site Learn~Play~Imagine wrote about it here.

 
Tips

  • Put a larger paper under your drawing or mark out a border on your paper to prevent melted crayons from making it onto the griddle.
  • Keep the wax thin and be careful with your finished drawings as thick areas of wax can crack and fall off.

 
 

Project 2: Encaustic Pouring

 
encaustic pouring
 
This project allows students to experience the magic of layering materials and wax to create beautiful images.
 
Materials

  • Small board for each student
  • Packing tape
  • Beeswax
  • HotPot (You might have one left from making ramen noodles in college.)
  • Stuff for layering: leaves, lace, beads, photos, etc…

 
Steps

  1. Wrap the boards with packing tape to build up the sides (imagine making a fence).
  2. Lay materials onto the “fenced in board.”
  3. Pour melted wax in “the fence.”
  4. Repeat as desired.

 
Tips

  • Pouring several thin layers of wax will help reduce how much things move.
  • You can carve away areas of wax for emphasis.
  • These ghost-like images can be drawn into for added interest.

 
 

Project #3 Encaustic Painting

 
encausting 3
 
This project is the most challenging in that it uses a true encaustic medium which is created using wax, resin and pigment. However, once the work of creating the “paints” are made, you will be creating for a very long time.
 
Materials

  • Encaustic wax (find out how to make it here)
  • Paintbrushes
  • Rigid painting surface–a board works well
  • Large warm surface, like a griddle
  • Blow dryer

 
Steps

  1. Warm your pre-made waxes on the griddle. Old tuna cans with clothespin handles work great for this.
  2. Using the melted wax as paint, paint onto the rigid surface.
  3. Layer wax as needed.
  4. Move or change wax by heating it with a blow dryer once it is on the painting surface.

 
Tips

  • Keep your colors pure by having students use one brush per color.
  • Colors can be reheated and used until they are gone.
  • You can press different things into the warm wax to create texture.

 
I hope these three projects get you thinking about how you might incorporate encaustic art into your classroom. I still remember my first experience with encaustic art. I was seven and we melted crayon shavings between wax paper to create a beautiful sun catcher that I was so very proud of.

If you are looking for a modern encaustic artist, check out the beautiful work of Margaret Berry. I was able to work with her a few years ago when her work was on display at our local art center. You can watch a video of her working here. Encaustic is one of those wonderful mediums that can be very simple or quite complex. Be warned that as you start investigating this medium, you might just find yourself addicted.
 
 

Have you ever taught encaustic art?

What new medium would you like to introduce your students to this next school year?

 
 
 

Jennifer Carlisle

Jen is a middle school art teacher from Norfolk, NE who loves exploring and teaching art through traditional and digital art mediums.

Related

  • maddigab

    i like to take an old muffin tin and sit on top of warm griddle. we then put different colored crayons in each section. i usually add a bit if paraffin to make the wax a bit smoother. the kids could paint directly on a board or sometimes we used fabric and then dipped in India ink for a Batik. you could keep the colored wax on the fabric or iron it off.

  • Jessica Clark Vollman

    I would love to see some lesson plans or hear from teachers how these encaustic lessons worked while teaching 15+ children how to use use tgese techniques. What challenges did you have to over come? What is a must do to carry it out successfully?…

  • Susan

    Be aware that some children are very sensitive to the fumes released by heating crayons(myself included). This is from Crayola’s own website:
    Melting Crayola Crayons—Melting crayons for an arts
    & crafts project should be done in a well-ventilated area. Heating
    crayons in a home oven or microwave oven is not recommended. Overheating
    wax crayons may release irritating fumes. Melting must be done by an
    adult.

  • Tina

    God Bless anyone who gives this a try in a school setting with 20+ students. I would never attempt this! Especially not with the age of the child in the photo. I think it would be best with older kids and in a home or very small group setting. I am doing batik with freshmen in a private studio class and hot wax, not to mention hot plates is not something for the careless or distracted. (like little kids).
    Take care.

  • melissa purtee

    I think these all look like so much fun! Thanks for sharing!

  • ElizTownsend

    I purchased a wax melter (tray of about 8-10 small metal cups with just enough heat to melt and keep wax at a liquid state) and then asked for 4 or 5 more on a wish list from our school board, which they granted). I only use the wax melters with grades 4-6. I assign 2-3 students per melter. One way to control the chaos,
    is to just have a small group of students on the wax melters per art hour. Have
    others working on a different project, until it’s their day to work with the encaustic project. I found it difficult to paint with brushes, because the wax dries too fast, so we used Q-tips to lay down the wax, thus didn’t have to ruin brushes. What worked the best was to have students paint objects, such as paper soup bowls, which we made into mini hats, later embellishing them with buttons, feathers, bows, etc. I like the collage-pouring idea, which I’ll have to try this year.

    One of my favorite encaustic-type projects is to have students (I’ve done this with grades K-6) color a piece of sandpaper with heavy layers of crayon, and then, usually on a different day, I flip their piece of sandpaper onto a nice white piece of construction paper and let each student “help” iron over it (while others are working on a different project). I turn the ironed “print” back over to reveal the wonderful and professional-looking wax print. Sometimes I glue the piece of sandpaper next to the wax print for added interest. The prints usually turn out the best and look the best if the students make a design, rather than trying to come up with a concrete picture or objects (They tend not to press hard enough
    nor get the wax thick enough onto the sandpaper, when they are trying for detail). Be sure to have several pieces of paper or cardboard under each
    print when ironing to soak up any oils and avoid burning the surface underneath. A couple slow swipes with the iron, with a little pressure, over
    the entire print surface usually suffices to melt the wax enough. I also
    have the students (on a later day) sign with a pencil or black Sharpie, along the edge of their prints for an even more professional look. Parents love this
    project, especially from Kindergartners or 1st graders! Yes, we are aware
    of proper ventilation. (Before coloring, students write their names on the back
    of their sandpaper; and their white construction paper, before we make the print.)

  • Angela

    I’m very surprised that this article doesn’t stress the importance of ventilation more. When heated, true encaustic wax needs an extremely well-ventilated workspace.