Friday, December 2, 2011

WE Lab Report: Milk Paint & Encaustic

This week, I set out to see how milk paint worked, especially with encaustic paint. I've been looking for the perfect medium that will give me all the results I want with encaustic and hoped that the natural, non-toxic paint might just be the solution. Read on for the lab results of my Wondertivity Experiment: Milk Paint & Encaustic.

Statement of the Problem:
Encaustic is a special medium made of a mixture of beeswax and damar resin, which can be used to paint onto surfaces. The natural medium can be used with a wide variety of materials and mediums to create artwork. Up until now, I had largely been using oil paint in my foggy tree series. I set out to find a less toxic medium and one that was more porous to adhere better with the encaustic when it is all fused together. Milk paint is a natural, non-toxic medium made with milk protein (casein) and lime (calcium), plus earth or mineral pigments. Unlike oil paint, you can actually touch the stuff meaning my studio would be much safer.

Milk paint will bond with the encaustic, provide a wide variety of colors and provide the performance characteristics I want. I hope that the milk paint can be easily made with water on a palette, mixed with other colors like any other paint, be painted onto an encaustic surface with a high level of detail or be able to cover a larger surface area. I also hope that the milk paint can be watered down to create a thin wash or used thickly to create a saturated color.


  • 8 Milk Paint samples from the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company
  • Palette
  • Palette knife
  • Variety of paint brushes, both for oil and water color
  • Jar of water for mixing and rinsing
  • Rag
  • Scratching device of sorts
  • Water color paper
  • Board prepped with encaustic medium
  • Encaustic medium & fusing tool

1. I doled out a small portion (<1/2 teaspoon) of each of the 8 colors I had using my palette knife into the wells of my palette. 
2. Using a spoon, added a teaspoon worth of water and mixed the paint with a clean brush. The paint was thin like ink.

3. I tested the paint out first on water color paper. It reacted very similar to water color and you needed to keep a wet edge in order to mix. I painted each sample, made tints with snow white, created a gradient between black and white, a color wheel and then color mixing.

4. Then I tried out mixtures of colors. From left to right, I tried mixing yellow with each color, then blue, then red, then green. 

5. Next I took the milk paint to encaustic and created a variety of doodles, washes, marks, hashes and even writing. Each layer of milk paint was covered with wax and fused. Multiple layers were created.

Totally pleased with the results. The milk paint was super easy to mix, paint with, create washes, create saturated layer. It essentially acts like watercolor, but seems hardier and stronger. I like that I can make it in any size batch I want, although if you let it dry, it does become solid, hard and unusable after that. You can also use an awl or any other scratching device to scratch the wax and the milk paint can be used to fill it. If you make a mistake simply wet your rag and wipe it off the encaustic medium. Drying time is 10 minutes or less, which is a huge improvement for me compared to oil, which took 4 or more days. 

scratching into the surface and painting over leaves dark marks.
but too much heating does cause cracking

beautiful crisp, clean lines are possible

Disadvantages include that you have to keep a wet edge, so this means moving quickly and not futzing with what you just did. If you make a mistake, it's better to just wipe it off and start again rather than try and rework it. If you're gently though, you can build up layers on top of the layers, making it more saturated. As with most encaustic work, too much overheating does cause the paint to crack, but maybe that'll be a look I go for one day.

three layers of washes

Totally sold. I have already begun using the milk paint in a series of three new foggy mountain pictures and plan to continue using the paint. I love that it dries so quickly and gives me a similar effect as the oil paint. While I can't smudge, smear and mix like oil, I'm ok to give up that effect because of the drying difference and the health factor. 

work in progress. 3 layers in.

Now, it's time to get off this computer and back in the studio!