The process of painting in encaustic entails heating up the paint – which is a combination of refined beeswax, resin and pigment – until the paint mixture melts, then quickly brushing the strokes of paint onto a surface before the wax hardens — which takes no time at all.* Usually, I can get only 1-3 strokes onto my surface before the wax solidifies. So, it’s dip and stroke, dip and stroke, over and over and over until you’ve covered a portion of the surface, at least.
*[Another method for painting in encaustic is to keep your painting surface heated by placing it on a warming plate, so that the wax in the paint stays somewhat melted while you’re painting. This feels much more like painting in oil, and I do it this way often, too.]
The layers also have to be fused together with heat to make the painting strong. There are several tools and methods for doing this; at present, I am fusing the wax with a heat gun — in many cases, melting the wax layers together. The heat gun also blows out air, and thus moves the paint around a little or a lot, depending on my application of heat and air and my intentions.
This is what causes the tricky part of encaustic painting. You have to heat it at least enough to fuse the paint, and I find that I can manipulate the paint being blown around a bit and achieve some gorgeous effects. However, the danger is that the paint will blow around in unexpected and perhaps unwanted ways, so it’s as likely that you’ll ruin something you really liked as that you’ll create some other area that’s just what you wanted. Maybe it’s actually more likely that you’ll ruin some beautiful passage of paint. At any rate, the results are impossible to completely control.
Which is, in a way, why I love this medium so much. I have to be very Zen about my encaustic paintings, and the biggest skill to learn is when to stop messing with the painting.