The term ground refers to a prepared surface for painting. A ground is applied to a substrate, or support, that can be wood, board, stretched canvas, or an alternative. As a general guideline, grounds for encaustic painting must be absorbent, so acrylic gessoes are not recommended. R&F Encaustic Gesso contains an acrylic binder as one component of its carefully formulated product. For more information, read Myths and Realities about Acrylic and Encaustic Gesso.
The following is a list of ways you can prepare panels for encaustic painting, in order of ease and effectiveness:
R&F Encaustic Gesso: A brushable white ground that dries to a ready-to-paint absorbent surface. This is the easiest and fastest way to prepare a white ground for encaustic painting. R&F Encaustic Ground differs from typical acrylic gessos by having a higher proportion of solid to binder, making it highly absorbent while retaining the adhesive qualities of the acrylic.
No Ground: You can paint on raw wood. Select a nice grade of birch plywood and paint directly on it. Some artists prefer to create an encaustic paint ground by painting a layer of encaustic directly on the wood, and then working up from it. Many artists who work this way prefer to make their ground with white encaustic paint because it shows subsequent colors to full advantage. The drawback to this method is that the wax ground is susceptible to heat and has the potential to re-melt as you work.
Paper: A white ground can be created by gluing watercolor or printmaking paper onto a supporting panel. The heavier the paper, the more absorbent the ground. Bear in mind that lightweight papers will be made translucent by the wax, resulting in the substrate showing through and darkening the tone of the ground. This can be avoided by first coating the bare panel with white acrylic paint, or R&F Encaustic Gesso. Allow it to dry before gluing the paper down on top of it. White grounds are generally desired to show colors to full advantage, but any absorbent paper can be used. Braced or cradled substrates are preferable to avoid warping. To prepare:
For the cleanest presentation, use a piece of paper that is a bit larger all around than your panel, and then go back and trim the paper with a sharp blade after the glue is completely dry.
Use a thin coat of acrylic medium or archival white glue on the back of the paper and the face of the panel, then neatly spread it out thinly, taking care not to let any glue get on the surface of the paper (for work on photographic papers, we recommend using Matte Medium as the adhesive).
Once both surfaces are coated evenly, position the panel onto the paper, glue-to-glue. Carefully flip the panel/paper unit over and smooth out any air pockets to assure even adhesion.
Protect the surface with a clean sheet of waxed paper, and leave the paper-mounted board under weight overnight to dry.
If your panels are unbraced, or uncradled, it’s a good idea to coat the back of the panel with acrylic medium to avoid warping.
Traditional Rabbit-Skin Glue Gesso: The most traditional, time-tested ground for encaustic, but it is a time-consuming and elaborate process that does not appeal to everyone. It does create an incomparably beautiful ground, though. For more information please read our Rabbit-Skin Glue Gesso Technical Sheet.