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.
If you are already using Encausticbord, you have all the preparation you need. However, if you want to prepare your surface, these are the best recommendations for working on an uncoated panel.
R&F Encaustic Gesso
A brushable white ground that dries to a ready-to-paint absorbent surface. This is the easiest, fastest way to prepare a white ground for encaustic painting, (unless you're using Encausticbord.) 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.
You can paint directly on raw wood, such as the Natural Wood Panel. It will be stained by the encaustic, however, so 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 either clear or white encaustic paint because they show subsequent colors to full advantage. The drawback to this method is that it requires a higher degree of skill in controlling the paint, because the wax ground is susceptible to heat, and has the potential to re-melt and change as you work.
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.
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.
~"Encaustic Grounds", R&F Handmade Paints, www.rfpaints.com
More encaustic resources can be found through the R&F Handmade Paints Encaustic Center.
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