Modern Encaustic reviews Cuní Paints

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We do always enjoy Madrid based Modern Encaustic’s brilliant blog. This time they’ve written about our watersoluble encaustic, so we thought we’d share this with you:

“If you never had the experience of slowly sliding your best brush on a perfectly smooth wax surface, definitely you have to try it. It is an incomparable experience.

I received some samples of water soluble encaustic colors from Encaustic Cuní last summer, but it has been just a few weeks ago that I decided to test them and, I tell you, it has been a very very nice surprise.

According to the information Encaustic Cuní provides, the water-soluble paint bonds with hot encaustic either as base layer or top one. In melted state they are immiscible.

As base layer you need to let it dry completely before going on with your melted wax. You can obtain beautiful blurring effects if, once dried, you apply some heat and apply hot wax in the desired direction. Something like this may be obtained:

Fernándo Zóbel (1957)

If you apply Encaustic Cuní on the top layer it takes 4 -5 days to dry but still it is easy to take it off with some cotton and water. With increased difficulty you can even remove it after 3-4 weeks. I can imagine when it is totally cured, after a few months, it becomes totally waterproof. It is gorgeous to recover the brush stroke with this type of paint, not only the free gesture but the materiality of the brush stroke, that after so many years of modern encaustic you may have forgotten.

If you like using Encaustic Cuní with your hands, nitrile-rubber gloves will work better than the vinyl or latex gloves, since they show better resistance to oils.

I can imagine Joan Miró using this technique over one of his neutral blurred backgrounds:

This water soluble wax paint is produced by the Cuní family in Spain. The content of the tubes is basically an emulsion of beeswax and potassium soap with pigments.
The formula of Encaustic Cuní paints is kept top-secret, but if you read carefully all the information they give on their webpage, I think you can understand their point. It is not Punic wax (a pigmented soap made with beeswax and caustic soda) but an emulsion of beeswax and water by means of a linseed soap. (An emulsion is just a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally immiscible). See below my interpretation:

The composition of the ancient (cold) encaustic technique has been a constant source of study and controversy. I can imagine there are so many different types of paint composition as paintings, not only the base product – beeswax and oil – as organic products are always different, but the alkali they used to make the soap was different too. Saponification Values (saponification – from soap), the amount of alkali required to saponify a fat sample, where also not of common knowledge.

We know that Egyptians dried the dead bodies for mummification with Natron, and afterwards filled the bodies with beeswax. So it is easy to imagine that they obtained the first soap this way.

The origin of natron is an Egyptian valley called Wadi al Netroun “Natron Valley” (just 40h walking from Al Fayoum) where an alkali lake provided the Ancient Egyptians with the sodium bicarbonate used in mummification. The term Natron today is translated univocally as Sodium carbonate decahydrate (Na2CO3·10H2O), but at the time the term natrum could have been – sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, potassium carbonate, potassium nitrate, sodium nitrate, sodium sulfate, or any combination of them.

Now I understand, why the ones making the paints where not the artisans but the priests who kept the recipe top-secret. (Nothing seems to have changed really much after 2000 years…)”

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