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Making Samples

Learning to use encaustic is sometimes trial and error and making samples may help; this is especially when you want to avoid destroying what you are currently working on. Samples rarely need to be bigger than three inches by three inches on masonite, MDF, or other inexspensive substrates. You may also be able to recycle the paint used in your samples by removing it with a scraper or other tool.  Click here to read more about masonite, MDF, or other substrates.

Samples also go a long way in explaining your process to those who may not have a complete understanding of what you are doing and how you got to where your piece is currently at.

Printmaking Scrapers

Scrapers are generally used in printmaking for beveling the edges of the printers plate in order to keep it from cutting the paper as it goes through the press. However, the purpose for encaustic is much different.

Scrapers can be used for many different techniques, but the more common uses are fairly simple and straight forward. You can remove paint fairly quick by using the edge of the scraper blade; the tapered point allows you to access small areas, corners, etc. Prior to fusing it is also easy to remove the unfused layer(s) because it has not become part of the lower layer(s); layers remain fragile and are easy to separate when they have not gone through this process. Revealing the under layer is also achieved much the same way; only practice and a steady hand are needed after the fusing process has been completed. Remember that it helps to have a warm clean tool (except when removing a unfused layer); encaustic will stick to cold or cool metal.

Brush Rest

A brush rest is a minor detail in the encaustic setup; but, it does hold a purpose. Granted you can get away with not having one, and if you are using a kitchen griddle you may not need one because griddles typically have a raised edge that can act as a rest. 

The purpose of the brush rest is to keep your brush handle off the palette where it not only keeps your brushes from getting hot (a safety precaution), but keeps them out of puddles of paint. Additionally, palette cups tend to be to short to hold the brush up by themselves; so resting a brush against something comes in handy. My modified coat hanger works well for keeping my brushes off the palette, from tipping my paint cups over, and because there are two parallel wires the brushes stay warm and off the palette; better than setting them off to the side where they cool and require more time to soften to a workable state. Also the spring action of the wire makes it easy to remove when it gets in the way.

A quick tip: Instead of using a rest it helps to cut down the long handles of your brush to a more desired length so that your palette cup will be less likely to tip over.

Carving Tools


Carving Tools used in woodworking or printmaking are useful in carving out wide lines, or whole areas. Different shaped blades (like the ones showed to the right) allow for different techniques. Length, size, shape can all vary in both the blade and handle; chose the one most comfortable for you.

A couple of notes: carving into cool/cold wax can chip the edges where it is carved out; warm the surface before caving. Also wax will stick to cold tools; heat your tool blade and keep it clean with a rag for best results.



Heat Gun

The heat gun is arguably the most important tool in encaustic; it is used for fusing and other techniques (see Fusing or Burning In).

Fusing is the act of heating the surface of the paint in order to melt (fuse) the layers together. Fusing layers together keeps the encaustic wax from chipping or flaking away. This is one reason that a heat gun or torch is indispensable.

In addition to fusing, the force of the heat/hot air can be utilized for creating different effects by blowing the paint around on the surface.

Caution: Many heat guns can heat upwards to 1100 degrees; high heat can cause a fire and the overheated paint can produce toxic gas. See Encaustic Safety Precautions and Temperatures (Melting and Flash Point) for more info.

Tacking Irons and Spatulas (electrically heated)

Tacking irons and spatulas are commonly found in the entourage of tools for encaustic; mainly described as an alternative to the heat gun when fusing a painting. However, they have many other uses such as adhering paper scraps (small and large) and like items (photos) to the surface of a encaustic piece. They can also be used to manipulate (sculpting and painting) the wax surface; this is particularly with the heated spatula (not pictured), due to their various interchangeable points.

Paper collaging can be tricky; particulary with scraps that are smaller than the tool. A practical way to collage paper is to lay down a background of color, or better yet, a layer of medium. Pigmented wax (encaustic) can actually hide your imagery, and by using medium first, and encaustic after, you can avoid many of the troublesome issues of the color hiding imagery- such as a photo. It is good to know that most paper, especially white and natural fiber, will turn transparent when it soaks up a lot of medium.

Metal Sculpting Tools

A sculpting tool is a fairly generic term to describe anything used to manipulate a medium by physical force; the options are limitless.  Metal tools in particular can do all that and more with the ability to be heated and remain hot for a decent amount of working time.  Heated or hot tools can make incising a breeze and they also can be used to sculpt and fuse areas of paint. For a how to on fusing paint with small metal tools see Fusing with Metal Tools.

Fusing with Metal Tools

There are other ways of fusing encaustic instead of the obvious heat gun, torch, or other electrically heated tool. Due to the radiating heat from the tool it is possible to fuse by heating up the metal with one of the aforementioned tools. It may seem odd to heat one tool with another when it is possible to fuse with the first; but, heat guns force air which can move the paint around and a micro-butane torch along with others are not small enough to fuse some areas. Heating a small metal tool will allow fusing of the tiniest area without disturbing it's surroundings.

See Metal Sculpting Tools and Burnishers for more about what kinds of metal tools.

Paint/Pigment Sticks



Paint or pigment sticks come in various brands, sizes, and formulations. Pastels and other drawing materials may also be mentioned. Differences can affect the outcome drastically.

Ratio of encaustic to pigment stick is very important. The rule of thumb when adding anything to encaustic is to keep the ratios consistent (see How to Make Encaustic Medium and Paint), if incorrect, all the binding properties fail, resulting in a painting that will crack, chip, slag and more. Paint Sticks consist of, amongst other things, linseed oil. Using a small percentage of oil in encaustic has been a long tradition; therefore, adding a oil based product such as pigment sticks should not be a problem. It can help with the toxicity level to eliminate linseed oil from your encaustic paint or medium (obviously this requires making your own paint), but it is not necessary.

Problems occur when to much paint stick is used: when using a paint stick traditionally, as a drawing medium, remember that the ratio of paint stick to encaustic is, to the amount which is on the surface of your support, not how much is on your palette, or in the block of encaustic, or in your palette cup. You are typically adding the paint stick to the surface, not in the encaustic mix itself; the surface is only a fraction of an inch thick, so it is easy to over-do.

How much is the correct amount? Paint sticks should only be used in minute/thin amounts. The easiest way to learn is to make some samples and test different thicknesses of paint stick on the encaustic and fuse as you regularly would. If you are applying at the end of a finished encaustic piece, and do not plan to paint more wax on, you can be less critical about your ratio of wax to paint stick.

Also read, Oil Paint as Pigment

and more on Oil Pastels- coming soon.

Oil Paint as Pigment

This post is for combining oil paint to encaustic; where oil paint is utilized as the pigment rather than dry pigments. Encaustic paint consists of beeswax, damar resin and pigment (turpentine and oil, once used as ingredients, are not typically used). Contrary to other tutorials on making encaustic, oil paint should not be used as a pigment. This is not to negate the use of oil paint as a surface and/or under layer or oil used in a variety of other wax based painting.

Why? Oil paint manufacturers often use non-compatible ingredients. Since it is difficult to know which do, and which do not, it is better to avoid them unless absolutely certain. But... As for high quality oil paints that do not include unknown substances, they still contain oil. Oil(s) in combination with encaustic at inadequate volume can cause the paint surface to breakdown; resulting in chipping, cracking and complete release of the paint layers. It is important to note that oil and encaustic are compatible, so as long as the ratios are controlled. Ratios are stable as long as the percentage of oil to wax is low or high; for instance the closer the amounts become to being equal the less stable.

What is the alternative? Dry pigments. see How to Make Encaustic Medium and PaintPaint and Pigment Sticks, or Saponified Wax.

Also a personal note: I tend to work a lot with paint and oil sticks over encaustic which contain very similar properties to the above, and I am torn between whether or not this is truly encaustic. An oil painting or photograph coated with a layer of wax is not classically an encaustic piece. I have felt that encaustic is a medium created as one substance prior to painting; wax, pigment, damar (and oil and turpentine if you wish). Of course there is always room to argue.

Butcher's Tray

The butcher's tray has many uses in the studio from something to throw tools in, to a large palette cup for encaustic. The white porcelain enamel coating makes the perfect surface for mixing colors when matching a previous color is at its most difficult. Standard palettes tend to be gray or black, as well as palette cups; white is also a preferred surface color for painting and mixing. However, it is important to note the butcher's tray is not without flaws or up to preference. The convex body makes paint flow to the sides of the pan; good for some tasks, bad for others. Even the small pans are fairly large for palette cups. Also, while working with encaustic place the tray directly on the palette and treat it as a palette cup. Do not try to use it directly as a palette because it is hard to regulate the temperature and will over-heat; this is due to the thin body of the tray. Good or not, the butchers tray is nice inexpensive tool to have around.

Brushes

Brushes are an obvious necessity when it comes to painting; only use natural hair brushes when working in encaustic (e.g. Hogbristle, Hake, etc.). Synthetic brushes can not withstand the high heat and the bristles can become burned, fused or melted. This also can be true when working with natural brushes, the chance of burning the bristles, but only when working directly under the heat gun/torch where the temperature is at its hottest. You can avoid burning simply by moving the brush out of the direct heat. Practice makes perfect. And a great thing about encaustic is that you rarely have to clean your brushes. The fact is that encaustic cools (doesn't dry) and as long as you have plenty of brushes (recommended one for each basic color) you will be set to go.

P.S. Hake brushes are made from many things (ox, squirrel, goat) including synthetic material which can melt; only purchase natural bristles.

Encaustic Safety Precautions

First and foremost is that you remember you are working with heated art materials and tools where temperature can range, when properly used, in the hundreds of degrees; and unsafe temperatures when improperly used. As with all mediums taking precautions can help you prevent injury.

The temperature for working with encaustic should remain constant at or below 225°F (many trusted resources recommend a temperature of 220°F). Temperatures above 250°F cause beeswax to breakdown; encaustic can off-gas dangerous vapors such as formaldehyde, and acrolein. For boiling points of beeswax and other waxes used, see Temperatures (Melting and Flash Point).

Make certain that the temperature of your palette can be regulated and kept at a constant temperature. The rheostat that controls this on most hotplates and burners can be or become faulty; it is imperative that you stay aware of this. If you believe that the temperature fluctuates beyond your control, immediately replace the hotplate/burner with one that does not.

Encaustic requires a ventilation fan to pull out wax vapors. Ventilation can be achieved with a window fan facing outward; however, a hood or industrial exhaust fan would be ideal. Cross ventilation is also important to replace the air going out. The work space should be placed between you and the exhaust; important so that vapors do not pass your breathing zone while on their way out.

Lets talk about fire safety- In the rare occasion of a fire, do not pour water on beeswax; wax explodes when in contact with water and this will cause the flames to spread; simply keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Your work area should have the electrical capacity for use of hotplates and heat guns. Only use heavy duty extension cords and power strips; a quality power strip will shut off if overloaded. Fire can result from overloaded circuits or faulty socket and cords. Exposed wiring can collect wax which will result in fire issues and putting off harmful vapors. Your work area should also be free of solvents and papers- anything flammable.

Experience will give you the tools you need in working with encaustic; in the meantime, check your area often, and keep a first aid kit on hand. 

Here are a few links to help get you started + down below.


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---------------------------------------{ A Note to Readers }---------------------------------------




Revisiting old topics and filling in holes is quite a chore, yet a necessary one, one that will offer more quality information. For example: recent activity and questions surrounding hardboard and/or masonite, has directed our attention to fill in the blanks on that topic (currently under revision/addition), as well as, more about gesso (specifically encaustic gesso) and other topics (search the tabs), all are in the works. 

Prior years were to get as much general information as possible up and available- a starting point. More and more however, new topics are focused and detailed, and old ones will be getting revisiting; removing any possibility of confusion. 

I should point out that this is a one person operation (takes me awhile to get around to everything, ohh yeah, I should make some art), Anyway, where was I?, oh! one person operation..., even though I tend to refer in posts and topics as we, it is to remove the need to revisit things later when it really is we. All of this whilst working, making art, and whatever may be the case.

As always, I welcome any opinions, comments, and questions- simply contact me.

Thank you
Sincerely
Jonathan Parks