I’ve been very focused on my abstract encaustic pieces this week. It’s funny, whenever I’m doing encaustics, people want to come over and play. They want to learn about this gorgeous and ancient medium. One of the first things I do, is show them how to set up a safe and easy workspace. So, I thought it would be fun to share my encaustic corner with you.
I have is a collection of old or inexpensive brushes and sponge brushes. The brushes are easy to clean. You just heat the bristles up and wipe the hot wax off with a cloth. The sponge brushes are used over and over again until they fall apart. Sometimes they fall apart in a painting which can offer a surprising texture!
This is my little cigar box tool box chock full of odd tools and scrapers. Most of them are cast off dental or pottery tools. There’s even a wood burning set and a metal alphabet set used by jewelers.
These are my favorite tools and the ones I use the most. I discovered early on to wire the sponge onto the sponge brush handle. The hot wax melts the glue and you’ll find your sponge swimming in the bottom of the wax tin. When I wire the sponge onto the handle, it lasts a very long time. I also discovered not to let the sponges sit in the hot wax for extended periods of time – especially white. White wax will turn a little pinky hue, which isn’t a bad thing if you’re after a soft white. I also use an x-acto knife and awl for scoring into warm wax. I use the loop for scraping off wax or smoothing down a surface. I use the inexpensive angle brush for burnishing powdered pigments onto hardened wax for a shading effect.
Here’s a handy tip that will save burned fingers. Use little rubber handled clamps for your tins. That way you’re not playing hot potato with your colors.
Speaking of burned fingers…owowow! I spilled some clear wax on my fingers. When starting out, keep a little dish of ice water nearby for accidents. I also have some lavender essential oil in the studio for burns. It stops the burn immediately. This wasn’t a bad burn so once the wax cooled I was able to roll it off my fingers and back into the wax container for re-use.
I also use irons and a heat gun. You need heat to bond each wax layer together either with a blowtorch, heat gun or iron. You can also use the irons to paint. The small tacking iron is good for creating swirling effects. The bigger iron is useful for smoothing large areas of wax. I haven’t worked up the guts to use a blow torch…although I’ve seen some mini-torches out there that I might be brave enough to try.
You need a hot plate or other heating element to warm up the wax. I use electric pancake griddles with a thermostat so I can control the temperature. I like my wax to be around 225 degrees. It’s really important to heat your wax to a safe temp and not overheat.
Right now I have two griddles. The one on the right warms up most of my colors. The one on the left warms up a few basic colors like clear, black and white. I mostly use it as a palette.
You also need good ventilation. I paint right next to a large open window. Some studios use exhaust fans. People can develop allergies to the fumes so it’s important to ventilate properly. The wax fumes can be an irritant if over heated or mixed improperly (if mixed with oils or varnish, it can be toxic). I actually like painting next to an open window. An occasional confused bee will fly in but they’re quickly ushered out.
Finally, you need a good table and natural light. Before painting I start with a clean table. It makes it easy to focus on the new work and composition. This is a standard folding table. I usually sit at a stool but am thinking about putting PVC pipe extenders on the legs to raise it up so I can work standing. I just need to make sure that it won’t wobble since I do a lot of digging in my work.
So, those are the basics for setting up a workspace for encaustics. It doesn’t take up a lot of room and is a great addition to my painting studio.