In my last post I explained how to make beeswax medium. Medium when melted becomes my thinning agent. This medium can be used in a variety of ways. One can add a small amount of oil paint or dry coloured powdered pigment to this melted wax medium to make your own colors. I buy small blocks of colors and add liquid beeswax medium to thin down this pigment.
After you have heated the wax medium and then let it stand for a while it will become hard and you will have to heat the hard wax to melt it. In this post I explain the different types of heating surfaces on which to melt the hard wax. I will briefly describe how to use the different tools.
Frying Pan – The frying pan I only use for melting the wax and damar resin. Buy one with an adjustable temperature control knob. I set my temperature a little over 200 degrees to melt the medium.
Electric Pancake Griddle: The pancake griddle is used as a palette to keep small containers of wax warm and is also used in the same way as an acrylic or oil painter would use a palette. I heat my pigmented wax blocks on this griddle and add medium to thin down the coloured wax. I have a flat bottomed heat thermometer that I put on the surface of the griddle and keep the heat around 180 degrees. I do not go over 200 degrees. The electric griddle is used for melting and blending the pigmented wax and the clear wax. The griddle is also used to keep the coloured liquid wax in containers at a temperature around 180 degrees.
The problems with the electric griddle – the heat does not stay constant because it turns off and on when it reaches a set temperature. Once my wax melts at a certain temperature it goes hard when the temperature turns off and then soft when the temperature comes on again. I keep having to turn up the temperature dial to keep the wax constantly at the right temperature. This fluctuation of heat is a pain when I am making fine lines because the wax needs to be at a specific temperature to flow well. Maybe it is the brand that I bought that does not keep the temperature constant. I do use the griddle to hold my liquid paint in containers and then just keep an eye on the temperature. I use the heat control knob to raise or lower the temperature.
Food Warmer: I have found an ideal palette surface to heat the wax. A food warmer keeps the temperature perfect. Just under 200 degrees when tested with a griddle thermometer. It is the right size to hold my silver foil containers. They come in different surfaces and are great for mixing my paint and holding the containers of wax.
Irons: There are so many different types of irons that I use. I list each separately.
The Encaustic Iron I use for smoothing the wax on the panel and for incising lines with the edge. I also have used the iron surface as a palette. I would melt my coloured wax in small puddles onto the surface of the iron. Then use my brush to take the wax off the iron surface. The issue with this method – the wax runs down the sides of the iron and is such a mess. So, I only use the iron’s edge for making lines, the bottom for blending colors and smoothing a section of the painting. The blue iron on the right is the encaustic iron.
Ski Wax and Old Irons I did buy one of these but rarely use it. I find that it is heavy and pushes the wax into the panel and I do not get a nice quality surface treatment. I did use the surface for a palette since it was a bit bigger than the encaustic iron but the wax also ran down the sides. The red one is the ski iron.
Tacking Iron. This is the best iron for smoothing the surface of the wax. It is light so with a light touch one can just glide it over wax surface to smooth it down. I have a lot of paper towels on the side of my work and slide the iron over the towel surface to take off the excess build up of wax on the iron. So, for smooth surfaces the tacking iron is definitely the best.
Quilting Tacking Irons The original use for this tools is to fuse fabric down in quilting. They are electric and the surface of these irons get hot. They are great from making lines with the side and for blending colors together. You just need to practice because one can make holes or gaps in the wax. These gaps and holes can be great to have if you like them but a pain to get rid of if you don’t want them. I also use these irons to smooth collage materials and fabric into the wax.
Drawing Pens These come in different styles and come with different tips. You can screw off the tip and add different styles of tips. Some tips have points, and others have slits in the points to hold the liquid wax. Also you can get pen nibs. These pens melt the wax because they are hot. If you want to get fine lines then use a pen nib. I have used all of the pen attachments to make marks in my works. The triangle reservoir holds wax and has a stop to prevent the wax from leaking out. I push down on the tip to release the wax. The small metal brushes also can be used to paint the wax onto the surface. The blue metal dropper also makes lines and dots.
Temperature Regulator is used to keep the heat at a certain temperature. As I mentioned, the heat should stay under 200 degrees so I keep the regulator between 50 and 60%. I use it for my heat pens, and the small and large tacking irons.
Heat Gun This tool is my best friend. I use it to fuse the encaustic layers together and also to build up texture on the surface. I rarely use a torch because I find that the torch will melt my fine lines. I recommend buying a heat gun that has a variable temperature control knob so you can set your heat high or low. Also, my heat gun has a high and a low blowing switch. It comes with a narrow nozzle so I can isolate the heat to a small area.
Torch There are so many different styles of torches. Some run on propane or butane. They are lighter than the heat gun and you can cover an area faster. I did use a torch for a while but went back to using my heat gun. Many artists use the Iwatani butane torch and love it. Then others use the Bernzomatic torch that runs off a propane tank. It really is a matter of preference. For me I worry about fire and I have heard some horror stories about fires starting with a torch. If you have paper around and accidentally touch it with a torch, it may start a fire. Or, the propane tank gets on fire. I am accident prone so am afraid to bring a torch into my studio. At times, I will use a torch outside when I need to fuse a large area.
Another issue – the torch can easily melt my fine lines when I am fusing. My heat gun has a setting where it does not blow any air onto the surface of my painting so I can fuse the lines with a gentle air current.
To conclude, be safe, have a bucket of water near your work area. Have a fire extinguisher near your work area. Make sure you have proper ventilation. Also, have a metal garbage can with a lid and make sure you dispose of your trash properly. Using liquid bees wax and pigmented is not harmful if you keep the temperature under 200 degrees. So, do not heat the wax so that is burns or smokes. It is so important to work in a safe environment and this would apply to all mediums that one uses in the painting world.
In the next blog I explore painting techniques.