Encaustic Tools for Heating: How to Play it Safe

Lately I’ve been looking at art and my goals for making art and have come to the following conclusions:

1. You don’t really need much time if you make art a priority and set up a space (however small) where you can easily access your materials.

2. Note every art-making experience has  to produce a masterpiece, or even a finished product. It’s enough to plunge in and play.

authentically me encaustic art by tiffany teske
“Authentically Me,” encaustic art by Tiffany Teske.

The next step in making my art goals a reality is setting up those work spaces. One area I plan to get back to this year is encaustic art.

This should be easy as I have almost all the encaustic supplies I need to make some get waxy with it: encaustic medium, pigments, fusing tools, found papers and fabrics, porous substrates, natural brushes, hand tools for scraping and incising, small metal containers for melting wax and paint, and found items.

What I don’t have is a safe method of heating the encaustic wax and keeping it at a consistent temperature. (I’m not even going to tell you what I’ve used in the past because I don’t want you kids to try it at home.)

Encaustic paint melts at about 160 degrees (71 C); for the paint to be molten, the heating element is usually held at 200 F (93 C). If the wax or paint is too hot, it can burn, produce smoke, and possibly catch fire. If the heat is too low, the wax won’t flow easily and the art will suffer.

Here are the encaustic tools that for heating and melting that are safe when properly used, according to Daniella Woolf, encaustic artist and author of The Encaustic Studio: A Wax Workshop in Mixed-Media Art:

Electric palette: This device (often made specifically for encaustic art use), heats your paints and encaustic medium to the correct temperature and warms brushes and tools.

 

heating encaustic wax
An electric skillet, palette, or griddle plus a
thermometer provide safe ways of heating
encaustic wax medium or paint.

Skillet:

A common electric skillet or wok is useful for melting in a variety of situations, such as when you need a lot of medium or beeswax for sizing your panels or pouring surfaces. Use a candy thermometer to make sure the temperature stays at an optimal 200 degrees F (93 C).

Griddle: An electric pancake griddle is an inexpensive and lighter alternative to an anodized aluminum palette. A griddle can be just as efficient,  and is easier to obtain (you can get them at discount or big-box department stores).

Even if these tools have built-in temperature controls, you must still use a thermometer with them to make sure you are heating the wax or paint to the proper temperature. On flat surfaces like the griddle or palette, use a flat thermometer that sits right on the heating surface. Use a candy thermometer in a skillet.

Note: It’s economical to purchase used griddles or skillets from thrift shops or yard sales. Just clean them up and use a thermometer to make sure the heat setting is accurate. However, do not cook or serve food in used or new appliances or metal containers once you’ve used them for encaustic.

As soon as I get an electric skillet and thermometer, I’m going to set up my encaustic studio in our sun room on a fire-safe surface with a fire extinguisher and fan (to vent fumes) on hand. Then there will be no excuse for not producing the rich, glowing artwork that comes from encaustic techniques.

To me, Daniella provides the perfect mix of inspiration and encaustic technique, plus practical safety tips, in her book and DVD. You’ll find The Encaustic Studio and many other resources for encaustic art in the Cloth Paper Scissors Shop.

P.S. What’s your preferred method of heating encaustic medium or paint? Leave your answer below.

Categories

Blog, Encaustic, Mixed-Media Painting Techniques, Mixed-Media Supplies, Mixed-Media Techniques

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