Encaustic Painting Tools

About a year into my journey of encaustic painting, I found myself at the hardware store and other places that I wouldn’t normally visit, aimlessly walking around looking for things that heat up or make marks. That’s when I knew I was hooked. My honey said, “What are you looking for?” and I very quickly answered, “Things that get hot, and things that make marks.”

Encaustic painting is wonderfully flexible and forgiving, you can heat, paint and revise repeatedly. You can paint with a brush, bubble wrap, knife or other kitchen utensil. You don’t have to wait for the paint to dry in-between layers. You can undo what you do very easily by scraping it off. You can create texture by dripping, dropping, pouring, splattering, burning and more. You can add layers and depth with wax medium, paper, photographs, fabric and anything else that is of natural fiber, porous and relatively thin in weight.

When I speak of tools in encaustic painting I am focused on tools that heat the wax, apply the molten wax paint and fuse the wax paint to the surface.

Tools for heating the wax paint

The electric palette is used to melt the wax paint and keep it in a molten state at 220°F. Palettes come in different sizes and forms. They can be simple inexpensive kitchen appliances, electric griddles, frying pans, or skillets. Commercial palettes are aluminum plates over an electric hot plate or other heat source. The palette also serves as a platform on which to warm knives and brushes, making them ready for use. Wax paint can be melted directly on the palette or in separate tins.

Tools for applying wax paint

This may be a difficult concept to grasp. If it is heat resistant at 220°F like oven safe silicone, metal, wood or natural hair paint brush, it’s safe to use in encaustic painting to apply wax paint to the surface.

If you prefer to paint with brushes, they are versatile and offer close-to-traditional oil painting results. Use natural hair bristle brushes to do the initial work, use other metal and heat regulated tools to melt and move the paint where you desire. Heat temperature regulators are required for most detail tools that you will experiment with such as wood burning tools. The level of detail you can achieve is staggering, once you develop your encaustic painting voice. Only natural hair brushes should be used. Synthetic brushes will melt.

Another reason to love encaustic painting: no toxic solvents are necessary for cleaning brushes, encaustic does not damage the brush and can always be reheated and wiped clean. Even better, brushes can be left uncleaned indefinitely or cleaned whenever desired.

To clean brushes, use soy wax or paraffin, melt some on to the palette and work the paint off the brush, wipe with rag. The benefit of soy wax over paraffin wax is that the soy wax can be washed off with soap and water and then used for other mediums.

Besides natural hair brushes, I’ve collected a series of old east Indian wood print blocks, adinkra gourd stamps, wood carving tools, plastic grid material, kitchen utensils, carving knives, razors, scrapers, scribers, dental tools, clay-modeling tools, etching tools, and other found objects that can all be used to scrape down or impress distinctive marks in my encaustic painting. As you experiment with different tools, keep a journal to document the tools that make your most interesting marks.

Fusing

Torches, heat guns, electrical tools such as wood burning tools and small irons are used for fusing and modeling wax paint. Fusing wax paint can be a little tricky. If you’re looking to achieve great detail in your encaustic painting, you may want to try direct fusing methods. If your work is very large and you are pouring large areas of wax medium, indirect fusing methods are more appropriate.

Direct Fusing Methods

Direct heating tools are good for fusing high detail textural work, and for modeling the paint. Electric irons, heated brushes and wood burning tools offer a steady, temperature controlled heat source. Non-heated Metal tools: cuticle tool, specialty tools and palette knives heated on the palette and applied to encaustic painting achieve the same direct fusing results.

Indirect Fusing Methods

Indirect fusing tools include heat guns, propane or butane torches, and heat lamps. Heat Guns are available in a variety of shapes and sizes. Wagner has a professional reliable selection of heat gun products. Some rules of thumb, the heat gun should have a maximum 1″ nozzle, variable temperature control, and two fan speeds.

Torches were pretty scary for me, but helpful for the kind of work that I do. It took me almost 2 years before I used one. My best recommendation is the Iwatani Cooking Torch CB-TC-PRO along with the Iwatani butane canister (most others don’t fit). This size torch works well for small to medium/large work.

Heat Lamps offer slower fusing methods, use infrared bulbs and a bakelite (or other high temperature) socket.

In my next post I’ll  cover photographing encaustic painting.

Encaustic Painting 101 Series


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