Category: tips

Torch It!

When I began working in encaustic seven months ago my first task was to figure out what I would need in my studio in order to start painting. I knew it was going to be more complex than a regular studio, so I began reading books, blogs and tutorials to help me assemble the necessary equipment ASAP. Next to the obviously important item of encaustic medium it was clear that a hot plate and some sort of instrument for fusing (after applying the pigmented wax it must be fused to the surface with heat) were the most important items to acquire first.

The hot plate was no problem, I just hopped over to Sears and bought the biggest electric griddle they had on the shelf. Then came time to decide what to use to fuse the wax. Everyone essentially said the same thing, it’s a matter of preference. There are propane, butane, Crème brûlée and MAPP gas torches, heat guns, tacking irons and regular household irons. In her book Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide to Creating Fine Art with Wax, Lissa Rankin did a decent job of outlining how she uses these different heat sources, but never having made an encaustic painting before it really didn’t mean that much to me. I already owned a heat gun and this venture was getting very expensive, so I decided the heat gun would be my method of fusing.

Now, I wish I had stumbled upon someone during my research phase who had written what I’m about to write. Working with encaustic can be physically demanding. If you’re like me, you could be standing there for eight hours at a whack bent over at a 45 degree angle with your head cocked half of the time trying to see what you’re doing via raking light. Add holding a heat gun in the air while slowly moving across your piece for what seems to be a painful century and you have a recipe for at least one trip to the chiropractor a week. My lower back and neck are always in pain and my right shoulder (the heat gun arm) is often exhausted. I just took it as an unfortunate consequence of doing what I love.

Last weekend I decided I wanted a new toy to experiment with for the hell of it. So I went over to Lowes and bought myself the Bernzomatic BZ8250HT Trigger-Start Hose Torch. I chose it because it came with a five foot hose, a belt holder for the fuel, an adjustable flame control knob and it could use MAPP & propane tanks.

Let me just say Oh my God! Why didn’t anyone state, in no uncertain terms, that you’d be a fool not to use a torch for encaustic!!! Let me say that again for anyone beginning encaustic painting, you’d be a fool not to use a torch.

For the initial fusing of the wax to the panel it can’t be beat. I just fused two separate base layers of a 24 x 15″ panel in about five minutes. It’s smooth as glass, very few bubbles and best of all I am in no pain whatsoever. That would have taken me so much longer with the heat gun, there would have been tons of bubbles and it would have required a decent amount of scraping once it cooled to get it level.

Holding this light torch handle was such a relief from that heat gun I can’t even describe it. I don’t wear the holster with the fuel in it, I’ve attached it to the table next to me further reducing the amount of weight I have to carry.blowtorch

I have only been using this blowtorch for a few days so I can’t go on and on about all it’s fabulous attributes regarding encaustic. However, with the experimentation that I have done so far, I know that the adjustable flame is very useful. At the low setting it is gentle and small, I’m pretty sure I could fuse smaller, delicate areas with this setting and not obliterate them. Cranked up high is pretty useless. I could melt the wax completely off a panel from over a foot away in the blink of an eye. I found a nice middle ground for the initial fusing I did today and I’ll be joyously continuing to experiment with it as soon as I publish this post.


March 2019
« Jun