The Essentials: One of the reasons it took me a while to commit to Encaustics is because the studio requirements seem more complicated. Not only did I require a fire extinguisher, a closable metal trash can for flammables, and a process for ensuring the wax doesn’t go everywhere, I also needed a good ventilation system (see the R&F Paints note on FUMES at the bottom of this blog). After much web research I decided to use a box fan in a window. The window with the best light is fixed and has two vertical side windows so I chose one of those to hold my fan. I also built a ‘box’ around the window to prevent cold air blowing in the top when it is open.
The Setup: To melt wax I use a rectangular electric griddle. I do own an aluminum square palette from R&F but it has been the printing surface for Roy’s 3-D printer for a couple of years now. As it turns out, the griddle is a fine substitute as long as I have a flat thermometer to make sure the temperature is adjusted correctly. I use the griddle to melt both the medium (beeswax and damar resin), any colored waxes I might be using, the soy wax for cleaning brushes, and to keep my brushes and tools flexible when I am working (as they cool they turn solid). Occasionally I do a little paper work on the griddle but if I were going to do that all the time I’d get a second one or have a larger aluminum palette made.
After you apply wax you need to ‘fuse’ it to the earlier surface. This is done by slightly heating the new layer. I normally use a heat gun (think fancy hair dryer) but I also have a wood burner-like tool that is plugged into a temperature regulator to keep the temperature in the correct range. There are multiple types of screw-in tips including ones for fusing and ones for mark making with wax. I also have some metal brush tips. There are other wax considerations, such as it is good to work on freezer paper, but I think for today I’ve covered the major considerations for my studio.
FUMES (Cut and pasted from the R&F website; R&F is one of the larger manufacturers of encaustic materials). “With adequate ventilation and proper working temperatures (between 180 and 200°F) encaustic is non-toxic. In many studios, working next to a window exhaust fan and having a source of fresh air coming in from another part of the studio, gets rid of fumes adequately. It is important to create cross-ventilation in your workspace, because even at recommended working temperatures, wax fumes can be irritants, causing headaches and coughing. At higher temperatures, wax fumes become more and more concentrated, and therefore more harmful, at higher temperatures. We recommend using a thermometer and working within a safe temperature of 180-200°F.”