Since the start of the year, I have slowly been purging my studio of materials I have acquired over the years. Each time I pick up an item, I ask myself if I really need this thing, will I ever do anything with it? As I make my way around the studio to my encaustic table, I can’t bear to rid myself of any of my encaustic supplies, so I’m working backwards..isolating the items that I can’t seem to do without, the things that I reach for all the time, everyday. Of course, there are a lot more than five tools I use, but if I were stranded on a deserted encaustic island, these are the things I would want with me. I use all of these tools in my encaustic workshops, explain the techniques and bring extras for students to try out. So if you haven’t signed up to take a workshop with me this summer and fall, do so now because they are filling fast!
- Clover Mini Iron
This tool is one of the first tools I ever used when I started working with encaustic in 2001. At that time, there were very few tools available and very little information about encaustic until Joanne Mattera’s The Art of Encaustic Painting came out a year or so later and changed my life. Until that time, I muddled through on my own, learning this difficult medium with snippets of information from the internet and materials I already had in my studio. In my former artist life, I was an art quilter and has this little piecing iron that I used to iron the seams of my quilts, so I tried it as an alternative to the heat gun and fell in love. Not only is the Clover Mini Iron an excellent little detail iron, but it is the ONLY tool I use to fuse collage and my horsehair drawings. When I first started teaching encaustic workshops in 2005, those who hired me as well as workshop participants would laugh when they saw the irons because no one was using them at the time. One of the things about my work that people respond to is the craftsmanship and how the collage seems to merge seamlessly into the painting rather than being a separate inclusion. This is wholly because of this iron. Those of you who have taken my workshops know that I do not recommend the torch for collage for safety reasons-often the medium is blown off of the paper collage during the fusing process and it ignites. Most importantly, both the torch and the heat gun introduce air and most of the time the collage piece pops up a bit and does not lay flat on the surface. For a lot of artists, efforts to remedy this annoyance often ends in frustration or giving up encaustic collage for good. Once learning to use this and other small irons for collage, the work will drastically improve, guaranteed!
I’ve had mixed reactions with workshop participants who have tried this iron during my workshops, some find it awkward. I recommend The Dritz Petite Press as an alternative just for fusing, but I find it difficult to use for collage. If you use collage in your encaustic work and have experienced frustration, I encourage you to take one of my workshops this summer and fall to learn my technique.
Two more amazing things about this iron is that it has it’s own temperature gauge and it can also be used as a heated palette knife.
This iron is available online and in-store at most craft and hobby stores that sell fabric related craft supplies as well as online at Amazon here, where I have always found the best prices.
NOTE: If you do a google search for the clover mini iron, make sure it the one you purchase looks like the one pictured, don’t confuse it for the Clover Mini Iron II which is red and white, not mint green and white.
2. Double Sided Detail Scraper
Other than my Clover Mini Iron, double sided detail scraper is the tool I use the most. I have purchased dental tools, wax carving tools, Kemper clay shapers, wood carving tools, etc. and I rarely use them. This tool is extremely versatile and supplants most of the tools of it’s kind. First and foremost, it is an excellent detail scraper for those hard to reach areas. The two sizes, pointed tip and the curved nature of the blade allow for almost any kind of scraping in any kind of area. I also love it for carving complex lines and shapes. The attributes I previously mentioned also allow for carving any shape-small or large or for any line, thick or thin. The use of the blade’s wider area and narrower pointed tip enable me to make my incised calligraphic lines in the wax, making it the closest thing to real drawing in wax. In some of my older work, the complex raised areas shown in the image below are only made using this tool. It is also the only tool I use to place the hair for my hair drawings. The blade is wide and the curve is gentle (almost flat) giving it enough surface area to press the hair down without gauging the surface. I also use it to clean up the clingy wax from the edges of the stenciled areas of my paintings. Last, it’s also excellent for removing dust and those weird little hairs that always seem to find their way into the wax.
I have seen Kemper tools with one side shaped like this scraper, but never the double sided tool I have described here. I have only seen this particular tool sold by Enkaustikos here.
3. Sculpture House Encaustic Loop Tool
Possibly the best scraper ever invented, it works like a combination razor blade and the average clay scraper. I still love my razor blade for taking off little bits and my other scrapers for their specialties, but this scraper is the one I reach for again and again, especially when I need to really cut into the surface and remove some wax. Hand-made with a carbon steel blade, it is extremely sharp and makes scraping so easy, with less residue and annoying ‘gum up’ on the blade. It removes the wax in a long, fine ribbon, which I have never seen in any other scraper. I love these scrapings so much, I have started collaging them back into the work in places where I want a multi-colored, textured effect. After the scrapings are fused, they can be left as-is for raised texture or scraped back further for an interesting ribbon of color. The corners of this tool are also great for making wide incised lines.
I first purchased this tool from Enkaustikos here, but it is also available directly from the Sculpture House web site here. I recently emailed SH because I hadn’t seen the tool on their web site for quite some time, but it has just been re-listed. Get them while they’re hot!
4. Ball Stylus
Many of you probably use this tool, but I’m always amazed at how many people have never seen it or know what it is when I use it in my workshops. Originally designed for embossing into soft metal or paper, this tool is useful for many art projects. I love it for incising in the wax because it’s rounded end doesn’t cut into my board surface and chop it up like pointy tools do. It’s also great for using on transfer papers, again, because it doesn’t rip into the paper like a pointed tool does. These tools come in a variety of sizes and sets, which make it easy to carve various line weights as well as make different kinds and sizes of marks using transfer papers.
This tool is available online and in-store from most craft stores and online at Amazon here. There are also many variety sets available for purchase online here.
5. Apollon Elephant Painting Panels
Just plain, old raw birch painting panels, they are cheap, well made, sturdy and most importantly, they are lightweight. I use about 15-20 layers of wax on my paintings and many artists use much more. With the weight of that much wax combined with the weight of a wooden painting panel, the finished painting feels like lead. Imagine hanging a show with 10-20 lead panels by yourself! So lightweight, but durable, is key for me. Also, for a starving artist on a budget, the price can’t be beat. I have tried and just can’t find a comparable, quality painting panel even close to the price of these. Also, they scorch to a lovely caramel or dark brown/black. For those of you who don’t know, I always begin my paintings with a gridded pattern of scorched brands. My newer work utilizes much more paint and for the most part, the brands are concealed…but I still begin the painting that way, it just feels incomplete without.
These panels are sold with a 1.5 inch cradle (deep) as well as uncradled (standard) with a 1 inch depth. Also very useful are the quarter inch panels I’ve seen only in the store. I use these for samples in workshops, for color tests or brush tests in the studio and anytime I need a wooden surface, but don’t want to use a whole panel.
The painting panels and birch panels are sold exclusively at Artist & Craftsman Supply, both online (with sizes up to 24×24) here and in store for all painting panel sizes up to 60×60.
***Stay tuned for the next blog post on my favorite encaustic paint colors.