Meet my new best friend in the studio. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get on board with a torch. I’ve procrastinated about it for months, and didn’t realize that underneath that procrastination was fear. Until I was in Carmel for the IEA retreat in October, and was faced with a bevy of torches, waiting to be tried. It was the last morning, and a wonderful demonstration had been given by Pamela Blum. We were invited down on the floor to try out some of the techniques she had demonstrated, and I found myself hesitating around the torches. I hadn’t even realized I was afraid of them until that moment. Linda Womack saw me, and must have sensed my trepidation; she rescued me with a two minute lesson that has cured me of my torch phobia!
I went out as soon as I could and purchased a basic torch, with a few necessary frills: an adjustable nozzle, and an automatic ignition trigger. It’s a Bernzomatic propane torch from Home Depot, and it cost about 35 dollars.
I don’t know how I got along without this thing before! It works so well for every application, that I haven’t pulled out my heat gun a single time. It is much more gentle than the heat gun, and doesn’t move the wax around nearly as much. I can even fuse lightly while a large piece is upright on my easel. I think it produces a glossier surface than my heat gun did, too.
And the best thing about it is- its fast.
Well, maybe the best thing about it is that I haven’t lit my hair on fire yet. So far, so good.
Mmmmm. Beeswax. I just ordered 25 beautiful pounds of it from Swan’s Candle Making Supply. I’ve always ordered from R&F Encaustics (and their wax is lovely, too), but since I’m on the west coast, it’s great to have found a source here in California (and their customer service has been great- as I found out when I botched my initial order… ahem.). I also ordered some microcrystaline wax- I’m adding a small amount to my beeswax to improve the tack in the clear layers that I use so often. I’m blending in about 1/10 microcrystaline, and it does seem to be improving the adhesion of layers. This has been a concern of mine as my paintings grow in size. I often find myself trying to find a balance between adequate fusing and avoiding disturbing my layers. It’s a tricky thing.
As you can see from the (slightly blurry) picture above, I’ve also adjusted my set up to accommodate larger amounts of wax at a time. I’m using a single burner with an adjustable thermostat, a small pan, and a thermometer. I’m finding that I really have to keep an eye on that thermometer! I used to melt smaller amounts in the small bread tins you can see on my palette, above, but it takes 45 minutes to melt a batch, or longer if it has damar resin in it, and I’ve needed more than that at once. I tried using a crock pot, but found that the temperature was unreliable, and that having it sit for long periods of time melted eventually turned my wax a deep amber color. I ruined quite a lot of wax that way. So far, this is working great- the only downside is that if a drop or two gets on the burner, it smokes up the studio, and reminds me that I really need to get fans in there and stop relying on my windows for ventilation!
The next thing I want to try is a torch for fusing. I’m hoping that it will speed up my process a bit. If anyone has a favorite torch, I’d love to hear about it… fewer people use torches for fear of lighting things on fire, so it’s harder to find recommendations, but I’m looking for one that is not too heavy, and has an adjustable tip, so that I can fan the flame out, or concentrate it. I’ll post about it when I’ve found one that I love.