Shellac Burn | Patterned Effects & Visual Texture with Gregory Wright

Encaustic Shellac Burn

Last week Artist Thea Haubrich posted new Encaustic work on Facebook. In this painting, she used a shellac burn technique to create beautiful gold clouds. I was intrigued and I wanted to know how to use this technique myself. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long! Fast forward one week to Day Two of the Fifth International Encaustic Conference and Gregory Wright’s presentation Patterned Effects and Visual Texture.

Gregory Wright gave a great demo using Dry Pigments and working with Shellac in encaustic painting. His presentation and handouts also addressed important safety precautions when working with these substances.

Greorgy painted the shellac onto the surface of his encaustic painting (with a single-use foam brush) and then hit it with the blow torch.

Shellac gives different effects according to the time allowed to dry:

  • Wet shellac ignites and burns
  • Tacky shellac makes spidery patterns – as seen in Thea’s painting above
  • Dry shellac can be manipulated on the surface of the painting with a compact flame (such as a creme brulee torch)

Is a Shellac Encaustic painting toxic?

Once the shellac is dry (which doesn’t take long) you can cover it with encaustic medium. There certainly are safety concerns when working with Shellac but, once the alcohol has burned off, the finished painting will be non-toxic.

Safety rules when working with shellac:

  • Have an operable fire extinguisher nearby
  • Wear protective equipment such as goggles if igniting a large area of shellac
  • Use disposable materials – such as Styrofoam containers, single-use foam brushes, and plastic spoons
  • Work in a well-ventilated area but not in direct airflow. Avoid having fans blowing on your torch flame or ignited shellac (you can work outside if it isn’t too windy)
  • Practice good torch safety – tie back hair and don’t have hanging loose clothing, remove all flammable items from the area

Gregory wore chemically resistant gloves when working with pigments and provided us with detailed handouts for safely working with pigments.  I’m too concerned about the toxicity of dry pigments so I’m going to stay away from them at least for now.

I’d love to hear about your experience with shellac and dry pigments with encaustic.

About Ruth Maude

Encaustic art is my hobby. I'm a Toronto WordPress web designer and developer. I started All Things Encaustic to document what I learn and to explore encaustic art.

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7 thoughts on “Shellac Burn | Patterned Effects & Visual Texture with Gregory Wright


  1. I use shellac burns a lot in my work and provided you are careful its safe. I like to make my work look aged and this technique works really wellin that regard. I have a couple of videos on youtube showing how to do dry shellac burns.


  2. I absolutely agree about the SAFETY above all else. I have no training in encaustic and there are no people in my area utilizing this art form so I am self teaching I consider myself an experimental mixed media artist so I am pretty much willing to try anything. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way. I also saw this technique on a video I recently purchased and was very intrigued so I set out to buy some shalac (hard to find in my area) and commensed to pursue my interest in the use of shalac as well as combining metalic powders. The end result was marvelous but I literally almost burned my apartment balcony down because of several factors. I was so engrossed in the process that I didn’t notice the wind had picked up, I put too much shalac on the board and noticed it dripping down the sides but it didn’t register. I then moved the board to my table where the can was sitting and tried to add some more and ended up igniting the entire can of shalac, the board was burning and shalac was dripping all over causing more little fires. Thank goodness for the neighbor down stairs who ran up with a box of baking soda. I even sindged a little bit of hair. So BE CAREFUL!!! Of course i am now thinking of my next project with this technique but will be sure to have safety gloves, a fire extinguisher and not do it on my apartment balcony.


  3. I am really new to encaustics but shellac burn fascinates me. Please tell me more. Thanks


  4. What is the best way to tint the shellac. What type of pigments and brands? I tried oil stick but it didn’t break down well enough.


  5. I’ve been desperately trying to track down information on different kinds of shellac burns. I’ve done a number of them myself, mostly with wet shellac, but found I wasn’t getting the effect I desired, which can be found by looking up Alicia Tormey’s work.
    The thing I found missing in this article was how the dry pigments were used in conjunction with the shellac…could you clarify? Thank you!


    1. I too would like to know how to get the effect of the spidery colorful shellac burn like Alicia Tormey if anyone knows how?

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