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Shellac Burn Patterned effects for encaustic Gregory Wright

How to use Shellac with Encaustic | Painting and Safety Tips

Patterned Effects & Visual Texture with Gregory Wright

Using Shellac with Encaustic | Painting by Thea Haubrich

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 shellac with encaustic 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.

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

When using shellac with encaustic it is important to realize that drying time will give you different results.

  • 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 torch flame

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 using shellac with encaustic:

  1. Have an operable fire extinguisher nearby
  2. Wear protective gloves and a respirator mask
  3. Use disposable materials – such as styrofoam containers, single-use foam brushes, and plastic spoons
  4. 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)
  5. 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

I enjoy experimenting with a variety of encaustic materials, techniques and tools. Everything I learn pushes my creative journey in new directions. I share what I've learned with other artists through my blog All Things Encaustic.

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12 thoughts on “How to use Shellac with Encaustic | Painting and Safety Tips”

    1. Hi Kathy,

      Use a torch to burn off the shellac. I have only tried this myself a couple of times. I don’t like the way the shellac smells so I haven’t done much in this.

      Alicia Tormey now has an online workshop

  1. 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?

  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 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.

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