Thursday, March 21, 2013

Going Green

Going Green

by John Warren Oakes, A.B., M.A., M.F.A., C.A.A.


Because I have many food and environmental allergies, I have long been aware of some of the hazards in making art. Like so many others, I am allergic to turpentine. The dangers associated with mineral spirits, even the "odorless" kind,  made me decide to switch to acrylics in the 1960's. In 2008, when I began to explore encaustic painting. I liked that no harmful thinners or solvents were required.  Indeed,  if I created good ventilation and kept the temperature of the wax between 200-220 F , painting with encaustics would be non-toxic.

In my home studio I constructed an exhaust fan that fits on a plywood panel that replaces the framed screen in one of my 3 foot by 5 foot windows. I have attached a clothes dryer flexible duct vent to the intake of the fan and fitted a sheet metal hood on the opposite end. This allows me to place the hood directly over the heated palette or hot plate and even over hot tools while melting wax. The 70 cubic feet per minute  draw of the exhaust fan works perfectly.

If this is not possible, one could work in an area with cross- ventilation. Fresh air coming in a window or door and another window or door where any smoke or fumes from over- heating the wax can be exhausted would be adequate. A floor or desk fan near the area will help draw fumes away from you. This is a good test: light a candle and blow it out to see how fast the smoke exits the space.

Although relatively safe, even at recommended working temperatures, wax fumes can be irritants, causing headaches and coughing.  As fumes become concentrated at higher temperatures, this concentration should be avoided by providing good ventilation.

Keep your wax from being heated over 240 degrees F.  Use a candy or oven thermometer to test the heat of your wax. If you smell an acrid odor or see a lot of smoke, you know the wax is over-heating.

Some of the waxes used to clean wax from your palette or brushes is made from paraffin which is a petroleum based product.  If you wish to avoid petroleum products, as I do, I suggest you try using soy wax as a substitute.  Soy waxes have increased in popularity recently among candlemakers,  and encaustic artists are beginning to not only use the soy wax to clean palettes and brushes but, in combination with damar varnish, to create art.




 Soy wax

Some benefits of using soy wax over paraffin wax include the following:
Soy wax is a completely natural and renewable resource that is non- toxic.
Encaustic artists have begun using hydrogenated  soy wax as a replacement for paraffin. The results have been encouraging. Soy wax is non-toxic and burns cleaner than paraffin. Soybeans are a renewable source, unlike paraffin. Soy wax is naturally biodegradable. Soy wax is also easier to remove than paraffin wax, so after the color has been cleaned out of the brush, the brush can be washed with soap and water and is reusable in other mediums. It is soot- free. Soy wax is packaged in a flake form rather than a solid block, so measuring proportions is much easier. Of course, it is made in America by American farmers.

A pound of 100% natural soy wax costs less than two dollars.  This is much less expensive than products that use paraffin as a base or beeswax, for that matter.

The enthusiasm of encaustic manufacturers for soy wax as a substitute for beeswax has been understandably less than enthusiastic. R&F Handmade Paints reported that they have experimented with soy as an encaustic medium and were discouraged by the initial results. The most notable issue was that cakes of un-pigmented soy medium were not color stable for even a period of weeks. Unaltered soy wax is actually hydrogenated soybean oil. Depending on the level of hydrogenation you may experience different hardness, adhesion, etc.

(www.amien.org/forums/showthread.php?2766-Using-soy-wax-as...wax)

Colony Collapse Disorder among bees is still of grave concern. There has been a larger count of bee deaths this last year than previously. Autopsies have shown a higher incidence of pesticides and virus. This is surprising and disturbing because each cause should be countering the other – if higher pesticide deaths, there should be lower virus deaths and visa versa. But this is not turning out to be the case. The mystery continues with potentially major consequences for our general food supply, honey production, and wax supply.
Those who want to continue using encaustic as a medium may face a scarcity of beeswax in the future.  Research into possible substitutes may provide an alternative.

Iowa State University encaustic artist Barbara Walton has been conducting experiments with soy wax as a substitute for beeswax in encaustic painting with her colleague Dr. Toni Wang, a food scientist, at Iowa State University. The initial results of soy wax and damar resin proved too soft and dull, cracking occurred, and there was a lack of adhesion between layers. Later attempts by Dr. Linxing Yao working with Walton and Wang were more successful.By increasing the amount of damar varnish, a more suitable wax resulted. They report that Linxing wax (8:2 = soy wax:damar resin) would be best used as a student grade wax or by someone who wants to experiment with other combinations. Soy wax is not as predictable as beeswax when doing transfers and using oil paints. It works best with encaustic pigments for the colorant.

The Iowa State researchers are comparing the functional properties of soy wax with microcrystalline wax and beeswax, their physical stability and the art made from them.

Dr. Toni Wang and postdoctoral assistant Hui Wang focused on changing soy’s molecular bonds.

“We alter the structure of partially hydrogenated soybean oil to improve the wax's properties for use as an encaustic medium,” Wang said. “We modify the soy molecules to make them behave like beeswax with improved cohesiveness.”

The collaboration with Walton gives the scientists information about how they need to change the oil to make the wax perform better in painting.

“This brings out the scientist in me. I’m very explorative, and I like using new materials,” Walton said.

Paintings created with the soy wax have been exhibited, and the artist is pleased with the way the new wax is aiding her in her exploration of encaustics. All the experimental paintings Walton has done are according to her, “holding up quite well and accept the occasional polishing like beeswax does.”



“Bean Number 10”
soy wax and pigment on baltic birch panel
by Barbara Walton
photo by Bob Elbert





















“Improvisation Split (Linxing 10)
by Barbara Walton
soy wax and pigment











“Improvisation Split (Linxing 11)
by Barbara Walton
soy wax and pigment


“Sacred Light (Linxing 13)
by Barbara Walton
soy wax and pigment
(note transfers)

(www.ag.iastate.edu/releases/707/)

Artists have always experimented with new mediums and variations of mediums. Please let us know of any success you may have had using soy wax.
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