Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Safe, Cheap Set-up for Encaustic/Wax


I’ve been pretty busy in the studio lately – I have three projects on-the-go at the moment.

One of these is a book I’m planning to submit to Books…Beyond Words at East Gippsland Art Gallery later this year. I was making the cover using paperbark and encaustic medium, so I thought I’d show you how I do that.

In this post I would like to share my set-up for working with encaustic/wax. My emphasis for any art activity is always health and safety, closely followed by not spending too much money until I’m sure I want to commit to the medium.

You’ll see that the set-up I have at the moment is both safe and functional but cost me less than AU $80.

The first thing that I want to say is that when it comes to wax, I am completely self-taught. I do have a few excellent references which I will share with you later. If you’ve been following this blog for a (really) long time, you may remember that I did some work with wax as part of my masters. So I’ve been a “serious dabbler” with the medium for some years, and it has captivated me from the start. I am always on the look-out for ways that it might add to the work I am doing.


The Basic Set-Up


First Considerations

  1. Wax: There are a lot of different types of wax but beeswax is the primary one for art. The wax in my photo is from a beekeeper just outside Brisbane. I order online here. This wax is water-cleaned but not bleached, so if you are looking for very pure colour, you may want to buy your wax from an art store instead.
  2. Next you need to melt your wax. It’s important to never use your wax containers for food again. You can use a baking tray, or saucepan, or an old tin as your container, and any sort of electric heating mechanism you can lay your hands on cheaply. I bought this old grill plate at a garage sale for $15-$20. I also have a second hand crock pot from Cash Converters, which is slow, but useful for keeping large amounts liquid for a number of hours.                          Personally, I would not use a gas camping stove for wax, because it is flammable, and I just prefer to keep away from an open flame in that situation. However, I know that others do – including the famous Jasper Johns who has been working with encaustic as long as anybody.
  3. Brushes: Its best to start with cheap natural bristle brushes. You can clean brushes with paraffin wax (from normal candles) but its easier to have dedicated brushes for wax. You’ll see I use some foam brushes in the photo above. I read they were useful to achieve a smoother application than the coarse boar hair. That is true, but they don’t last long at all and next time I’ll be spending the money on more expensive soft brushes, like hake brushes. Synthetic brushes aren’t advisable due to the flammability factor.
  4. Fusing: When working with wax its important to gently fuse the layers frequently.  For this you need another heat source, so the layers can combine into a single entity, rather than remaining as thin shards that can chip off easily. A heat gun on a low setting, a sun lamp (in Australia!!!?) or a creme brulee torch are some of the tools recommended. A hair dryer isn’t supposed to be hot enough, but that’s exactly what I used the first few times I tried out encaustic painting, and those pieces are still hanging together. I wouldn’t recommend it for too long though.


There are three main aspects to safely with beeswax. They are:

  1. burns – first aid
  2. fire
  3. inhalation of fumes


Even a small splash of wax can cause a painful burn, particularly given the wax will stick to your skin. It pays to take care and always have an oven mitt and or tongs close by so you can handle containers that may have become hot.

It’s a good idea to plan for how you would manage burns, so that everything you need is on hand. This is a link to some pointers from St John’s Ambulance.

This is what I do:

Run cool water over the burn for 10 minutes

Apply a good layer of my favourite burn cream

Cover with a sterile bandage

This is a good article by the Mayo Clinic about evaluating the seriousness of a burn so you can decide what you need to do.


Beeswax melts between 62-65 deg C (143.6-149 F) and it will ignite at 242 deg C (468 F). You can see that is a huge difference and there is really no need to heat your beeswax to anything close to the flash point. In her book on encaustic painting (reference coming) Joanne Mattera recommends an optimum working range of 165-220 deg F (74-104 deg C).

Nevertheless, its always best to be prepared, and to be aware that water will cause a wax fire to spread. Instead, an all purpose extinguisher is recommended. We have one just outside the door of our unit, but because that feels a bit far away I have bought a fire blanket which hangs beside my work table.


The risks associated with inhaling toxic fumes from encaustic work has definitely held me back from diving straight in with the medium. Anything you read about the subject always mentions ventilation. A couple of times, in the early days, I worked with the window open but still had a bit of a headache afterwards, and this really worried me.

If you are going to work in an intensive way with wax/encaustic, I really recommend seeking advice from a suitably qualified expert in the area of safe ventilation/extraction systems. R&F Handmade Paints have a very helpful article on the subject posted here.

There are however, some simple principles which can make your work environment much safer. At this point, I don’t work extensively with the medium and I am satisfied with my work room set up for now. I will share my set-up with you, but please know that I am not an expert and cannot guarantee that this set-up is 100% safe.

There are two ways that I avoid fumes in my studio.

1. Palette Thermometer


So far, this is the only specialized piece of equipment that I have bought. It is from R&F Handmade Paints in the US, and I have to say that for the peace of mind it provides, it is worth more than double the money! I never let the grill plate go over 220 deg F and there has been a noticeable reduction in both visible and smell-able(!) fumes.

2. Physical Lay-out + Box Fan

studio ventilation

The aim of this layout is to draw any fumes away from the grill plate and out of the studio window. To get this to happen, I -

  1. place the hot plate in front of the open window
  2. place the box fan facing out on the window sill directly in front of the wax (the fan was $20 from Cash Converters)
  3. close the window up to the box fan (this discourages blow-back)
  4. open the studio door and open the windows in the next room where the afternoon breeze comes in.

All of this works together to firstly minimize fumes by keeping the wax temperature at an optimum without being unnecessarily high, and by creating a through-draft carrying any fumes out the studio window.

There is one other thing I could do to improve this system, which is to have a board installed around the box fan to fill the open window space. This would increase the draw-out and completely stop any blow-back. I may do this in the future, if I start working more extensively with the medium.

Fumes can be an issue with lots of mediums, not just encaustic. I really hope this post helps you to be safe in the studio. If you’ve got a studio set-up aimed at dealing with fumes or other toxic materials, I’d love to hear about what you’ve done.

Next post I’m planning to show you some photos of the book I’m making for East Gippsland, as well as those references on encaustic.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to Sell Art Online Pt 3


This is the final in this series of posts looking at and comparing a few of the ways to sell art online.

I want to say a big thank-you to those people who wrote in after last weeks post and shared valuable “tidbits” from their own experience using Etsy. If you’re thinking of trying Etsy for yourself, I urge you to take a look at the comments as well as last weeks post. There are actually two points that were raised about Etsy where my info was out of date or incomplete, so I’ll be posting an addendum on last week’s post to correct these.

This week I’m writing about RedBubble and the option of adding PayPal to your own blog or website. So here it is!



What is it?

RedBubble works in a very different way to Etsy and BigCartel. It is a print-on-demand site where your artwork is made into a product eg matted or framed print, card, t-shirt, calendar, stickers. It is also the actual shopfront where the item is sold.

So you upload your images onto their site, write up your profile which accompanies the work and they do the rest.


  • Free to join and you don’t actually ever pay them anything
  • Before you get too excited – they are paid by your purchasers. Items have a “base price”, all of which goes to RedBubble for their manufacturing and other costs.
  • You set your prices as a percentage on top of the base price and you receive all of this monthly.



 Art 4 XMVR



  • Low work load: you focus on the artwork, but don't have to produce the actual product or post it off
  • No financial outlay
  • Australian-based
  • Buyers can search by tag word/s, medium, time and popularity.
  • Has a community feel, with groups and challenges etc. I am still to get into this aspect so I can’t comment much further on that, except to say that I have received welcome emails and invitations to introduce myself to the groups I joined.
  • In my experience, manufacture and delivery is fast – about a week from order to arrival at my door. It would of course be slower for items ordered from overseas.
  • For readers of this blog, RedBubble is not a venue for selling artists books. However, it is highly appropriate for selling photos, prints and drawings, which many of you also produce.  Even gorgeous photos of your artists books could look good on cards, calendars or whatever.

For a tiny investment of time and no investment of money, it’s a great avenue to get your images out there, and via your profile you can always entice art lovers to your blog or website, where they might just buy a book.



  • Not as well known as etsy, in my opinion
  • Earnings must reach $20 before they will transfer them to you.
  • You have to drive people to your work within the site from your other web “presences”. Your products are competing with everybody else’s and there is a lot on there to distract them.
  • Lack of control over finished product.

This is obviously the “biggie” in using RedBubble. I know this will bother some of you more than others. Of course, it is the other side of the coin which makes this such a low effort approach. The two are in direct relationship to one another, and only you can decide whether the equation balances for you.

I suggest that you order something to do your own quality assurance. I ordered some greeting cards, which was not a huge outlay and put my fears to rest. If you are really worried, you could also order a small matted or laminated print for a moderate outlay. You do of course get your own items for the base price.



4. PayPal on your own site

What is it?

Paypal is a service which allows you to pay and receive payments from people without setting up a credit card facility. Basically, you join up, link a bank account or debit/credit card to PayPal and off you go. It is considered very safe, with strategies and procedures in place for both Buyer and Seller Protection.

There are three types of accounts. As a sole trader you can use either a Personal or a Premier account. If you already have a Personal account, it’s easy to upgrade to seller status.


From this point on, I will just be discussing the use of PayPal as a mechanism for selling items from your website or blog.



  • No joining fee & no fees until a sale is made.
  • Charges are 2.4% plus AUD 0.30c for each transaction. If your sales total AUD$5000+ in a month, you can apply for the merchant rate, which is 1.1%
  • When items are purchased by an international buyer, the rate increases to 3.4% (less if sales are AUD$5000+)



  • You can be in complete control of the process, from the making of the artwork, the packaging, and the postage.
  • You have your shop on your own space (blog or website) and you won't lose people easily to other sellers.
  • Low fees, especially in comparison to gallery commissions etc.
  • Can be added to your existing blog or website &
    whether or not you use Paypal to pay for items already, its easy to get set up.



  • Features which allow you to easily customize your buyer’s view, as well as assist with processing orders, keeping accounts etc.



  • You have to attract people to your website/blog in order to sell, but presumably that is what you are  trying to do with or without a PayPal facility. You still need to be active in some other online forums so that people will see your work and your name when you comment, and decide to click on that link and check you out.
  • It seems to me that, if you make work and you would like to sell it, even if you sell in shops “in the real world”, I can’t see any disadvantage to using this PayPal facility on your site.
  • Despite the customization options, this facility won’t have the slick finished appearance of “your own online shop” unless you have HTML skills at your fingertips.


Well, that’s all that I have to say on this subject for the time being. During the course of publishing these posts, I discovered yet more options for selling art online. I’ll list them here with links, but I haven’t checked them out myself.

  1. Artfire.com
  2. DaWanda.com
  3. Folksy.com

I really hope that these posts have provided you with some valuable information and I encourage you to get in touch via the comments. Your thoughts and experiences with selling art online would be most appreciated.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

How to Sell Art Online pt 2


This week I’m going to share the research that I did into a number of online selling options. Now I didn’t explore absolutely everything that is out there. I felt that examining three or four ways to go was good enough for me to make a decision. I probably would have gone further if none of those seemed a good “fit” for my needs, but as you know if you read last week’s post, I chose RedBubble for my first online selling domain.

I will compare four options – Etsy, BigCartel, RedBubble and using PayPal from your own blog/website. I’ll talk about each in turn, starting with an overall description and their fees, then listing the advantages/disadvantages. Of course, some features may be viewed either way depending on your needs and viewpoint, so these are really just my own thought processes, but I will try to present both views.

1.  Etsy.com


What is it?

Etsy is an online shopping space where literally thousands of craftspeople and artists sell handmade or vintage items, or supplies. Basically you join up for free, set up your own shopfront, with its own style and flavour, and set your prices independently. All prices are in US dollars, so there may be a few currency conversions before you receive your money e.g. a buyer in the Netherlands has to exchange their Euro to US dollars, and then that will be exchanged to whatever currency you as the seller use, in my case the Aussie dollar. You won’t be paying for the first conversion, but you probably will be for the second. I believe there is some sort of “back-door” arrangement some people offer to buyers in their own country, as I’ve seen it offered, but haven’t looked into it.


  • For each item you list, there is a 20 cent fee.
  • If the item sells, you pay 3.5% of the sale price, but not on shipping.
  • If the item has not sold after 4 months, it will be unlisted. You may re-list it for another 20 cents.


  • You have full control over production of the items you sell, how they are packaged, shipped etc. You are definitely in control.
  • An established site, known by potential buyers
  • Relatively easy set up, no need to know HTML or whatever.
  • Reasonable costs, in particular low set-up cost
  • Groups and teams, forum, community atmosphere – there is a lot of support, tips & encouragement provided to help you get started and continue to expand your business.



  • Your shop name will be a derivative of etsy.com e.g. etsy.com/shop/Amanda’sArt
  • You have to list work often to keep your profile up on the site. e.g. I did a search for “handmade journal” and there were 44 pages of results. On the front page, there were 40 items with pictures – the most recently listed items. You can also sort by relevancy (which doesn’t make much difference) and price. So you can see that if you haven’t listed work lately, your beautiful journal could be buried somewhere around page 20.


  • In the same vein, you compete with everyone else on etsy to entice buyers to your shop. It can be easy to lose potential buyers - they can just click on another image and they are away.
  • You really need to be active in other forums eg blogging, facebook, flickr to drive customers to your shop.
  • You do all the work yourself – packing, posting items yourself. (Some may see this as an advantage)

Post Script: In the comments, Sara & Buechertiger mentioned a couple of improvements on Etsy that I had missed.

  1. It is possible to relist items for AU 0.40c, which will cause them to bounce back up to the top of searches etc
  2. Transactions can now be done in numerous currencies (including the Aussie $), not just US $s – so if a buyer is international there will only be one currency conversion – from their money to AU $. Hope this makes sense! Feel free to get in touch if I haven’t explained this clearly.

2. BigCartel.com


What is it?

BigCartel functions as an online directory and shopping cart for all sorts of creative products ranging from bands selling their CDs and vinyl (yes! its the latest trend - again), up-and-coming clothing designers, artists and craftspeople. You can create your own online shop, list your items and use their shopping cart mechanism. A number of currencies are supported including the US $, Aussie $, GBP, NZ $ and the Euro.


  • There is a sliding fee schedule, ranging from free to $29.99/month. For free, you can list up to 5 products, but only 1 image per product. There is basic customization of your shop available.
  • $9.99/month: 25 products with 3 images each. Much better customization & features including your own url e.g. Amanda’sArtShop.com.au (you will have to buy this).
  • $19.99/month: 100 products, 5 images each, best features.
  • $29.99/month: 300 products, 5 images each, features as above.


  • Sell in your own currency (for Aussie’s anyway)
  • Some might argue with me, but I think BigCartel is about as well-known as Etsy. Possibly it has a broader profile, because it is well-known for clothing and music. Perhaps this is a disadvantage, if these people aren’t into buying art, but I think there would be plenty of crossover.
  • BigCartel shops can be integrated with Pulley for digital downloads e.g. e-books.
  • Personally I like the search system on BigCartel. I searched for “handmade journal”, and got only 5 results, but these were shop-front graphics, not individual items. I could then work my way through each shop in turn. This just seemed much simpler.


As a seller, this means you don’t have to rely on a particular item drawing a potential customer in, and similarly, some gorgeous item in someone else’s shop can’t lure your customer away. On the other hand, I’m sure some other searches come up with many more results, and you need to name and “brand” your shop accurately to attract the right people.

  • There is a “store directory” where you send your graphic and your store will be included. This is in addition to the search mechanism. Stores who opt to be in the directory may be featured from time to time.




  • You are competing for the buyer’s dollar with a broader range of product.
  • You need to have a PayPal account. Personally I don’t see this as a problem, but some might.
  • Less of a community feel. No teams or forums, although the help section seems pretty good. This is pretty business-like, as the name, BigCartel suggests.
  • You do all the work yourself – packing, posting items yourself. (Some may see this as an advantage)

This post is pretty long and there’s a lot to digest, so I think I’ll hold RedBubble and PayPal over to the next post.

In the meantime, I would love to hear from anyone out there who has a shop on Etsy or BigCartel. It would be terrific to hear about your experiences, how it is going and any tips or advice you can add. That way, we can create a useful resource for artists who are thinking about selling their work online.





Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Selling Your Art Online: The Why and The How, Part 1



For some time I’ve been looking into ways of selling my work online. I’ve considered Etsy, RedBubble and using PayPal to sell from my  blog. And finally today is the day when it all comes together! I am really excited to be launching my RedBubble shop.

If you glance slightly to the left of this post you should see my RedBubble display. There are links over there to take you straight to the shop.

Last year I designed a series of four prints entitled Seasons, related to the Judy & the Jacaranda artists book featured in last week’s post. I gave some of these away to celebrate my 200th post, and now I have decided that the proceeds from these prints should go to the Queensland Premier’s Flood Relief Fund.

Over at RedBubble, the prints are available as greeting cards or as prints, in a variety of formats including matted photographic prints and printed on canvas. RedBubble offer a money back guarantee and you do not have to join anything to shop.

It’s a great cause, and I hope you will support it!

                                                                           Buy my art


All that aside, I thought you might be interested to hear why I decided to opt for an online shop and then what my research about the options revealed. There’s quite a bit of info, so I’ve decided to split it across two posts. I’ll explain the features of each option, what I considered to be the advantages and disadvantages, and finally why I decided RedBubble suits me best at this time.

I should say that I have no affiliation with any of the sites that led me to favour one over another. Also, there are other options such as CafePress, but that is more for merchandise like t-shirts, aprons, mugs and so on. I wasn’t after that sort of product, so I haven't looked closely at it.

Why Sell Art Online?

I could write a whole post and still not fully answer this question, or I could just say, “because the web is there”, but I’m going to try to give an honest, personal response.

For me, with my health problems, it seems a logical approach. Despite being ill for 20 years, I am serious about my art and I would like to have the best career I can, within these limitations.

Making art is almost essential to me. Only a few steps behind breathing, eating, sleeping. But now that I’ve reached a certain level, it has become increasingly important to share what I do. That said, it feels like I have barely enough time and energy for the art-making, so how can I find time to get the work “out there”?

I’ve been inspired by Michael Nobbs, another PWCFS who describes himself as an artist, blogger and tea drinker. He blogs at Sustainably Creative and this year has taken the plunge as a full-time blogger, supporting himself entirely via his online network. His aspirations are somewhat grander and different to mine (you can read more about them on his blog) but I’ve learned a lot from watching him and reading his advice.

Not long after I first encountered Michael, he was interviewed for Chris Guillebeau’s Unconventional Guide to Art & Money. On impulse, and largely because Michael was a part of the project, I purchased a copy. This e-book provides a broad brushstroke approach to an internet-based art career (hence the unconventional – avoiding total reliance on the gallery/museum).

It has taken me about 12 months to digest all this, but a couple of months ago I realized: “Well, I already blog, and I catch up with some people on Facebook from time to time. Oh! and I have a Flickr account that’s been a bit ignored lately, but I used to post my work there regularly. Plus there are a few book arts forums…”

So it seems to me that selling online is the missing link, and that by just continuing to share what I do, how I do it and what I learn, as I’ve already been doing, and simply adding in selling in one or two locations, something quite lovely and rewarding could be created.

So, here I am, dipping my toes into the vast sea that is online selling! What an adventure! But how to go about it? Well, that’s coming in Part 2.