Guest Post: Cathryne Kulick Loos, MFA

Shellac Burn
Burning shellac onto an encaustic surface is fun and visually stimulating.

Red Bouquet

Red Bouquet. Encaustic with Shellac Burn

Last May (2012) several members of WaxCentric came to my Kirkwood studio for a demo of shellac burn on encaustic surface.  Attending members participated in the fun by creating their own shellac burns.

This blog post provides a written followup to that experience. Hope you give it a try.  It really enhances the encaustic process.


– Brushes/rags
– torch:  brulle or propane
– fire extinguisher
– fireproof surface placed under the project
– create image on solid surface, such as, wood, plaster or fired clay slab
– encaustic medium (purified beeswax and damar resin)
– shellac:  amber and/or clear
– colored powders: Pearl Ex Powdered Pigments or dry pastel scrapings
– shellac tinted with mica powder


Circle Within Circles. Encaustic with Shellac Burn

Circle Within Circles. Encaustic with Shellac Burn

Before applying liquid shellac, I prepare a solid surface with several layers of encaustic medium.  Each new layer is fused to the layer below. The layers can be different colors, if so desired.  You can also apply hot beeswax to the first two layers (usually less expensive than encaustic medium).  Also, you can work either abstractly or with an image.

There are two types of shellac burn:  wet and dry.

Both Methods

Apply a thick layer of amber or clear shellac (Zinsser Bulls Eye Shellac) with a brush or rag onto the prepared encaustic surface.  I usually start with amber.  The strong amber color can also be diluted with the clear shellac, and then brushed onto the surface.

Clear shellac is also interesting, especially with colored powders added.  You can mix the colored powders into the clear shellac or brush it on top.  I have used both methods, sometimes in the same painting.

Place the solid base on a fireproof surface, preferably outside or inside and directly ventilated.

Wet Method

Immediately following the application of shellac, you can use a torch to light the shellac. The fire will burn itself out after a few moments.  (For beginners, I recommend a brulle torch because it is smaller and easier to handle than a propane torch.)

Caution:  Some of the burning is invisible.  If you have long hair, tie it back.  Don’t wear loose clothing. Have a fire extinguisher nearby.  A damp rag can also be useful to extinguish an unwanted flame.

Your end product with have interesting designs of a random nature.  Let it cool.

Dry Method

Primary Moments!  Encaustic with Shellac Burn

Primary Moments! Encaustic with Shellac Burn

After you apply the shellac, wait a few moments until the shellac is dry (can use a heat gun on low, to hasten the drying); somewhat sticky is also OK, then burn with the torch.

Direct the lit torch along the surface to create a controlled design.  I burn some areas more deeply so a couple of layers merge (a pleasing effect is possible with different colored layers.)  I only slightly burn some areas so the surface is not too disturbed.  A slight burn will be better if you are trying to preserve a specific image.

Let it cool and dry overnight.

Both Methods

You can add any number of layers of shellac and repeat the burn.  I do not recommend using any paper on your surface.  It will probably catch fire!

This is a very fun process, but be cautious!

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