Transferring images onto wax is easy! First, prepare your surface with an even layer of encaustic paint or medium. Fuse, fuse and re-fuse until it is nice and flat. (A separate tutorial on creating a smooth encaustic surface is forthcoming…)
Next, grab your photocopy. For the transfer to work, the image must be either a regular photocopy or printed from a laser printer (no inkjet prints). I find that the older the copy machine, the easier it is to transfer the toner to the wax. However, newer copy machines tend to give a better resolution copy, which is good for pictures with intricate detail. If you are lucky, you can find a machine that manages to meet both criteria – not too old, not too new. If your image contains text, don’t forget to reverse the picture with the copy machine otherwise your words will be backwards!
In this example, I only want to transfer part of the picture so I cut out the portion I’m interested in using.
Place the photocopy face down on the wax, preferably while the wax is still slightly warm from fusing.
Firmly burnish the back of the photocopy into the wax with a spoon, taking special care to thoroughly rub all over the bumpy or uneven areas. I find it helpful to cover the photocopy with a layer of wax paper before rubbing it. This prevents me from accidentally ripping apart the cut out with an overzealous swipe of the spoon. It also seems to minimize the severity of my “spoon” marks on the wax. To ensure complete and total burnishing of the entire image, I burnish from left to right, from top to bottom, from corner to corner and vise-versa.
Next, rub the back of the image with a cotton ball filled with acetone. Don’t have acetone on hand? Use a bottle of plain, cheap finger nail polish remover instead. Remember to follow proper safety procedures and work in a well ventilated area (see Venting Your Studio).
Keep soaking the paper until you can start to see the image on the other side.
Continue soaking it with acetone. The paper will start to wrinkle when it has separated from the toner.
At this point, you can start lightly rubbing the paper with your finger and pulling it away from the surface.
Keep rubbing and re-wetting the surface until you can start to see the image. Please note that some artists use water to transfer an image. Although I haven’t tried that method, it seems like you could substitute acetone with water once you’ve reached this step. Since acetone evaporates so quickly, water could help quicken the removal of the paper by keeping it moist longer.
Even when you are being careful, sometimes little holes appear in your image because the toner didn’t completely adhere to the wax, you failed to burnish that particular microscopic spot or you pulled the paper away too quickly. As you practice more encaustic transfers, these holes will happen less frequently. In this case, I’m not overly cautious while removing the paper because I like the look of the holes on this piece.
Don’t worry if you can’t remove every single speck of paper from the wax. These remnants can be “fixed” by lightly fusing the image. The heated wax will absorb the bits of paper, thus making it look almost completely transparent. You can also intentionally (or unintentionally) warp the image on the surface by fusing it too long.
All done! Wasn’t that easy?
Lear Jet Out of Fuel. 8 x 10. Encaustic, oil, image transfer on panel. © 2008 Haley Nagy.