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How to use a blowtorch as a paintbrush

Editor’s note: Tracey Bryant is the sister of Mike W. Bryant, NNSL Media’s group publisher.
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‘Fire Paint,’ an event that took place last Saturday at Saxifrage Studio, was organized by Tracey Bryant, the studio’s founder. She demonstrated the possibilities of using a blowtorch as her paintbrush. Kaicheng Xin/NNSL photo

Editor’s note: Tracey Bryant is the sister of Mike W. Bryant, NNSL Media’s group publisher.

‘Fire Paint,’ an event that took place Saturday, demonstrated the possibilities of using a blowtorch as a paintbrush.

Tracey Bryant, the founder of Saxifrage Studio, organized the lesson at her 47 Street downtown studio.

The artform is known as encaustic painting or hot wax painting. It involves using a painting iron to spread wax onto the canvas. Once applied, various tools can be used to reshape the paint, as desired. In Bryant’s case, she uses a blowtorch.

The event was one of several classes open to the public, offering people a unique way to paint. In addition to this, Bryant explained the history of this unique approach.

“Encaustics is an ancient artform,” she said. “It dates back to the Greeks, around 2,000 years ago. They used it to seal the hulls of their wooden ships and then started using it for decorating their sculptures and murals.”

Bryant emphasized how this technique allows her to use everyday materials to express her creativity.

She explained that many people use alcohol inks to paint on porous surfaces, such as glass or ceramics. However, she prefers to make her own paint.

“I make my own because I found that the base is isopropyl alcohol, which is hand sanitizer, and I can buy this at the hardware store,” she said, adding that it’s cost-effective.

“It’s rewarding but on its own is very expensive. So buying pre-made paints, all that process is going to be very expensive,” said Bryant.

“I love it because it’s very versatile and I’m a mixed media person. I have a lot of different options. I like to mix different things and I like to push boundaries.”

She finds the process of mixing media akin to an experiment.

Artist Tracey Bryant uses a blowtorch to spread wax over her canvas. She prefers to use natural products in her artwork. Kaicheng Xin/NNSL photo
Artist Tracey Bryant uses a blowtorch to spread wax over her canvas. She prefers to use natural products in her artwork. Kaicheng Xin/NNSL photo

Bryant demonstrated her painting technique with great enthusiasm on Saturday.

She has also painted with acrylic paints before. However, since she’s capable of finishing a painting in a day, the process of using acrylic paints slows her down.

“If I wanted to build up a texture, I would have to apply it like a molding paste which is like a medium plastic base, and then I have to walk away for two days,” she said of the lengthy drying process.

Bryant sees her life evolving as an artist and is always interested in trying something new. The way she handles encaustic materials has been described as “experimental,” and at the same time, it gives her a sense of a natural breeze.

“That is very sort of natural, like there’s something really synthetic about it that I’m using stuff from nature, like beeswax to the dammar resin tree sap,” she said. “Everything about it is kind of natural — the smells of the beeswax, the senses are engaged with it.”

Bryant has offered several classes on encaustics before, as well as kids’ art classes that teach art history, theme classes like acrylic paints and recycled arts.