What IS That "Shiny Stuff?"
“So (awkward pause as questioner tries to formulate his/her actual question)...what is the (more awkward pausing)...shiny stuff?”
I get this question A LOT when I’m showing my work. The “shiny stuff” is epoxy resin: a plastic polymer used to encase surfaces in a protect, clear, high gloss finish. Although resin is becoming more well known in contemporary art circles, it is still rather mysterious. I hope this post removes some of the mystery of its application. I could do a whole post about the science behind epoxy resin, but I'll let the scientists and engineers do that. (If you want to know about the “what”, you can click here).
Resin can be used in many different ways and each artist has their own tips and tricks. This is a step by step post to show my entire process of pouring art-grade resin on my mixed media work as a finishing agent.
Here’s a list of supplies you will need to do a resin coating:
Stir stick (a plastic knife works just fine for small jobs, but if you are stirring more than 8 ounces, use a larger stick like this.)
Exhaust fan (this can be a window fan turned around to blow air out of the room)
Level table or stand
Toothpicks or tweezers
Throw away foam brushes
Plastic cups that can raise your work away from the table
Xylene or other solvent (Mineral spirits can work as well, it just takes more)
Spreader (like this)
Clock or watch
1. Prep and Clean Work Area--having a clean work station is critical when working with resin. I usually remove as much clutter as I can and then wipe all the exposed surfaces down with a damp cloth. I’m talking EVERYTHING that is exposed. Dust can travel across the room, so when in doubt, wipe it down. Your work table needs to be level for the resin to coat the surface of your work properly, so be sure to check that as well.
You also want to prep an area for all your supplies that you will need (see supply list) Make sure that it is close to your resin pouring area and that it is equally as clean.
I use solo plastic cups to elevate the work above the table surface so that the resin can drip off the sides without attaching. The bigger the size, the more cups you will need. I usually use between 1-4 cups per pouring. If the piece is teetery, add another cup to give it better stability during the coating process.
I also prepare a way to cover the work after the resin is poured. This might be a piece of clean, stiff cardboard that is extended over the work or you could use a cleaned box if the the work is small enough. This really helps eliminate unwanted particles getting in the resin while it cures.
Finally, before I get ready to resin, I vacuum all the floor areas around the workstation.
2. Mixing and Final Prep--There’s a lot of prep to doing a resin coating, but trust me, it is worth it. Hang in there! The actual resin coating process only takes about 30 minutes at the most, so the work is mostly done at this point.
I start my final prep by making sure that the room temperature is appropriate for pouring. The resin works better when it is warmer, so if you need to, keep a small space heater around when the temperature drops. 68-72 degrees is the recommended temperature range for your room. I will usually start warming the room a day in advance. Your resin supply should also be at that temperature.
When I’m ready to go, I place an exhaust fan in a window that is not directly in front of where I’m pouring. Right before I start, I will lightly brush the work with tack cloth to pick up any unwanted particles. I also dawn my gloves and respirator before any epoxy components are opened.
Using the recommended amount of resin for the area I want to cover (the box usually has a coverage chart on the side or you can access a calculator here….if you have sides you need to cover as well, overestimate the resin amount by 2 oz.), I start by pouring the resin part of the kit into a clean, measuring cup. It’s important to be exact! Then I pour the hardener part and set my watch for two minutes while I start stirring.
Stir thoroughly for two whole minutes and then pour the mixture into another clean measuring cup and do the exact same thing again. This ensures that every last drop is mixed properly. You may notice that the mixture is getting cloudy as you stir, this is natural and part of the reactionary process.
3. Pouring--Once the mixing is done, I pour the resin on the piece immediately. I pour in the center and let it work its way out. If you are doing multiple pieces, do your best to evenly distribute the resin mixture (this is not an exact science, just do your best!).
After pouring, I use my spreader tool to start gently working the resin to the edges of the piece. I pull it out from the center as evenly as I can. Once the whole surface is coated, I start working on pulling the resin over the edges to coat the edges. The process is kind of like icing a cake.
Once you feel confident that you’ve covered all surfaces with the resin, use the foam brush to lightly smooth out the edges to make sure they are coated evenly (they need a little extra care since you have gravity working against the self leveling properties of the resin). You can also use your brush to smooth the bottom edge where drips will form.
4. Blow Torch Time! --This is probably the best part. (In my opinion anyway.) Once coated and smoothed, it’s time to get the butane torch out. A medium setting works best. You need enough air moving through the heat to express the bubbles, but not too much that it will burn the resin. I recommend keeping the torch flame at least six inches from the surface of the work. Then methodically move across the surface. I usually go side to side and then up and down. I will usually do three slow passes over the surface.
5. Check for Particles--Definitely the least fun part. Now that the surface is fairly clear of bubbles, put your torch to the side (You will need it later) and grab your tweezers or toothpicks. I like using toothpicks since you can throw them away when you’re done. Using the reflection of the room light to guide you, look for imperfections in the surface: hairs, dust particles, areas that didn’t get covered correctly, etc. You can pick things out using the picks or guide it to the edge where it won’t be as noticeable. I’ve learned through the years to not worry about every imperfection. Just look for the big ones and let the little ones go, otherwise, you will drive yourself crazy and you may end up doing more damage than repair. You can always do another coat later if the imperfections are a problem.
6. Clean tools--You need to let the resin “set” for 5 -10 minutes before doing another blow torch pass, so this is a great time to clean your tools. I use paper towels to wipe down my stir sticks, spreader and the major goop in my cups. I then use a little bit of xylene to finish cleaning the measuring cups so I can use them again for another pouring.
7. Final torch pass-- the 5-10 minute “setting” time allows more bubbles to come to the surface and therefore, you need to do another slow, methodical pass with your blow torch, just as before. I usually run my foam brush along the bottom edges to get drips at this point as well.
8. Final particle check and covering--After your final blow torch run, check one more time for particles, pick anything out you find and then it is time to cover the work for curing. Carefully place your box or cardboard over the piece and you’re done! You will want to leave your work covered for at least 24 hours before checking it. After 24 hours, you can touch it, but don’t plan on doing another resin coat for another 48 hours. Plan on giving the piece at least three-four days to cure before shipping too.
9. Finishing your resin piece--since I let the resin drip off the edges, I need to remove the drips when the piece is cured. I use an orbital hand sander with 100 grit paper to sand off the drips on the bottom edge of the piece so that it can hang nicely on the wall. Be sure to also use some form of nose and mouth covering during this process too.
Whew! That’s a lot of info! The sponsor for this post is ArtResin.com and if you want more information about doing epoxy resin for art, you can visit their website for amazing tutorials, videos and a great FAQ section. They have been so helpful to me through the years and their product is the only one I use! I love it. And their customer service is great!
Do you have any questions about the resin process? Feel free to share them in the comments or if you want to share your own experiences with resin, do that too.