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What Is Resin and How Is It Different from Other Mediums?

Updated: Aug 26, 2019

Glad you asked!

Epoxy resin is basically liquid plastic. It has two parts, which, when combined, create a chemical reaction that hardens this liquid solid after a certain amount of time. That "certain amount of time" varies depending on the brand of epoxy resin that you have on hand, but usually is anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. It really depends on the artist whether they select a faster curing resin or a longer curing one. In construction, epoxy resin is used as a binding agent for countertops or as a coating for floors. Generally, however, that type of resin is very different from the kind of resin abstract artists choose to work with, but if you'd like to learn more about that kind of resin, here's a place where you can do that.

Resin is very different to work with than other mediums, and I can't stress the "very" enough. First of all, you need safety gear. And that's not negotiable. You need an organic vapor respirator. Because that chemical reaction I described above? It creates toxic fumes. (Note: not a particulate respirator! That's another rookie mistake of amateur resin artists because those masks only filter out dust and you need to be able to filter out fumes. Rule of thumb is if you can smell epoxy when you're wearing the mask, it's not protecting you from the fumes.) And I've read enough debates online where people bang on their pots with spoons arguing, "My brand of epoxy resin is not toxic and it's food safe! Look! I'm chewing it and not dying from it!" (Ok, they weren't chewing it. But with the tone they were using, they may as well have.) But the reality is that even if a certain brand of epoxy resin (like mine) says it's "no VOCs" and non-toxic, unless you use it exactly as the instructions mandate you to - which means you measure the two part perfectly and mix it till you're blue in the face and never add any pigments or glitter or whatever else - it becomes toxic as part of your artistic process. Actual resin art - not art covered with a clear coat of resin - involves pigments, and pastes, and all kind of other additives, which makes it look so unique and original.

So. Organic vapor respirator is non-negotiable. You also want to do it in a well-ventilated space that you are able to seal off from the rest of the house. Not everybody is as paranoid as I am, I can acknowledge that, but I have kids and my family is more important to me than anything I do for fun, so I don't want to risk even the slightest chance of them reacting to the fumes. (Sidenote: if you like to be extra careful with your safety gear, get a full-face organic vapor respirator like this one. Some people are extra sensitive to epoxy resin fumes and since fumes can also be absorbed through your eyeballs, it's a good idea to protect them from the beginning.) I like to stuff a blanket underneath the doors of my art studio to block out the smell, and then I also either turn on a powerful air purifier that I have standing by the door or I open some windows if I'm not too afraid of dust settling on my art pieces.

Alright. Phew. We've covered safety.

Which brings me conveniently to the number 1 arch-nemesis of resin art: dust. No other art medium suffers more from this naturally occurring evil substance as resin does. Even worse if it's hair or a bug! The more substance the "intruder" has, the more it has the potential to ruin your piece. A tiny little speck of dust can be easily lifted off the cheeseboard if you notice it before the resin cures. But a whole hair dropping into the resin can cause the entire design to go askew if you try to remove it as it will pull resin with it. Which is why many artists choose to put up some kind of dust protection around their pieces or over top of the pieces to prevent dust from settling. I for one do not do that because the mere act of bringing something over top of my piece can be what introduces dust into my art piece, so I take my chances with that and make sure not to linger over top of my pieces (because dust is essentially our own skin cells, dandruff, and other human "riff raff", you're basically the main source of it!)

All art mediums get affected somewhat by UV exposure and sunlight but resin art can be especially tricky. You see, all epoxy resins yellow over time. A little or a lot, but all of it yellows. The higher grade (and more expensive) epoxy resins have a lot of UV stabilizers added to them, which prevent yellowing for a significant amount of time. UV stabilizers act like sponges in a way that they soak up the UV rays every time the resin gets exposed to the UV. But when each one of these sponges get completely satiated, they cannot absorb the UV rays anymore and the resin starts to yellow. Logically, the more and the better quality of UV stabilizers added to resin, the longer the resin can stay clear and/or white, depending on what tint or pigment was added to it. But this can be further prolonged by simply not installing the art piece in direct contact with sunlight, because if it's not displayed somewhere where the sun hits it, the longer the UV stabilizers can do their job well! I mean, you wouldn't hang a Mona Lisa out on your porch either, right? All artwork needs TLC and resin art is no different in that regard.

The most wonderful difference that I have found resin to have from any other art medium is its unpredictability. And there is a certain comfort in knowing that when you put down something on canvas, it'll come out exactly as you expected it to but it's so much more satisfying to get a wonderful unexpected surprise when you put down your colors thinking they'll flow one way and they start flowing in mesmerizing patterns you could never have predicted. I'll talk more about this quality of resin in a different post.

For now, I hope this has been helpful to you in getting more acquainted with this art medium. I hope you can feel through my words how much I adore and admire this medium. What excites me most is that it's still a relatively "unknown" art medium, which means there's a world of knowledge available for any one of us to be tapped into if we just allow ourselves to experiment with it.

Happy Friday!


Alex Labunets is an abstract artist based in Seattle, Washington. She mainly works with epoxy resin but uses other media in the mix to achieve various results. Her work is inspired by nature and semiprecious gemstones, geodes, and agates. To inquire about a possible commission, click here.

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