Beeswax.

My grandfather is a beekeeper in Washington State. He always has fancy honeys that he gets from all of his beekeeping friends. He has blackberry honey, blueberry honey, light and dark honeys. Dandelion honey tastes exactly like a spoonful of dandelions. My favorite is star thistle honey, because it tastes like marshmallows.

One of his biggest problems is what to do with all of his beeswax. He can only make so many candles before it gets excessive. As an artist, raw beeswax can cost up to $13 per pound. He gives it to me for free. One time he mailed me over 20 lbs. of beeswax. So, naturally, I use it in everything.

I use it as a lubricant when I’m stretching silver wire for jewelry. I mix it with turpentine to make a wax medium that I use in painting. It makes a great impasto for building up texture. I also make my own oil paints and the wax is an emulsifier, which means that it helps the pigment to bond with the oil. In essence, it makes the pigments oily so that they don’t separate from the oil. Lastly, I use it for encaustic.

Encaustic is paint made from wax. Basically, you melt beeswax on a griddle, and mix it with pigments to make colored wax. Then you paint with the liquid wax. When it cools you have to heat it up so that all of the layers of wax melt together, but if you heat it up too much it’s destroyed.18

This was my first encaustic painting. Right after I took this picture, I put the painting into a toaster oven and the face became a swirly pool of wax. I wanted the oven to fuse all of the colors together, but it was too much heat. Oops! Ultimately, encaustic is frustrating and you burn yourself a lot. However, I like the texture.

16Next I painted this picture of my wife. For this I decided to build up the surface with wax, and then color it with oil paint. I like this process better. I had experimented with mixing wax with egg tempera, gold leaf, and other media, but oils are the only safe thing to use with wax. From the front it is difficult to notice, but from the side you can see that the painting is actually a bas relief.

17It reminds me of Rembrandt’s critics who said that he used so much impasto on the nose of his portrait that the nose might fall off from the weight. That is my biggest fear for this painting. If I didn’t fuse all of the wax together well enough, or if the weight is too much for it to hold on to the board, then the nose could actually fall off. So far so good, but I fear that one day my wife will suddenly look like Lord Voldemort in a blonde wig.

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