I was already aware that that earlier civilisations have found an array of uses for various honey bee products.
However, I wonder how many people have heard of encaustic art – that is, the creation of artworks using a beeswax based paint? It’s certainly not something I knew about until recently.
Yet encaustic art has a rich heritage, certainly dating back to the ancient Greeks, and was used by Greek painters in Egypt in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.
Amazingly, encaustic art is still with us today!
Artist, Victoria Primicias tells us all about it, and shares with us the beauty
of this ancient technique.........
What makes beeswax-based paint so special and different from other, conventional paints?
Your paintings look beautiful, but I’m wondering whether there is an added quality about them that cannot be experienced on a flat computer screen.
Also known as encaustics, this ancient medium is made with beeswax, colored pigment and damar, a tree resin. The paint is melted at 200F and applied in 6–20 layers onto wood.
Layering creates a translucency and radiance that makes the painting
seem to glow from within. The quick drying time allows for an easy buildup of
texture, creating ridges that catch the light. Encaustic paintings do look better viewed in person
than on a screen.
How is the beeswax prepared and applied? I there is a heating process involved. Is it a dangerous or difficult process?
The wax is applied with a brush onto a wooden panel, each layer fused with a blow torch. The encaustic paint needs to be heated below 220F on a hot palette; otherwise, irritants are released into the air. Because of this, I keep a thermostat on my hot palette, and I use an exhaust fan in my studio.
Do you combine other mediums with this one?
In the past, I used charcoal and carbon, and often embedded materials such as sand, tree bark, and nails for added effect. Lately, though, I've been using only oil pastels or oil sticks for final touches.
From where do you get the inspiration for your beautiful paintings? I note your website features abstract works, but most of them appear to be inspired by the natural world – are they local scenes you are painting?
I worked as a graphic designer for 25 years, and evolved a personal style that's classic, elegant and minimalist. I believe that aesthetic has translated into my fine art paintings, even if I now use a tree in place of a headline.
Also, I've lived in many diverse environments, mostly in large cities –
Manila, Toronto, Chicago – all near large bodies of water, a quiet respite from
I love beaches, sunsets, lakes, and vast oceans. I'm also a swimmer.
Now I live in Raleigh, NC where there is an abundance of pine trees. It
reminds me of Baguio, the picturesque mountain region in the Philippines where
our family often vacationed during school break.
Raleigh also reminds me of the Muskokas, north of Toronto, a gorgeous area carved out by the glacial retreat leaving hundreds of lakes, granite boulders rising out of the water, and pine trees everywhere.
How do you acquire your medium? Do you keep bees yourself or do you purchase from a specialist supplier? Is the beeswax treated prior to use, and do subtle variations in colour affect the outcome of your paintings?
I purchase pharmaceutical-grade beeswax that's physically filtered to remove pollen. It's not chemically bleached. Because of this, paintings will not yellow over time. To color beeswax, I use powdered pigments that are non-toxic.
Your paintings seem to express atmosphere. How does the medium of beeswax add to the mood of your paintings?
The haunting beauty of atmospheric paintings by art masters such as Whistler and Turner always appealed to me. I find this effect easy to achieve in beeswax. Because each layer needs to be fused to the layer beneath for durability, fusing softens the edges and allows colours to blend into each other.
What do you most like about using beeswax? Is there anything you dislike about it?
Beeswax has a translucent and radiant quality that cannot be achieved in other mediums. It can also be highly textured, stimulating not only the sense of sight but also the sense of touch.
It's a forgiving medium. If I make a mistake, it can easily be covered up with another layer of wax, or scraped back, with no adverse effects.
What I dislike about the medium is waiting for the wax to melt. Beeswax takes over an hour to reach the ideal molten temperature of 180-200F; therefore, picking up a brush to paint a few minutes here and there throughout the day is not an option. A hot palette needs attention and a time commitment.
Has the interest and increased focus on bees helped to contribute to a revival in the use of beeswax as an art medium?
The revival of beeswax painting is attributed to the American artist Jasper Johns. In 1955, he was searching for ways to add more texture to his "White Flag" painting when he rediscovered this ancient medium.
I’m sure people will be wondering……doesn’t it melt? How do you keep the paintings clean?
Yes, the paintings will melt, but in order for this to happen, your house has to be on fire. Levity aside, the addition of damar hardens the wax and increases the melting point, so as long as you keep your home's thermostat below 150F, the painting remains stable. After all, there are 600 surviving encaustic works from 100–300 A.D. in Egypt, a testament to encaustic art’s beauty and durability over the ages.
Thank you for your time and for sharing your experience of Encaustic art with us.
Thanks to you, too, for the thoroughness of your questions.
Victoria accepts commissions and ships her beeswax paintings globally.
You can find out more about Victoria and her art from her website, www.arte-cera.com
If you'd like to try encaustic art yourself, there are starter kits and books are available to purchase from Amazon.
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