Mind Your Own Beeswax

This sassy phrase is sometimes attributed to a story about women who survived small pox only to have deeply pockmarked skin. The story goes that they would use beeswax on their face to fill the indentions.

Beehive copy
But when they sat too close to a fire, the wax would melt causing stares. “Mind your beeswax” was the phrase used among groups to warn of the awkward drips. Although it has a certain charm, many historians have challenged this reference.

We may not be able to confirm that story, but we do know how beeswax has been used in artwork throughout history. The word is taken from the Greeks who used heat-treated beeswax to coat the hulls of their ships. Unlike the raw beeswax that might run down a pockmarked maiden’s skin, this wax was treated to a boiling process that changed the chemical properties and created a much harder wax that stands up to heat exposure. When pigment was added, the coated hulls of boats began to take on a decorative appearance.

Later the technique was used in Egypt for portraits found with mummies. The wax offers a wide variation in color and was thought to add lifelike qualities to portraits.

Definition of encaustic: a paint made from pigment mixed with melted beeswax and resin and after application fixed by heat; also : the method involving the use of encaustic or a work produced by this method

Helen DeRamus Flotsum 20x24 encaustic on board

Helen DeRamus   Flottum   20×24   encaustic on board

And it has enjoyed resurgence in popularity since the 1990s. This has mainly been attributed to the newly found ease of treating the wax with electrical tools and torches. But the medium can be difficult to master, and only skilled artists are able to get the best results.

You can find encaustic work from several artists at dk Gallery. Helen DeRamus, inaugural encaustic artist, is a master at this technique. She has created many encaustic works from romantic figures to mixed media pieces with fabrics applied within the melted wax. Her latest nonrepresentational series will be in the upcoming show, On The Surface.

“Will this painting melt if it gets too hot in my house or if the air conditioner breaks?”

No. The wax used in encaustic paintings stays solid up to 150°F.

Other artists that have used the encaustic method in recent works are Lorra Kurtz and Jenny Schultz. Schultz prefers to use a blowtorch for her encaustic work. The trick, she says, is to avoid the occasional studio fire.

Another Georgia born artist that has taken this medium to national acclaim is Jasper Johns. You can find his iconic work in the most well known museums and galleries in New York. In honor of the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, enjoy one of his most recognized pieces, Flag.

Lorra Kurtz Close to Me 16X16 Encaustic on Panel

Lorna Kurtz   Close to Me   16X16   Encaustic on Panel

Jasper Johns Flag 1954

Jasper Johns   Flag   1954



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