The Ancient Art of Painting with Beeswax

June 1, 2019

Did you know that one could paint with beeswax and make luminous paintings? This specific art form, known as encaustic painting, dates back to the Ancient Greeks who used pigmented wax to decorate their warships. Because they are wax-based, encaustic paints can be applied on top of one another to form raised reliefs, which result in dimensional optical effects that are startlingly lifelike. The oldest surviving encaustic panel paintings are the Romano-Egyptian Fayum mummy portraits from the 1st Century BC.

Fayum mummy portrait

Bee America was invited to the studio of encaustic artist, Dorian Berman, to learn more about the art of painting with wax. We brought her some beeswax on the comb and also beeswax that had been rendered from the comb in the hopes that she can use it to continue making her gorgeous paintings.

Dorian actually uses encaustic, cold wax and oil, acrylic, collage, and printmaking techniques for her work.  She explores the nature of time, what is left behind, what can be uncovered, and our history that makes us who we are. 

“We are complicated beings.  Perhaps that is why my work covers so much ground.   We each have a unique story, with lots of texture:  accomplishments and setbacks, bliss and despair, inevitable change and cycles.  I’m fascinated with the yin/yang of our experience in this life and cannot imagine using just one medium to convey that,” she explains.  

Dorain's Studio

Dorian’s studio is lit by both natural and artificial light, so that she can work whenever she has the time and inspiration. Surprisingly, many of the tools she uses can be found in a well-stocked kitchen: crockpot, pancake griddle, knives, pots, brushes. She typically has multiple projects underway simultaneously and will often come back to a piece she’s not completely happy with and rework it, as encaustic paints can be very forgiving.

Encaustic paints are applied in layers as a heated mixture of beeswax, pigment and a few other ingredients to help stabilize and protect the mixture. Each layer must be fused to the previous layer using heat (in Dorian’s case – a blow torch and a heat gun). Once multiple layers are built up, Dorian often uses clay tools and knives to scrape, incise and gouge to make a range of amazing textures. She also specializes in infusing natural objects like leaves, twigs, and flowers into the layers, creating an innate harmony between honey—which is transformed through a biochemical process by the bees into beeswax and the plants—the original source of the honey.

Dorian draws inspiration from her international travel and moves, her own inner landscapes, her experience adapting to other cultures and languages, and the beautiful objects she finds along the way.  Click here to view more of her encaustic creations. Bee America loves learning about people’s passions when it comes to bees, honey, beeswax. We invite you to share yours here with us in The Blog Buzz.

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Dorain working on one of her encaustic paintings

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