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Ancient art form lures newcomers

Valley Art offers free chance to find out why cold wax is a hot medium


by: COURTESY PHOTOS: JEANNE LEVY - Jeanne Levys abstract work-in-progress almost looks like sand, but it was goldu paint on the brayer that accidentally got added, she said. Another tool that is like a rubber comb made lines in the painting.Valley Art Gallery in Forest Grove is offering a free class on an ancient, unusual artistic medium that is growing in popularity: cold wax.

“I’ve been working with wax for five years,” said artist and instructor Jeanne Levy, “but I’ve only been working with cold wax for a few months. It doesn’t produce as many dangerous fumes and it’s just a lot less hazardous to work with.”

Ancient Romans used the medium to create portraits centuries ago, Levy said.

“It’s fun because it’s very colorful and you’re working with a substance you can do all sorts of things to. You can press different things into it, you can scrape it away and redo the whole thing if you want.”

Because of those advantages, most of Levy’s cold wax pieces are abstract, playing off the ability to layer colors and create unusual textures. Using the edge of a plastering tool, she can carve shapes and figures into the wax that will show whatever layer is below it.

“I’ve been painting on plywood for a substrate,” she said. “You need something hard that won’t buckle and crack the wax. But you can just keep adding layers, as many as you like. Then you can go back and uncover whatever you want with a palate knife.”

The preparation for working with cold wax begins with a simple science project. A white, purified beeswax is mixed with a hard, crystalized wax at about 120 degrees Farenheit. Solvent is then added, which keeps the wax from hardening as it cools. The final mixture is stored in a sealed glass jar to prevent the solvent from evaporating. This encaustic artwork by Jeanne Levy is made from a layer of cold wax and light green oil paint on a sealed board. A recycled net orange bag was laid on the wax and rolled over (with a brayer) to leave an impression. The stems of the grass are made with the edge of a sharp tool, while a rubber blending tool made the marks that look like leaves and dried seed pods.

The artist can then transfer small amounts of the mixture onto a palate where it is mixed with oil paint to add color. Then it’s ready to paint onto plywood or some other substrate, after which the solvent evaporates, leaving a hard, colorful wax that can be shaped, scraped, or scrapped entirely.

“A lot of current artists are using it now,” Levy said. “Being an ancient form, it has been falling in and out of popularity for centuries.”



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