Falher artist creates innovative works with beeswax

Chantal Nicolet outside her home in Falher holding one of her wax canvases.

Tom Henihan
As artist and teacher, Chantal Nicolet lives in Falher, a town that identifies itself as the honey capital of Canada it seem inevitable that she would eventually come to creating works in beeswax.

Nicolet, who began working inmedium last spring, says she just decided on her own without exposure to other encaustic art or emulating other artists.

“There are encaustic artist in the world but I personally have never met any. It is not something that has been happening in this area, it’s not as common.”

Nicolet grew up in Falher but moved away for a number of years, living in Halifax and Calgary. She says that while growing up in the area she had family friends involved in beekeeping and that it was just part of the mundane that she took for granted.

However, when she came back as an adult she found she was more aware of her surroundings and more inspired by it, much more so than when she was growing up.

Always looking for new projects for her students at G.P. Vanier,she decidedshe was going to teach her students and herself to work in wax.

“How could I not do this? I always have a sense of my own path as an artist and a love of teaching.They are both so important to me and they are both a great source of joy, they complement each other,” she says.“I guess that is the fun part of being an artist and teacher as well. I get to play and explore all these mediums with kids.”

Prior to creating in wax, she mostly worked in acrylic but constantly explores all kinds of mediums including oil pastel, watercolours, pencil crayon, fabric art and clay. Nicolet says, while she likes working in different mediums there is usually one particular medium with which she becomes heavily involved.

The process of working with wax, even going to buy the wax locally, is something that Nicolet says she really enjoys.

“I can go to the beekeeper, check out the wax and talk about bees. Bees are so interesting and beekeepers love to talk bees. They love my art; I have had a great response.”

The beeswax must be applied to an absorbent, stable surface such as canvas board. A pliable surface is unsuitable because some pressing against the surface is necessary during the layering process.

A fundamental part of the working process is applying thin layers of wax, letting each layer set then adding the next. Having melted the wax on a hotplate, she puts it in pots and when pigments are needed, she adds oil paint to the wax for colour. Each work usually requires 6 to 10 layers of wax and it is in the process of layering that the details, shades and subtleties of the image are blended into the work.

“I use a heat gun as a tool to melt the wax on the canvas to give it a natural, blended appearance. But if I want to do fine details I can use a tiny brush. The brushes have to be authentic hair because the wax will melt synthetic fibers. Goat hair works really well.”

The process of layering can take time but once it is finished, unlike an oil painting, it is dry and ready for framing.

“So it’s a really different way of creating. Say I do a sky with coloured wax with clouds, I can just put a little white and blue and layer the white and blue and melt it. You get used to it but you get interesting surprises at the same time, so it kind of fun.”

Another aspect of the artwork that Nicolet enjoys is the positive messages she presents through some of the work.

“For example, one of the pieces on my wall says, “Don’t worry Bee Happy,” she says. “I subconsciously see it a hundred times a day, so that’s kind of neat.”

Chantal Nicolet has presented her work locally at the McLennan trade fair, has created a canvas on site for auction at the Ecole Heritage Frachaton in Falher, Live art at Ecole Heritage, Falher in November and the Alberta Beekeepers commission AGM and Convention.

She says she has had a great response from the community and a great rapport with her students in the process of working with wax.

“The kids get to talk about the area, about the industry, about bees and how bees make wax and how bees make honey as we create art with beeswax, that is something that has been wonderful for my students as well.”

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