Studio Notes: Carving Wax with Kate Wolf

Recently, I received a grant to study figurative wax carving with Kate Wolf of Portland, Maine. During the four-day session, I focused on a block of wax 1.5 inches tall. Inside was a cat. My goal was to find it by scraping away the wax one tiny curl at a time. For help, Kate taught me to print out five or six online poses that showed a cat from a variety of angles. Then she demonstrated to me and four other students how to transfer the design to the wax, block out the basic shape and plunge into the carving process.

At the End of Day 1 – the brown wax looked chewed up and mangled. So I knew I was off to a good start.

Day 2 – my cat looked like he’d lost a fight with a shark. One leg was sticking out sideways and he had an udder. I swelled with pride.

Day 3 – After six hours of shaving tiny curls of wax off his body, Mousse, the cat, now looked like Mousse, the giraffe. To celebrate we all went out for lobster dinner.

Day 4 – Bingo. My cat looked like a cat. Thanks to Kate’s coaching and ultra-high magnification, Mousse had cute little paws, a sinuous tail, tiny eyes and sleek fur. I’ll eventually add a tiny notch to one of his ears to make him look tough. Later, he will be sized down via computerized 3D imaging and cast as original components for my jewelry designs.

The Moral of This Story: (short version)

  • Consider picking a class that complements skills you already have.
  • Don’t judge your work while learning new techniques. Shut down negative thoughts and have fun.
  • Pick a teacher you’ve heard great things about from other students.
  • Email or talk to this teacher to see if there is a fit. Ask questions.
  • Think of the class as a chance to try new tools and materials before you buy.
  • Can’t afford the class? Check out artists’ grants that may be available in your state.

Google Kate if you haven’t heard of her. She’s a genius at wax carving, and is friends with just about everybody in the industry. She’s also brilliant at creating jewelry making products. The Rio Grande catalog is loaded with them.

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Betsy Lehndorff has been writing for Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist since 2010. Her story on Colorado diamonds appears in the September-October issue and she will be writing about her experience in Kate Wolf’s class in 2018. The class was paid for by a $1,000 professional development grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.