Handmade: Artist dabbles in beeswax paintings

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

As an artist, Melissa DiVietri of Farmington Hills is well aware of the hours it takes to turn ideas into visual art, leaving little, if any, time to promote one’s work. So, since 2006, she’s been spending much of her time working at home and in coffee shops throughout Metro Detroit, adding information to the Internet, in one form or another, to promote the work of fellow artists.

“I build websites and create social networks. Most of my clients are art galleries or artists,” DiVietri states. “I’m reaching out to Midtown Detroit now because that’s like the art community. I’m offering my services for them to be active online so their artwork is not just shown in the gallery. A lot of times artists don’t promote themselves, so I create Facebook events, post items on Twitter and Google Plus, a social network of Google where, if you post items, there they perform better because they go right to the top.”

In terms of her artwork, DiVietri says she’s an abstract artist who creates art as a hobby. Three years ago, she learned to paint with wax as part of a class “experiment” at Ferris State University, where she recently completed her degree in Graphic Media Management. “What we did was heat up beeswax to a point where everything was melted to a liquid form,” she explains. “We dropped layers of the liquid wax on top of a ¾-inch thick wooden board to make the piece come to life. We would then add paint colors to the wax and keep dropping more on top. We then used a heat gun to move the colors and blend them. That fuses them together.”

As it turned out, the technique, known as encaustic painting, inspired DiVietri to begin creating a collection of three-dimensional paintings. She’s been giving them away to family and friends, but plans to start selling them in the near future.

Her recent encaustic interpretation of a Detroit cityscape is currently featured in ArtPrize, the international art competition held in Grand Rapids.

Born with sacral agenesis, “a rare disease that attacks the spinal cord,” DiVietri, says, “I put a lot of emotion into my art, and I completely forget that there’s something wrong. It’s kind of an escape. It’s also kind of a blessing at the same time. I feel I wouldn’t be this person today if I didn’t have so many obstacles. I don’t like when people stare, but I tell myself they’re staring because they’re inspired.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150 or For more news and giveaways, visit her blog at

Encaustic Wax Painting

Level: Beginner

Estimated time: Depends on size of painting

Tools: Hot plate or skillet, about 8 small aluminum tins (one for each paint color), paint brushes, heat gun, binder clips, clay sculpting tools, palette knives, masking tape, paper towel, sheet of paper

Supplies: MDF board, tubes of oil paint in colors of choice, beeswax


1. Scoop beeswax into aluminum tin, filling it more than half way.

2. Heat hot plate to 200 degrees. Put wax in tin and let heat on plate 20-30 minutes. After wax melts, add ½ inch of oil paint.Put an empty tin on top to lock in heat. Repeat with about five more tins, with different color in each. Stir every few minutes with knife.

3. Put ¼ inch of paint in a tin that’s been placed on hot plate to heat mixtures. Use craft brush to mix dissolving paint.

4. Stir all melting substances until completed blendedtogether. Pour liquid into tin and scrape remaining paint stuck to bottom. Transfer hot liquid back and forth between two tins to mix colors completely.

5. Try an opacity test by dropping dots of blended waxonto sheet of paper. If drops are too white, use less beeswax.

6. Place finished tin near cool window area. Let dry overnight, so it becomes hard cake.

7. Now, turn hot plate back on and set at 200 degrees. Place hard cake on top and melt to complete liquid form.

8. Cut MDF board into smaller pieces to use colors made earlier. (Sizes can vary, as each board will be for a different painting.)

9. Wrap masking tape around MDF board, about ½-inch high, to catch any wax that drips from sides. The tape will keep wax on board. Put a binder clip on both ends of tin to use as handles to prevent burning hands.

10. Pour hot wax on board. Repeat technique several times with different colors. Use heat gun to fuse colors together and prevent wax from coming off board.

11. Use clay sculpting tools to make designs in wax. Scrape away sections you want to fill with a different color. Then, use heat gun to fuse colors together, again.

12. Once satisfied with design, remove masking tape. Let finished painting set at least 24 hours.

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