Friday, April 10, 2009
carving the candle
last year for the first time i carved and painted the paschal candle for our church. my design was simple, based on a 15th century design.
this year for a lot of reasons it wasn't clear whether or not i would do the candle, but in the end i had to. you know how it is sometimes.
i wanted something simple, but a little more ornate than last year. i also decided to go with inlaid wax instead of paint,a thing i have never done and so only have an idea about how to proceed.
graph paper! you maybe don't know this, but there are some really nice onlice sites where you can print up free graph paper.
sketch design. in the sketch i don't include a couple of the details, and although i can visualize most of the design, i still don't know about some of the colors.
once the design is sketched, you have to wrap it around the candle and cut it into the candle's surface. beeswax can be ornery; while it doesn't crack as easily as cheaper candles, it also doesn't necessarily lift out of the cuts. it's sticky.
the reason i know about the cheaper candles is because before i started cutting into an expensive one-shot-only paschal candle blank, i needed to practice cutting design elements, working with the dyes, and inlaying wax. it's a complex process.
i also had to practice simple design elements like thin stripes, or outlines. wherever you lay two colors right next to each other, you run the risk or chunks falling out of your inlay when you cut near it, or else of the colors running together if you heat the area too much.
the crown was a risk for me; the pointier a thing is, the less likely it is that you will be able to cut it properly into the wax, the less likely it is that you will be able to fill it with color, the less likely it is that it won't chip and break when you work around it.
the yellow dye was also difficult for me to work. i had to keep thinning it with more and more beeswax to lighten it up. the other dyes needed to be strong for that deep color, but the yellow needed to be very dilute. a little yellow dye goes a long, long way.
so here's the process: after the basic design is lightly cut in, you take your knife and cut holes for real. you have to be sure you cut deep enough (a little over and eighth of an inch) and you have to be sure your edges are clean.
then you scoop the melted colored wax into the hole, making sure to fill right to the corners, and not leaving bubbles. the best wax consistency for this is that elusive point just when it starts to congeal; still clear and liquid-y, but thick enough to stay on the knife.
as you might imagine, this requires hundreds of meltings, and each time you melt and re-melt you have to add dye and wax to keep the color going.
it's best to seal the new inlay by going over it very lightly with a hot knife. if you seal it properly, it sets the colored wax into the tight corners and makes the surface easier to work later on without chipping.
the tricky bit is that if you press too hard with the hot knife or linger too long over a spot, you will ruin your clean cut and the colors will run. your lines will blur and there will be a hole.
once you've got all the wax laid in and sealed, the whole thing looks a mess. it's kind of a leap of faith, not seeing your pattern while you're working. but then, slowly and carefully, you use your knife to scrape away the excess surface wax and little by little your design emerges underneath.
now's the nervous time. now you get to see if you really did fill in the holes properly. now you have to be extra careful not to catch any edges and break an inlay.
scrape, polish, pray.