So, as you know, I’m in the middle of one of my infamous multipart series, this one on making candles, which is the hobby I sort of picked up during lockdown and I was bored to the proverbial tears. Or even tears without proverbs. Which is worse, I’m sure. ‘Cause you know what they say. A rolling English major gathers no moss when there’s a dog in the apple a day and it’s always late than better.
I’m sure they say that. Heard it a million times.
Okay, today’s the day I’m going to talk about working with wax.
Which is really kinda…strangely enough…a lot of fun.
And sort of artistic.
Some Banded Candles I've Done
Last time I talked about pouring the wax. (And remember, be careful. Wax is hot and it will burn. If you haven’t already, check out the piece I did on fire safety. It is here: https://www.michaeljaytucker.com/post/fire-wax-and-safety )
This time, I’m going to talk about using wax to make stuff. At the moment, I’m working on two things. The first is color, the second is shape. Today I’m mostly going to be talking about color.
Wax is normally, white—at least paraffin wax is. Bees wax, which I haven’t worked with, has a kind of honey gold color, and is very pretty all by itself. (In fact, it is so attractive that I sorta hate to melt it down for any purpose.) Soy wax is also white, though, to me, at least, it seems a little more creamy colored than paraffin. Depends on your eyesight, I suppose.
I should have mentioned before that there are also tallow waxes—that is, wax derived from animal fat. Again, I have never worked with it, but I gather it can produce very nice candles as well. In color, I’m led to believe, it ranges from white to brownish. Though, again, I’m only reporting what I’ve been told. I’ve also been told that sometimes, some tallow waxes maintain a bit of scent of the meat from which they came. Meaning, a hint of steak dinner…
Not a bad idea, imho.
But, getting back to color. You can color wax in all sorts of ways. Hobby shops and mail order services will sell you many different colors to add to the wax. The most common form of color, I gather, is liquid dye, and I’ve used that quite a bit. However, I also recently got some color powders as well. You add the liquid dye to the wax when it is molten. The powder, by contrast, you sprinkle in with the wax before you put it on the heat.
Either way, you can get many different colors from different suppliers. One of the companies I use, Lone Star Candle Supply, has a line of dyes that starts at Eucalyptus Green, cruises through Ivory, and ends up around Lemon. Or, of course, you can do like I do, and just get a few primary colors — I use red, blue, and yellow — and then try to mix and match to produce other hues from there.
Honestly, I haven’t got the arts of candle wax dye mastered just yet. For example, producing a green from, say, blue and yellow, should be simple, but it can be surprisingly difficult. I’m never quite getting the proportions right. I set out to make a nice, cheery light green, and instead I get something that looks like the kind of mud you’d pry out of a tank tread after a happy ramble through a swamp. (I guess Kermit had it right. It isn’t easy being green, or figuring out how to produce the kind of green you want.)
Or even if you’re working with just one color, it can be a bit of a trial. For instance, I wanted a nice, gentle yellow the other day. So, I started with white wax and added just a teeny bit of yellow dye…
And what I got was yellow neon wax that looked faintly radioactive if not downright unhealthy. I mean, seriously, taxi cab and Bob The Builder hardhat yellow, with a side order of toxic waste.
The easiest thing to do with color, of course, is to have a whole candle that’s just one color. And I’ve done several of those. Blue is my favorite color and I’ve produced bunch of candles of various shades of blue, ranging from cyan to deep sea.
But what’s really got my attention at the moment is banded candles. That is, I have candles which are made up of a multiple layers of different colors. It is quite simple to do. You just pour one color and then let it cool for a day or so. Then you pour the next layer of wax, this time in a different color, and so on until you reach the top of the container.
Banded Candles In Process. These have a few layers yet to go.
As I say, I’m still learning. Most of my candles are very much experiments. Sometimes the colors go together nicely. Sometimes they…well…eww ick! sums it up nicely.
What is actually the most fun about the banded candles, though, is watching them burn. The effects they produce are nothing short of fascinating.
For instance, a lit candle will seem to have different colors than the same candle when it isn’t burning. I had one that had a yellow layer over a red layer. I was rather embarrassed by the candle, actually, because the yellow came out much more garish than I had wanted. I had hoped to have a light lemon and what I got was canary and school bus with a hint of gawdawful.
But, when we lit it, and had it on the picnic table out back during dinners on soft summer nights….well, completely different. The yellow wax became a glowing pool of liquid gold that radiated gently in all directions. It was flat out gorgeous. No other word for it.
Flat Out Gorgeous
Another fascinating thing about the banded candles is that the different layers of wax behave in ways I simply didn’t expect. For example, when you light a candle, the wax below the flame is transformed into a pool of liquid that is, depending on the size of the wick, anywhere from a quarter of an inch to an inch deep (roughly 6 mm to 25 mm). Sometimes that means that two layers of differently colored wax will both be liquid at the same time. Thus, with the candle I mentioned above, once the yellow layer was about half consumed, the top part of the red layer was also turning to liquid.
I would have thought that the result would be a single layer of orange wax…
Except nothing like that happened. The liquid wax, even though it was liquid, didn’t mix. When the candle was burning, you’d have a single pool of transparent, slightly red-gold liquid wax at the top of the candle. But, blow out the candle after dinner, and come back the next morning… and, whoa! What you had was two separate, differently colored layers of solid wax, yellow at the top and red at the bottom.
Anyway, the result of all this is that I’m doing almost nothing but banded candles at the moment. Sometimes they are candles with dramatically different colors — red, white, and blue, or yellow, rose, and purple — and sometimes they are candles with more subtle variations, multiple shades of blue, for instance, or purple.
And I will probably stick with banded candles for the rest of the year and maybe into next. Like I say, I have still got a lot to learn about working with color, and I’m guessing that it will take me at least six months (more, probably) to get even the basics down.
I will, however, post pictures and progress reports as time goes on. Whether that is a promise or a threat, I’ll leave up to you to determine.
Okay, so that’s color.
Onward and Upward.
Copyright©2021 Michael Jay Tucker