World Environment Day on June 5th is a global celebration empowering people to recognize their ability to affect sustainable changes and equitable development worldwide. The goal is that everyone can share and enjoy a cleaner, greener future. This year, the UN Environment Programme and TreeHugger are asking what do Forests: Nature at Your Service mean to you?
This question is timely because I was just thinking about this last week when I tried to order dammar resin (nestled in my hand below) for my encaustic painting medium. Everyone was out of stock. Encaustic is an ancient painting method that uses beeswax, dammar resin and pigments. Dammar resin is a tree sap that is harvested from coniferous and hardwood trees in Southeast and East Asia. It’s what makes the beeswax turn into a luscious painting medium that cures into a lustrous finish.
Now, I’m waiting on 22 pounds of dammar resin on backorder. When I mentioned it to some fellow artists, they also said they were having difficulty obtaining dammar and that prices are on the rise. Could the tsunamis and floods over the past few years have wiped out the forests? If the forests are in trouble, how are they being helped to recover? What if these forests can’t produce the dammar needed? Could we tap the trees in our Pacific Northwest forests? Would it work the same? It was a good reminder to be grateful for the materials I use and not take them for granted. It also has me wondering just how is the dammar harvested over in Asia? Is it sustainable? Does the industry support the communities? I’ve done some research and can’t seem to find a suitable answer.
I switched a while ago to encaustic not only for its ethereal beauty but also because there is very little waste and most of my ingredients and supplies are found in nature. This supports my personal earth-friendly values and works well for me because nature is the source of inspiration for my artwork. It also turned me into a beekeeper plugging me further into caring for my world.
There is a cycle of life I depend upon for my artwork and livelihood: Trees for the wood I paint on (encaustic is heavy and requires a sturdy foundation) and the paper I draw on; Bees for the wax I use in my medium (and for the honey in my tea as I paint); Nature for the plants and flowers that inspire me; Earth for the pigments in much of my medium and all the people who tend, harvest, ship and sell the materials that help me make paintings. Without this network of relationships, I wouldn’t be able to paint in this medium I love so much.
In celebration of this year’s World Environment Day, I’m creating a new series of encaustic paintings inspired by the spice markets I visited in Bali. Each painting, a study in color and smells, incorporates spices into the wax, turning my studio into an aromatic kitchen: one day cinnamon and clove, another curry and turmeric, today spicy smoked paprikas. The panels shown shown below are (L-R) La Dahlia (Smoked Spanish Paprika), Turmeric, and Clove.
I started working with spices because La Nina has delivered just way too much rain and grey this spring here in Portland, Oregon. I need some color and the spices have delivered! I also like working with the spices because they represent community; how we interact with one another and with nature. Mankind has been using spices for eons as currency, perfumery, aphrodisiacs, medicine, in foods, rituals and even war (although I don’t like that bit). It’s another great example of how dependent we are on one another as a global community and as caretakers of the resources, plants and animals on this earth. This is why events like World Environment Day are so important – to raise awareness and empower one another to make decisions and ask questions that will help us all share a healthier world.
So, I ask you. What will you create for World Environment Day?
photo credits: Rebecca L. Shapiro