Photography by Paige French
Tell us a little about what you make:
I make a premium line of food, home and body products that I call “Bee Inspired Goods” mostly made with honey, wax and lavender from our farm by hand in the USA.Our bee inspired goods are available online at waxingkara.com.
What led you to become a bee keeper and create your line of honey-based goods?
In 2008, I closed my web communications business of over twenty years with incredible
employees and a client list ranging from the White House to large financial services
One day I walked by a painting by Tony Scherman and knew I wanted to know more about “encaustic” so I read a book, bought supplies and started painting with encaustic. Encaustic is paint made with beeswax, damar resin and pigment. Bees wax is essential to my painting. The idea of a sustainable art form was appealing to me.
One day in the studio I boiled a large vat of wax and ruined it. I thought, “I should make my own wax.” Then I realized that would require me to become a beekeeper and that’s what I did. I got a lot more honey than wax from my first years as a beekeeper. First I gave it away, and people came back for more. I had been in the process of reinventing myself, looking for something new to do with a second career as an artist and a maker, so I formalized a graphic identity system with an incredible designer. I wrote about it here and here.
It all started with a sketch of an idea and a two page strategy document that I put together. There was not a lot of business planning, just a passion for art-making, for bees and honey-production and a vision of putting it together under a smart identity system with one foot rooted in a nostalgic past and the other pointed toward the future.
Did you grow up in a creative household? What activities in your younger years cultivated the person you have become?
I grew up with a very creative mother, a home maker and cottage caterer who baked for people from an early age. My father was an amateur comedian who entertained the elderly– sometimes in my Aunt Sophie’s dresses– during his youth. I believe I am the result of my mother’s creativity and father’s incredible sense of humor. From a very young age I declared myself an artist. I started drawing at about the same time I started walking. I took lessons from age 4 forward, at age 14 I attended a summer arts program, it was at that program that I decided I would be involved with visual art for the rest of my life. At age 17 I began my studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art on a partial scholarship.
What does your typical day look like? Any rituals that encourage your creativity?
Crazy. I cram as much stuff as I can into my work days in the Honey House on Mondays,Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On those days I help customers, fill orders, bottle honey, wrap goods, order supplies, create marketing materials, work on social media and contact potential stockiest. We go to New York quite often in the winter months for the latter part of the week and that is where I charge my creative batteries. I experience at least a few hours of art per week: a museum show, a gallery show, or a Broadway show. Whatever the event, I find visual and performing art stimulating and thought-provoking. In the summer months I am mostly on the Eastern Shore and the wildlife, all of the outdoor activity and a very quiet peaceful studio keeps me creative, most of the time. On weekends I work on the creative side of the business often sketching out a new product concepts, or searching for artisans that may be a good fit, or doing product research.
It seems like there would be a unique set of challenges when dealing with bees. Can you walk us through the process of making honey?
Every time I visit the hives, I learn something new. I started with a couple of books, and I also took a class by the University of Maryland. I found a mentor at the class that I volunteer for periodically, and my mentor Dale Large works with me weekly. In our region, we install bees the first week of April into new hives or hives that contain comb built from the previous year that we’ve stored. The bees begin to forage when the weather is warm enough to create blossoms that need to be pollinated. Weather plays a big role in wax and honey production. Bees won’t leave the hive in temperatures below sixty degrees. In the hive the bees grow brood (family), build comb and store food. Food is pollen and nectar. The first month the focus is on building brood (family) and wax comb to store food. It takes at least two months for the bees to build a strong family and store enough honey to be harvested. I check on the bees every week from the third week of April through October. I check in about once a month from November through March, feeding as necessary. This past year my first harvest fell in the first week of July from a late April start. I didn’t harvest in Fall in the interest of leaving the bees enough food to get through winter. It wasn’t a great year for honey in our region. Most of us lost about half of our hives last year. Outside of the hive the bees travel from tree to flower etc., collecting nectar and transferring pollen from flower to flower. The act of mixing the pollen is called pollination. The wax is actually bee “sweat”. Wax is made from a wax producing gland in worker bees. The bees consume nectar and the sugar is converted to wax by the wax producing gland. They build comb from the wax that they collect from each other and store nectar in the wax comb cells. They fill the comb cells with nectar by transferring nectar into the cell and capping with wax. The beekeeper must allow the honey time to cure before harvesting.
What makes what you are doing different from other beekeepers?
We are farming for the bees. I have a wonderful support system at home and we have put a lot of energy into making the farm full of nectar rich plant material for the bees. It’s a process and each year we add more and more. I wrote about it here and then again here.
What activities, outside of encaustic painting and bee-keeping, inspire your creativity?
Travel. Art Shows. Museums. Farming. Cycling the Eastern Shore. Exercise. Volunteering and fundraising for my favorite non-profit VisionWorkshops.org.
Do you have any advice for creative entrepreneurs just starting out?
It takes a lot of resources (read: time and money) to get a project like this off the ground. Whatever you think it’s going to take, triple it so that you can manage (most of all) your expectations of yourself. Be clear with yourself why you are doing what you are doing and tell a few people you love– so that when everything feels impossible they will gently remind you why you are doing this. Do what you can afford to do. Be vigilant but pace yourself.
Where do you see yourself and Waxing Kara in 10 years.
Hopefully as having done something very good and worthwhile for bees, the environment and at-risk youth. Other than that, I haven’t thought that far ahead.