Beeswax and Scientific Illustration

Bee Wax Scale

Bee Wax Scale

Modern scientific illustration flourished once techniques were developed to reproduce and disseminate the drawings. The early prints were made using wood blocks. Wood is limited by thickness of the lines required. Finer lines can be engraved into metal, but the process is time consuming and tedious. The invention of copper etching in the 15th century sped the process.

Glass or metal surfaces can be etched with acid. An acid resistant coating can be applied to a surface. Beeswax, that bees produce from scales on their abdomens, was adopted for this purpose. A pattern can be made by removing the beeswax with a stylus. The coated object is dipped in acid, the acid removes some of the metal from the exposed surface which is “etched”. This process leaves grooves in the metal that can be used to stamp ink patterns onto paper.

Beeswax could be mixed with other substances to produce a higher quality surface that could accommodate the finest lines. This process allowed scientific books to be illustrated with drawings that were much less ambiguous than verbal descriptions.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Art, Biomaterials, by jjneal. Bookmark the permalink.

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