Michelle Russi’s Laughing Candles

By Trina Calderón

Encouraging you to turn on your lovelight with custom handmade beeswax candles, California artist Michelle Russi got into candle making because she connected to the creative process. “I first got into candles in about ‘90. I was inspired by Camp Joy, which is this really amazing farm up in Boulder Creek, in the mountains of Santa Cruz. My friend was doing an internship there. They had beeswax, made candles, and grew a bunch of flowers,” Michelle remembered. Her friend Jim Nelson showed her how to make a jig, the handmade tool that allows her to dip 6 pairs of candles at a time and turned her on to the beauty and magic of beeswax. 

Beeswax is a wax collected in the honeybee hive, made from the secretion of a gland in the abdomen of a worker bee. Workers chew these pieces of wax until they become soft and moldable and apply the chewed wax to the honeycomb construction. Usually, the beekeeper smokes out the bees inside a hive and leaves enough behind for a foundation for the future. Beeswax has many different uses, including for medicine and candle making, especially since it has a high melting point.

“I was basically just trying to get back to being connected with the Earth and the beeswax candles were groovy and fun to make, and people tripped out on how much they loved them. I was putting pressed flowers in them and it kind of exploded over time,” she described. Michelle likes to work with weed leaves, larkspur, chrysanthemum (daisy like), snapdragons, cosmos, pansies, wildflowers, montebridia, Queen Anne’s lace, lobelia, roses and their leaves, and ferns. She loves the experience of having her own flow, all the way from growing the organic flowers which makes her a gardener, pressing flowers and designing the candle art, to shipping out everything which allows her to nurture relationships with people who receive her craftswomanship.

A symbol and tool of illumination, candles support and represent purification and cleansing. The flame can stimulate your emotions and memory and provide light on a dark and stormy night after the power goes out. Michelle was pregnant with her son Janga when she began candle making and brought a rooted intention with his energy to the candles, she handmade. “When Janga was about two, he came out back and sweetly told me ‘Mommy, you’re making laughing candles.’ And so we were named,” Michelle shared. Her Laughing Candles business sells beeswax floral tapers, floral pillars, and floral spheres, as well as plain beeswax tapers and pillars of many sizes. Using molds, she makes rose votives, mushrooms, hearts, eastern deities, and animals like the wolf, terrapin and sea turtle, and skulls.

Muses play a part in the energy Michelle brings to her delicate and colorful candles. “The Grateful Dead opened my mind and heart. It blew me wide open when I was 19 in ’87, GD and Dylan at the Oakland Coliseum,” Michelle shared. Inspired by all genres of music and art, dancing, and excited by talented and unique people in her own life, there is a special deadication living in every candle she makes. Utilizing the saturated natural color variation of the beeswax and the graceful flowers as an ornate accent, she nails pleasurable aesthetic combinations with impressive candle making technique. Gorgeous pieces of art, it’s enough to make you want to not burn the candle.

“I studied art history in Rome for a year which was amazing, but I did miss a year of Grateful Dead for it when I was first getting turned onto the scene. But it was cool because I got to explore the world with fresh and turned-on eyes when I was there,” she described. Influenced by ancient art and the amazing deep psychedeligant (she coined that term) art on the lot or in the Dead Head world, Michelle’s stylish approach creates magical and clean-burning candles. “I love that I can dance while I make candles. I love that they end up at births and deaths, rituals, ceremonies, and vigils, and providing light on peoples alters in different countries. All different sorts of people end up with these candles in their homes and using them quite often with a specific intention or a prayer and knowing that is incredibly humbling,” Michelle shared.

A perk of the job, she can burn a lot of candles in her own home, but what she really loves is having something to trade with people. At festivals or just in life, Michelle is into being able to trade. “Feels aligned with my soul politics,” she remarked and continued, “Whenever I’m selling candles or even other stuff — over the years, I have sold on the lot everything from stickers to food to beadwork to clothes I’ve made to paintings. When you have something to trade it really opens a door for people. It seems like it also gives your work a different deeper meaning. Maybe because instead of getting money, which is fine, you exchange some gift that was important or special or touched by someone or reflects their craft something of a different sort of value.”

Michelle and her Laughing Candles will be Skull and Roses. 

Let it shine, let it shine!