Alexander Wald works as a plumber in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, but in his spare time he likes to exercise his artistic talents by painting with unusual mediums like ground coffee and sand.
Painting with coffee is not exactly unheard of. Artists like Karen Eland and Steven Mikel have been doing it for years, and even coffee beans have been used as an artistic material in an impressive mosaic by Saimir Strati. But until I came across Alexander Wald’s works, I had never heard of anyone using ground coffee. The Ukrainian amateur artist makes a living working as a plumber at the Lviv Circus, but most of his free time is spent creating unique works of art from dried coffee residue and sand. He drinks 2-3 cups of coffee a day, and instead of throwing away the coffee grounds on the bottom of his cup, he dries them and uses them as an art medium. His colleagues pitch in as well, otherwise Alexander would actually have to buy fresh ground coffee. This way, he enjoys his morning cups of java and has plenty of free material to work with. The self-taught artist says any kind of coffee will do, except for instant coffee, which doesn’t produce any leftover grounds.
Alexander starts the artistic process by drawing an outline of his artwork on the canvas, and then visualizing where the grains of coffee and sand should be added. For darker tones he uses ground coffee, and for lighter ones fine sand is added. It’s a really painstaking process, and it often takes the Ukrainian artist several weeks to finish a single piece. Although he has a few large-scale works, most of his creations are just a few centimeters in size, so to get the placement of the materials just right, he uses a jeweler’s monocle. He covers the canvas in paint glue, to make sure the coffee and sand grains are fixed in place, and when the work is completed, he adds a layer of varnish.
Most of Wald’s customers ask for portraits and religious icons, for which he charges around 100 hryvna ($12). He could probably sell them for a lot more, but he gives many of the paintings away for free anyway, and the little money he makes on commissions usually go to buying supplies for his art. Alexander Wald says he has made over 500 coffee and sand paintings so far, some of which have been exhibited in galleries abroad.