An Introduction to Cold Wax Medium and Oils
So, what is Cold Wax Medium?
Cold Wax Medium, or CWM, is a medium used with oil paints.
CWM is composed mainly of beeswax, with a small amount of solvent to soften it and other ingredients to aid in drying time. You can make your own CWM if you use a lot of it … for example check out Sally Hirst's artical 'technique-making-your-own-cold-wax-medium'
CWM has a soft, paste-like consistency at room temperature and dries to a matte surface. You can also varnish your dry painting using matte, satin or gloss varnish ... for example check out Gamblincolours.com
Unlike encaustic processes, it requires no heat to use it. Encaustic painting is also known as Hot Wax Painting and involves using heated beeswax to which coloured pigments are added. The coloured liquid or paste is then applied to a surface—usually prepared wood.
Many luminous and unique effects are possible using CWM.
So, why use CWM?
It extends and adds body to oil paint … it bulks up your paint
It aids in shortening the drying time … among many other factors, depending on how much CWM you mix with your oils the drying time can be say 3 times quicker than oils alone [see further information below]
It increases transparency and workability of oil paint
It does not require special set-up or ventilation … CWM is odourless however, you should use latex gloves as the solvents could possibly interact with your skin … it is difficult to get CWM and paint from under nails once it dries
It allows artists to build up textural effects and layers or you can do a painting a la prima without layers
Using CWM also allows you to dispense with concerns about traditional fat-over-lean rules for building up paint layers
You can paint faster than with brushes or palette knives, etc.
What are some basic techniques for using CWM?
CWM is typically mixed about 50:50 with oil paint, though the ratio can vary according to desired effects.
Simply create the wax/oil mixture on your palette for each colour, and apply to a rigid surface or to a type of paper suited to oils.
CWM may be used for traditional brush painting, but due to the thickness it adds to oils, many artists prefer to use palette knives, brayers (known as rubber print rollers), and squeegees to push, pull, and roll the paint.
The thickness from CWM means that the paint surface will hold textures applied by pressing, scratching, scraping, etc. with various tools.
A semi-dry, tacky surface is receptive to mark-making and transfer techniques.
Solvents can be used to selectively remove paint layers or to disperse powdered pigments on the surface (for example you can sandwich crushed pastels between two CWM layers).
Which art materials can be used with CWM?
CWM is compatible with oil based paints, pigment sticks, powdered pigments, powdered charcoal and graphite, and chalk pastels.
Sand particles and marble dust can also be added to CWM.
It is not suitable for mixing with water-based media such as acrylic. [I understand it can be used with Artisan Water Based Oil Paints but I have never tried this out].
Is it possible to use collage in a CWM painting?
Lightweight collage materials such as rice paper and silk can be incorporated into cold wax paintings
Heavier materials or objects would need to be affixed to the substrate/surface by other means.
Do I need to use solvents with CWM?
CWM itself contains some solvent. But the amount of solvent used in painting techniques, or in cleaning tools etc. is up to you.
Cleaning is possible with baby oil or vegetable oil rather than solvent.
If solvents are used in painting techniques, a good brand of odourless mineral spirits is recommended for ordinary use. For occasional stronger solvent needs for example Gamsol by Gamblin or you can try a citrus-based solvent.
What safety concerns should I be aware of?
Working with CWM can be done in any studio set-up with ventilation adequate for oil painting.
Use caution and follow safety procedures when working with solvents and powdered pigments however, these materials are optional in the process.
What is the drying time?
Drying time for any particular mixture of CWM and oil depends on many variables including
~ the thickness of application
~ the colour or type of paint used
~ the temperature and humidity in the air
~ the type of support used.
Thinner layers dry quickly. They may set up and become tacky to the touch in a few hours.
Remember that your painting will dry from the outside in, so allowing thinner layers to dry a bit before adding more on top is a good idea.
In general, a painting built up in layers would be dry to the touch within a few days to a week of finishing.
Complete curing takes weeks or months.
What options are there for purchasing and/or making CWM?
CWM can be made by the artist, or there are a number of brands available for purchase.
Gamblin and Dorlands are the most common. Jackson’s stock five makes of cold wax mediums. Each has differing amounts of creaminess, shine, odour and drying times. Each recommends different maximum amounts of wax medium added to your oil paint. Be careful to read more on each product page.
~ Zest-it Cold Wax Painting Medium – available in four sizes
~ Gamblin Cold Wax Medium – available in two sizes
~ Dorland’s Wax Medium – available in three sizes
~ Michael Harding Beeswax Paste – available in three sizes
~ Wallace Seymour Beeswax Impasto Medium – available in two sizes
An advantage to Gamblin CWM is that there is a variety of other mediums made by the same company that can be added for faster drying time, glossier surface, or different consistency.
What steps are necessary to protect a finished painting done with CWM?
In a word, none.
Varnishing, buffing with CWM and other procedures are optional but may be used to bring a more glossy surface to the work.
Is it necessary to keep a CWM painting away from heat?
Once thoroughly dry, a painting done with CWM is treated just like any other oil painting.
It’s wise to avoid extremes of heat, cold, or damp, but no special steps are needed.
Is CWM a new product?
Not at all. Some form of cold wax medium was probably used in ancient times along with the earliest known use of encaustic or heated wax.
Beeswax as an additive to paint was known as early as the 1st century.
It is difficult to research the use of CWM in more modern times since many artists have used it for years without making any special note of it in describing their work—it is simply a medium added to their paint. However, ‘modern’ CWM made with solvent was developed alongside the turpentine industry in the late 19th century.
The current interest in CWM may be related to the surge of interest in encaustic painting notable in the past decade.
Many artists are interested in both processes. Using CWM for abstract painting is the focus for many contemporary, process-oriented painters, but it can be used in any painting approach.
Besides oil painting, are there other uses for CWM?
It may be used as a final coat for works on paper including watercolours, acrylics, oils, and photos
It may be used as a finish on clay, plaster, fabric, or wood works; and has some uses in printmaking.
It is a highly versatile medium that opens up a wide range of experimental approaches.
What basic tools do I need and where do I get them?
As with all art, quality tools that are just right for your way of painting are essential for beautiful results.
Check out the internet including https://www.squeegeepress.com/tools . Squeegee Press have tools to meet the specific needs of artists using CWM. They have custom-designed and exclusive line of brayers and squeegees.
Do your own research and maybe place an order in bulk to see if you can get a discount.
A Brayer – useful, nut not an essential tool
Squeegees – basically metal covered by silicone – these are essential tools, especially in different sizes for different effects
What surface can you use CWM and Oils on?
Oil paper taped to a board for practising
Cradled wooden panels (a wooden panel with a frame to prevent warping)
Note: You need to apply a few layers of gesso to bare wooden panels to prevent the resin in the wood seeping into your painting over time
Some suppliers of slim, standard and deep panels include: The Art Material Company; Evans Art Supplies; Jackson’s (they have a great range and come pre-gessoed)
Canvas but a cautionary note applies, the CWM to Oil ratio must not be more than say 20 CWM : 80 Oil. This is to avoid the dried painting from cracking as canvas can stretch.
Wooden panels, preferably cradled, are recommended.
Is cleaning up easy?
Yes, cleaning is easy like a palette knife painting day
You must use latex gloves
You mix all unused CWM and paint together and spread it onto a spare panel for your next CWM painting – your first layer is done!
You use lots of rags during the process
You clean your tools with baby wipes and a bit of baby oil
You dispose of everything in a disposable bag
So, Where To / What Next?
Enjoy and participate in today’s introduction … the workshop is informal and intended to be fun with some learning
Research, buy a small amount of tools and materials and experiment
Some useful initial sites
~ https://www.squeegeepress.com/ … this is a fab reference site
Don’t forget to YouTube demonstrations
If sufficient interest existed, a minimum of 5 people, Catherine will design and put a series of workshops together in Balgriffin Hall:
~ To be meaningful and to learn the basics of CWM and Oil Painting, one would need to attend a minimum of four one-day workshops spread out over say 4 to 6 weeks
~ You would learn from each other trying out your own abstract / semi-abstract compositions
~ Experimenting at home between workshops is essential … the results you get will be totally unique and original to each person
If you are interested in Catherine designing a series of workshops that you will attend please contact Catherine directly
The source for the majority of this information is squeegeepress.