Oil and Wax: A Good Mix


“Horizon” 36×33, Oil with Cold Wax Medium by Melinda Cootsona, Seager/Gray Gallery, Mill Valley CA. 

Oil paint mediums have come a long way since they were first used in the 18th century to assist in drying time.  Today the oil painter is faced with many choices when it comes to mediums, and the following article, written by Jerry McLaughlin and Rebecca Crowell, explain about cold wax medium.

Cold wax medium is a paste-like material that artists combine with oil paints or dry pigments.  It is made from a mixture of beeswax and solvent.  Although the solvent is usually odorless mineral spirits, some formulations use turpentine or d-limonene (citrus solvent).  Commercial products contain either damar or alkyd resin to facilitate curing and hardening.  Cold wax medium is used at room temperature, and should not be confused with encaustic medium, which requires melting and fusing with heat.

All types of oil paints work well with CWM: traditional oils, water-solubles, and alkyds.  (CWM cannot be mixed with water-based paints like acrylics or gouache.)  A freeing aspect of CWM is that the ‘fat over lean’ rules of traditional oil painting can be ignored.  Paintings made with cold wax remain workable for several days to a week, but drying times are much faster than with other oil mediums.  Paintings made with CWM cure with a beautiful matte finish that requires no varnish or protective coating.

Though painting with wax has been around in various forms since about 1500 BCE, these solvent based mixtures of beeswax were almost unknown until the birth of the turpentine industry in the late 19th century.  It wasn’t until the early 20th century that they came into popular use.  American abstract painter Arthur Dove was probably the first well-known painter to work with modern-day CWM.

Artists who work with cold wax often use the words luminosity, translucency, impasto, texture, layers, and depth when they speak about what CWM brings to their work.  The versatility of CWM allows for thin translucent layers as well as thick impasto textures.  Dry pigments and other oil painting mediums (Galkyd, Liquin, etc.) can be added to change the color and handling of the medium.  Some artists use traditional brushes and palette knives while others work with less conventional tools like brayers or squeegees.  Because CWM can crack on flexible substrates like canvas, it is typically used on gessoed wood panels, Multimedia Artboard, or oil resistant papers.  Oil painting and acrylic paintings can both be used as underpaintings for cold wax works.

While CWM has recently gained popularity in abstract painting due to its ability to hold texture and its very workable surface, it has long been used in representational paintings as well.

NOAPS Ulinski_Still life with pushbroom vase and purple mug_32x28_2015  “Still Life with Push Broom, Purple Vase and Mug”, 32×28, Oil with Cold Wax Medium, by Anthony Ulinski, Private Collection.

Anthony Ulinski, a landscape and still life painter (as well as furniture maker) says, “I use cold wax because of its low solvent levels, the ease of clean-up, the beauty of the built-up layers, and the matte finish.  I like using a thick impasto of cold wax and oils.  I use a palette knife.  It keeps me from getting too fussy.”

NOAPS Ulinski_Depot in Rocky Mount_20x30_2012  “Depot in Rocky Mount”, 20×30, Oil with Cold Wax Medium, by Anthony Ulinski, Private Collection

Figurative painter Melinda Cootsona says, “I use cold wax to give a translucency to my work.  Adding cold wax to my paint allows me to increase the layering I can do with oil painting and adds a textural quality I can’t get without it.  It also speeds the drying time, an added benefit for me….Using cold wax has helped me explore texture more in my work.  Smooth areas sit next to more textural ones.  This can also create interesting juxtapositions of more abstract qualities next to more realistic qualities.”

Girls In White Dresses IV  “Girls in White Dresses IV”, 42×40, Oil with Cold Wax Medium, by Melinda Cootsona, Seager/Gray Gallery, Mill Valley, CA

Artists interested in cold wax medium now have a comprehensive resource available.  Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations (by Rebecca crowell and Jerry McLaughlin, Squeegee Press 2016) is a 320-page book covering everything artists need to know about cold wax medium.  In addition to technical information it contains the work of over 100 artists from around the world.  The link to the book is http://www.coldwaxbook.com.

Edited by Patricia Tribastone, NOAPS Blog Director.  NOAPS has no financial interest in promoting the book mentioned above.




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