My Basic Process with Cold Wax Medium

Here I describe my basic processes using cold wax medium, and a little bit about the set up in my studio.

My ‘studio’ is a medium sized bedroom at the back of the house which, unfortunately is north-west facing so the light, at times, can get a bit too bright to work in there in the afternoons and early evening. However, a large window gives me excellent light in the morning and on cloudy days, and it overlooks my garden which is a bonus!

Beneath the window I have a large bench which is a great space to spread out my equipment to have handy. Sometimes I will work at the work bench sat down in front of the window, but more often than not I am standing at an easel which is at 90 degrees to the work bench giving me lots of space to move about and still have all my equipment to hand.

You may be able to see from some of these photos that I use a large, double glazed window, that I rescued from a skip, as a palette and I find it a great surface for mixing the paints and mediums, and for cleaning up afterwards!

I currently use Gamblin’s cold wax medium, which I find to be a lovely, soft, buttery texture, and although it seemed a bit pricey at first, I have discovered that a little goes a long way!

Next to my palette I store my water mixable oils, cap down, in three plastic buckets, organised be degree of transparency. This helps to remind me to think about the transparency and opacity, and the effect when mixed with cold wax, when I am reaching for a colour. I store the tubes cap down as this seems to prevent the oil separating in the tube – a tip suggested by a fellow artist when I was researching using oil paints.

When I am ready to start painting I lay out the base colours I want to use and then lay out a similar amount of cold wax medium to mix with each pile of paint. Generally, it is advised to work with a ratio of 50:50 paint to medium when working on a rigid surface such as board or paper. Some artists will vary the ratio, modifying it to 70:30 if working on canvas as too much cold wax could cause the paint surface to crack on the flexible surface.

Once I have the basic colours all mixed well with the cold wax, I then start to mix the different colours that I require, sometimes mixing the colour thoroughly and sometimes very loosely so that there is an element of random colour mixing on the surface of the painting producing some delicious effects!

At the early stage following mixing with cold wax the paint remains nice and buttery, with variable increase in transparency of colour. If I leave these piles of paint on the palette for several hours or so, the mixes start to stiffen up a little to a more cold butter / putty like consistency which can sometimes be useful in building texture or where you don’t want the paint to slide too much on the surface. Similarly once the paint is applied to the surface I might leave it for half an hour or so to change to a more tacky phase before I start using a soft brush to blend – the degree of blending being dependant on the different levels of mobility of the paint. I will share some more details of these techniques in another post.

If I don’t want too much thickness generally, or if I want a much more liquid consistency for painting line or detail, I use Galkyd medium. A very small amount of Galkyd added to the paint and cold wax mix produces a nice flow for brush work. Left on the palatte it tends to make the paint more viscous and sticky so often I pour a small puddle of Galkyd at the side of my palette and just mix a tiny amount with the paint as I need it.

More often than not, I paint stood at the easel as this position is excellent for the spine, and metabolism, and movement in general. I have the easel slightly angled as shown below so that it is a better position for my wrists for applying the paint. Painting with cold wax medium requires a slightly different technique than just using oil paint alone. Again I will share more of my techniques in other posts but basically it is like spreading butter on a slice of toast! It is more about using the brush at an angle to layer the paint on the surface. Many artists working with cold wax use other tools such as the palette knife but I still prefer my favourite brushes!

Sometimes I do paint small pieces on the workbench as shown below, particularly in the later stages when I am working on some of the final detail – or when I just want to sit down and enjoy the garden at the same time! Many artists like to work with their paint surface flat on the table and I guess I would too if I was using a roller for example but these positions work for me in protecting my physical health at a time when I get ‘lost’ in what I am doing!

Cleaning my brushes and palette couldn’t be easier with cold wax medium! I use a baby oil which smells lovely. I decant a small amount of baby oil into two jars – a ‘dirty’ jar and a ‘clean’ one. The dirty jar lasts a long time and is the one I use to swish my brushes through regularly during the painting process to help clean excess paint of the brush, wiping the brush on paper towels afterwards. The ‘clean’ jar is reserved for the final dip of a brush to ensure that all the paint has been removed and the brush is nice and clean at the end of a painting session. Looking after my brushes this way means they last for many months.

Eventually the ‘clean’ jar becomes the ‘dirty’ one, and the old dirty baby oil is dispensed into a bin for incineration. As well as the brushes and other tools, I use a little baby oil to give a final clean to the palette once I have scraped off any remaining paint or medium, again using paper towels to ‘scrub’ the palette clean and wipe up all the dirty baby oil. Some artists suggest using soap and water to clean off any residue but I haven’t found this an issue so far. Maybe it is the glass that is helping there?

Sometimes I might leave significant piles of paint on the palette at the end of a painting session, covered with cling film for a day or so, but the longer mixed paint is left on the palette the more thick and tacky it becomes, requiring the addition of Galkyd to thin it again. Sometimes the tackiness can be taken advantage of in a new painting for initial layers of texture but sometimes I find it makes the painted surface too ‘bitty’ for me if used too much. All part of the experimenting!

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