Because the nature of the medium is generally like a buttery paste when mixed with oils, the painting techniques need to be a bit different when laying down and manipulating the paint – more like impasto techniques to some degree. For the initial laying down of paint on the surface I liken it more to buttering a piece of toast, from a thin scraping of dairy butter to thick lashes of peanut butter! And there are many kinds of tools that can be useful to lay down the paint, from more traditional painting equipment such as brushes, to sometimes DIY or kitchen tools!
From what I can see, many artists using cold wax medium like to use a squeegee tool, which basically started out life as a kitchen bowl scraper or a bread dough tool (my pink one below). It can be used to apply, spread and blend thin layers of paint and I have seen some artists using one very skillfully to achieve some beautiful blended effects. I tried one myself but it just didn’t feel right in my hand; I felt clumsy with it and could not achieve the same beautiful effects comfortably. I found that I was moving the paint around too much on the surface regardless of how much pressure I applied. It was frustrating!
Other artists prefer to use palette knives. I have a number of different shaped ones and I like the feel and handle of the crank palette knife. I have a favourite palette knife that I use for mixing the paint and cold wax, and I may use a palette knife to lay down the initial, thicker layers of paint. It takes a bit of practice experimenting with the way you hold the knife, the angle of the knife to the support and the amount of pressure you use to achieve the effect you want, but the experimentation and the happy ‘accidents’ that happen are good fun in themselves!
I often use a flat sided palette knife to gently scrape away the most recent layer of paint in broad strokes. The technique with this will vary depending on how wet / dry / tacky the top layer of paint is and how much pressure you apply with the knife. Practice pieces of work allow you to explore the different results, but there is always that element of the spontaneous and unexpected. I use a pointed palette knife to scrape in small marks and details in the top layer of paint or even breaking through lower layers that haven’t fully hardened, or I will use the edge of a straight palette knife to create hard lines. Softer marks can be made with the tip of smaller rounded knives.
My favourite of all tools working with cold wax medium is the brush! I love to use Rosemary & Co’s Ivory range which is a synthetic brush with firm but flexible bristles, which they describe as having a nice ‘snap’, and which retain their shape reasonably well. Loaded with paint and manipulated a bit on the palette or paper towel the brushes make a ‘soft palette knife’ that I find gives me greater flexibility to manipulate the paint on the surface. I have a range of different sizes and shapes, preferring the long filberts, the long flat with curved edge and the angular. I use the larger sizes of long flat or filbert to lay down the initial layers of paint trying to keep to broad and minimal brush strokes at this stage, gradually moving to smaller brushes for blending and detail. I will share more of my brushwork techniques in future posts.
Many artists will use other equipment to create random, interesting marks and I should imagine that anything goes – certainly in the playful stage when I am just seeing what different things do and what I might want to incorporate into more serious pieces of work. I think it is a case of not being afraid to experiment and to see what works for you. In the early stages I nearly gave up with cold wax because the squeegee just isn’t the tool for me, but by experimenting further I was able to find my own process.