Transitioning to Cold Wax Medium

Having used and liked water mixable oils for a few years I was steadily developing my style and process, working mainly on canvas and building on a variety of techniques. As much as I liked  working in oils there was one issue that I had a bit of a problem with and that was the amount of time necessary for drying the different layers of oil, and having to leave the paintings for at least 6 months before finishing off with varnish and then finally framing. My walls were getting very full!

Yorkshire artist Jo Sykes

I had attended an introductory course on using cold wax medium with Paula Dunn a couple of years ago – it was a great course which gave me a lot to think about but at the time I wasn’t sure if I would take it any further. However, since then, as I wanted to develop a looser approach to my painting and, remembering a few things I experimented with on Paula’s course, I decided to return to cold wax medium to explore it further.

So, what is cold wax medium? Cold wax medium is a mixture of beeswax and solvent and, in some products, a little bit of resin , combined to produce a soft, buttery paste. I have started using Gamblin’s product which I find is nice and soft, very workable straight from the tin, but if left out on the palette for a while, mixed with paint, it becomes thicker and more putty like, providing a range of textures to work with. I believe that different makes vary in consistency so it will be worth trying out others some time or even making my own.

Yorkshire artist Jo Sykes

Cold wax medium works well with both traditional oils and water mixable oils, oil sticks, oil pastels, charcoal as well as being used to ‘capture’ pigment powders and collage pieces. It should not be used mixed with water based media such as acrylics or watercolours, but can be applied on top of dried painted areas using these media as a ground or initial layer.

Yorkshire artist Jo Sykes
Detail showing different textures achieved

Working with the different textures offered by cold wax medium I have found ways to produce more painterly brush strokes, loose intuitive marks, and lovely areas of soft blending. There are also delightful moments of playing hide and seek with previous layers of paint, and paint mixed cold wax – more so than with just using oils on their own. I am starting to experiment more with smudging charcoal and using different materials such as collage and pigment powders to add elements of surprise and variety, as well as rethinking my processes in using the increased transparency of some colours and using impasto type techniques. I will share some of these discoveries in future posts!

The cold wax medium dries or ‘cures’ by the solvent evaporating and the medium hardening, so the beauty of using with oils is that the drying time is much, much shorter than when using traditional or water mixable oils alone. On first using cold wax I was surprised how durable the finished dry painting was.

Yorkshire artist Jo Sykes
Across The Estuary – oil and cold wax on heavy watercolour paper

In addition, you don’t need to observe the traditional fat over lean rules of using oils making the process much easier. Other advantages that I am exploring with using cold wax medium is making the most of the resulting matte finish it produces, and how the medium, on its own, can be used as a final coat buffed with a soft cloth to a subtle sheen. The finished painting can also be varnished once dry if a more glossy finish is desired. There seem to be endless opportunities and it feels like that one medium alone has suddenly expanded my playing field enormously. I am really looking forward to exploring it more!

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