What Is Cold Wax Medium?

2018-10-22T09:27:33-04:00By |8 Comments

By Randall Graham

Cold wax medium has been infusing my style with richness and energy. It has incorporated mark making and happy accidents into my work. Now I have a process-driven approach. One of the great things about working with cold wax medium is that it is easy to try and very forgiving. I urge you to give it a try, especially if you are in the middle of a creative block.

What is cold wax medium

Randall Graham, “Frozen Rain,” oil and cold wax medium on board, 24 x 24 in.

I love my studio, which is above the second floor of Gallery 222 in the charming and art-loving town of Malvern, Pennsylvania. Monthly exhibits at the gallery from realist painters, abstract encaustic artists, and even ceramicists have started to influence my style. I am classically trained and still love to nerd out on finely rendered painting, but I must admit that interesting textures from ceramics and encaustic works have been seducing me. This feeling has led me on a journey of experimenting with cold wax medium.

What is cold wax medium

Randall Graham, “Blue Umbrella,” oil and cold wax medium on board, 6 x 6 in.

What is cold wax medium?

Cold wax medium is a mixture of wax in a solvent; some brands have added resins in it. It is a semi-solid paste and requires no heat to apply or fuse layers. As a comparison, encaustic works use heat to melt and fuse wax. Many artists use cold wax medium and combine it with oil paint. It can also be combined with pigments or used on its own. One could mix it with fun stuff like charcoal, wood ashes, collage, fabric, and more. I have even shoved grass and dirt into my work when painting with it outdoors. Wax is really just a binder that holds pigment together and fuses it to a substrate. There are lots of artworks that incorporate wax, dating all the way back to the ancient Egyptians.

There are many different brands of cold wax medium. I use Gamblin, but there are also lots of recipes online to make your own. Note that cold wax medium tends to dry to a matte finish. You can add other mediums to the cold wax if you intend to have more of a gloss finish.

Many artists love using cold wax medium to create abstract paintings. I tend to use it a lot in landscape painting. Because living in “Andrew Wyeth country” has greatly influenced my work, I use cold wax medium in landscape paintings; I love how Wyeth thought about landscapes in an abstract way, and I tend to use cold wax in conjunction with that thought.

The medium lends itself quite well to a process-driven approach to painting. The wax has a great translucent quality that allows light to pass through to previous layers. A nice benefit to adding wax to paint is that it allows you to spread paint very quickly. This leads to a very rich feeling in the artwork. Directly applying layers, combined with digging into previous layers, lets one evoke a sense of history and mystery.

Are you ready to give it a try? (Keep scrolling to see a video on how to use cold wax in a painting!)

What is cold wax medium

Cold Wax Tools

Cold Wax Medium Techniques for Beginners:

1. Stock up on some tools and supplies.
• A hard substrate works best to paint on. A panel, gesso board, or a piece of wood is great.
• Get some cold wax medium. You can go to your local art store or order online.
• Go to a hardware store and kitchen store. Yes . . . cold wax medium is more fun with spatulas, brayers, cake bowl scrapers, pottery ribs, screwdrivers, forks, and squeegees. If you use brushes . . . use old ones with character.
• Pick some paint for your palette, grab some dry pigment or crushed up charcoal.
• Have some odorless mineral spirits handy.

2. Start with a sketch or underpainting.
• Come up with a fun composition to play with.
• Don’t use too much cold wax medium for your first layer. Think of the fat over lean principle. This underpainting will be something you can dig back into when you get more layers on top. Try putting some bold washes of color with high chroma down.
• Old paintings that you think are awful are great to play with as an underpainting. Turn those lemons into lemonade.
• Let it dry for a day or two.

3. Directly apply the next layer.
• Scoop some cold wax medium onto your palette.
• Mix 80% paint with 20% wax to make a color of your choice.
• Directly apply the new mix. Try different tools. Use a spatula . . . then a brayer . . . then a pottery rib. See what kinds of marks you can make.
• Remember you can add dry pigment or other fun things besides paint.
• Have fun and trust your intuition; fill in the entire canvas.
• Next try scraping to the underpainting with a knife, screwdriver, or a spatula. See if any surprising colors or marks show through.
• Let this layer dry for a day.

4. Solvent reduction: use odorless mineral spirit.
• Add some odorless mineral spirit onto the top layer. Don’t put it everywhere. Pick a section where you would want to let the underpainting show through.
• Let the mineral spirit sit for a few minutes or longer. Notice that it is dissolving the top layer. You can then scrape away the mineral spirits with a tool or a rag and see what happens.

5. Directly apply a thinner layer.
• Mix more wax into your pigment this time. Try 40% wax with 60% paint. This will seem more transparent.
• Put down this layer where you want. Try using a brayer to spread it out so it is a thin veil of color.
• Continue to add and subtract as much paint and wax as you like.

These steps are just a guideline to get you moving. Try experimenting with as many layers as you like. Don’t be afraid to destroy parts of the painting, because you can always build it back up. Be bold and see how it leads you.

Additional Oil and Cold Wax Art:

What is cold wax medium

Randall Graham, “Kuerner’s Barn,” oil and cold wax medium on board, 12 x 12 in.

What is cold wax medium

Randall Graham, “After Hoffman’s Slough,” oil and cold wax medium on board, 24 x 36 in.

What is cold wax medium

Randall Graham, “Summer Daze,” oil and cold wax medium on board, 6 x 6 in.

What is cold wax medium

Randall Graham, “Phillip’s Mill,” oil and cold wax medium on board, 11 x 14 in.

Connect with Randall Graham:

Website – www.randallgraham.com
Facebook – www.facebook.com/randall.graham
Instagram – @randallgraham
Gallery 222 – www.gallery222malvern.com

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  1. Avatar
    Naomi Segal Deitz October 22, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    A complete cold-wax neophyte here, so here go the questions: Is there any way to protect the surface of a painting that contains cold wax? How well does it adhere to layers beneath that are comprised completely of oil paint? How do subsequent layers of just paint adhere, or does the wax need to be used in top layers only? Obviously the wax would repel varnish, but since it never dries completely firm, it would seem that such a painting would be somewhat fragile. Also, how does the introduction of cold wax affect the drying times of the paint it’s mixed with? Do they never completely dry either?

    • Avatar
      Randall Graham October 23, 2018 at 10:32 am

      Hi Naomi,

      All good questions. The cold wax is very durable when dry. There is no real need to protect it with a varnish. Some artists actually use cold wax as a protective varnish.

      Subsequent layers of paint adhere very well. You can basically paint on top of the wax while it is wet or when it is completely dry with out any issues. Layering is one of the great uses of cold wax.

      The wax does dry to a matte finish. I don’t actually mind the look of it at all. But if you wanted more gloss you could add different mediums in to the wax or on top to add some shine.

      Cold wax paintings are not fragile at all. They are really quite durable. Different brands of cold wax have different properties…but generally the wax would not soften or “melt” until it is at 200 degrees. In which case you probably have bigger problems then your painting being in trouble.

      I find the drying time is very similar to the drying time of oil paint alone. Most of the time I use 70% paint and 30% wax. I find it dry to touch in a few days or a week. If you use more wax …say 50%…it will take slightly longer to dry.

      Basically, oil paintings or cold wax paintings never “dry” in the sense that the chemical reactions are always changing. Generally speaking…the cold wax will completely dry to touch just as any painting would.

      I hope that helps. Please feel free to ask anything else. Or you can email me if that is easier.

  2. Avatar
    C-Marie October 22, 2018 at 3:40 pm

    Your copies of Wyeth are nice!! God bless, C-Marie

  3. Randall Graham – Site Title October 25, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    […] textural approach made possible by combining oil paint with cold wax medium. There is an article on Artists on Art and a short video on YouTube that go into his […]

  4. Avatar
    Rick Lewis October 25, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    Can you use this with water soluble oils like Cobra?

    • Avatar
      Randall Graham October 29, 2018 at 7:29 am

      I don’t see why not. Since you can mix linseed oil or others mediums into the water based oils…I would assume cold wax is the same sort of combo.

  5. Randall Graham – Connect to Everyone! November 2, 2018 at 10:58 pm

    […] strategy made doable by combining oil paint with chilly wax medium. There may be an article on Artists on Artwork and a brief video on YouTube that go into his course […]

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