COLD WAX

WHAT IS COLD WAX PAINTING?

Written by Leonie.e.Brown Artist
The rhythmic scrape of a palette knife across canvas was the only sound in Leonie's studio that morning...

My Story of Cold Wax

The rhythmic scrape of a palette knife across canvas was the only sound in Leonie’s studio that morning. She dipped into the buttery mixture of oil paint and cold wax, savouring the way the thick, velvety pigments clung to the metal blade. With each stroke, she sculpted colour, watching ridges and valleys emerge across the surface like eroded canyons.

Cold wax was an artist’s form of alchemy, transforming the very nature of paint from glossy and slick to something richer, thicker, and more substantial. Unlike the molten wax used for encaustics, there was no need for heat or special ventilation. Just oil pigments bound by the creamy, opaque paste. It reminded Leonie of finger-painting as a child, digging into that soft, yielding medium with unabashed joy.

As she worked the wax into the oils, Leonie found herself mesmerised by the textures blooming beneath her tools—the buttery striations left by a squeegee, the whorls carved by the tapered tip of a palette knife, the velvety washes achieved by simply dragging her fingertips through the viscous paint. Each new layer seemed to hold memories of the one before it, with colours peeking through like ghosts from a previous life.

It was art stripped bare, tactile, and raw, built up through the physicality of materials rather than delicate glazes or hidden brushstrokes. There were no rules, no constraints—just the marriage of wax and pigment, a canvas to sculpt as her artist’s heart desired. With a smile, Leonie wondered what stories might emerge from this newest, most sensuous seduction of paint.

Cold Wax Magic on Glass

I reach for the cold wax paste, a translucent genie trapped in a jar, its power to alter both texture and transparency a constant intrigue.

The ritual begins. With a palette knife, I scoop a dollop of wax, its consistency like cool, creamy butter. The ratios are a constant negotiation – a whisper of wax for a luminous glaze, a hefty dollop for an opaque veil. Each decision holds the potential to reveal or conceal, a dance between light and shadow on the canvas.

The application itself is a glorious mess. Forget dainty brushes; here, a menagerie of tools waltzes across the glass. Palette knives morph into sculpting instruments, credit cards become makeshift spreaders, and even a stray fork might find its way into the fray. The paint, infused with wax, moves with a life of its own, smooth and buttery, begging to be layered and manipulated.

Sometimes, I roll the concoction onto wax paper first, creating a temporary skin of colour. This vibrant sheet then becomes a transfer medium, pressed and blotted onto the canvas, leaving behind a textural imprint. The possibilities are endless – oil sticks add a burst of vibrancy, charcoal whispers a smoky secret, and even my own fingers become instruments of creation.

But cold wax holds a final surprise. A day later, a scalpel can become a sculptor’s tool, scraping away at the waxy surface. Layers are revealed, hidden colours peek through, and a whole new dimension of texture erupts. It’s a constant conversation, this dance between paint and wax, a beautiful tension that never fails to ignite my creative spark.

Cold Wax Characteristics

Origins:
The use of wax mediums in art can be traced back thousands of years to cave paintings, where animal fat was combined with dry earth pigments like red ochre and charcoal to create wall paintings.
The painter J.M.W. Turner was known to use beeswax in his large oil landscape paintings.

What is Cold Wax Painting?
Cold Wax Painting is any style of painting that incorporates significant amounts of cold wax medium mixed into the oil colours.
It blurs the line between traditional oil painting and encaustic (heated wax) painting.
The artist mixes a wax paste medium into the oil paint, creating a thickened, textured body of paint to work with.

Characteristics:
– Adding a small amount of cold wax makes the paint have a matte, non-glossy finish, but is still conventional oil painting.
– Using a substantial quantity of cold wax medium is what defines a piece as “Cold Wax Painting.”
– Cold wax painters tend to work in an experimental, process-based manner due to the malleable nature of the medium.

Process:
– Unlike encaustic, which requires heating the wax, the cold wax medium is made from wax combined with solvent (and sometimes resin or oil) to keep it in a creamy, workable consistency.
The creamy wax paste can be mixed directly into oil paints and pigment powders without any heating required.

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