Choosing Oil and Cold Wax Medium

Choices, choices, so many choices. Searching for a medium that is a good fit is like looking at a buffet table. Do you go for the favorites or try something new? Deciding is easier if you really think about the things that interest and stimulate you, as well as what is involved in using a particular medium. This includes material expenses, space requirements, toxicity, etc. Thinking through all of this is what led me to oil and cold wax medium.

Researching New Mediums

I like using traditional mediums but in an untraditional manner. Textures, mixing patterns and layering are a must. A couple of years ago, I was looking for an approach and medium that would bring all those interests together and let me experiment at the same time. One possibility was encaustic, an ancient process which layers hot wax with other mediums such as oil pastels, crayon, collage materials, found objects, etc. I like the depth and luminosity inherent in the medium, as well as the wide variety of materials one can use with it. However, encaustic requires some equipment and setup needs that I wasn’t prepared for at the time. After a bit more reading, I came across cold wax medium (CWM) and found a workshop at the Art Center Sarasota led by Elena De La Ville.

Using Cold Wax Medium

CWM is a translucent wax with a consistency similar to solid vegetable oil. When mixed with oil paint, it acts as a drying agent and makes the paint translucent (up to a 1:1 ratio). If you have worked with oils, you know how long it can take for layers to dry. A completed painting can take up to a year to do so, sometimes longer. Mixing CWM with the oils allows me to layer thin coats over another within 15 minutes to a half hour of each other. I can often finish a small painting in a day and expect it to completely dry in about 3 weeks.

Layering Techniques

Once a layer has set up a bit, I roll a brayer over the surface to press the surface, then apply a thin layer of CWM over that and then bray it, and so forth. As layers are built, I might imprint a textural pattern, stencil or draw into it with the end of a tool. I use a credit card or utility knife blade to scrape back and reveal other color layers below.

By the next day, the piece is dry enough for more aggressive scraping or layering. Thin collage materials, such as tissue paper or newsprint, can be added at any time. Although thicker, heavier papers or textured elements will not stick successfully. They must be attached in other ways (something that must be thought about in advance). The mixture of oil and CWM allows for very subtle and delicate renderings as well as highly textured styles.

Sealing and Final Processing

Once I have completed the painting, I let it dry for a week before adding a protective coating. Instead of varnish, I apply several layers of CWM, allowing each to dry overnight. Then, I run a brayer over the piece. Finally, I burnish it with a clean, soft, lintless cloth, as if shining a shoe. I apply at least three layers and up to five if I want to create a smooth surface on a textured painting. The textures are visible, but the wax layers give it depth and luminosity with a lovely soft sheen.

Lynn Foskett Pierson, PCF Artist in Residence.
Lynn Foskett Pierson

Lynn Foskett was born in South Florida in 1949. She grew up and attended schools all over the U.S. and abroad. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting from Northern Illinois University. Since moving back to Florida, Pierson has been active in the Tampa Bay arts community. She currently serves as the Artist in Residence for Pinellas Community Foundation.