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What is Cold Wax Medium?

Cold wax medium, or CWM, is an oil painting medium. It is composed mainly of beeswax, with a small amount of solvent to soften it and other ingredients to aid in drying time. It has a soft, paste-like consistency at room temperature and dries to a matte surface. Unlike encaustic processes, it requires no heat to use it. Many luminous and unique effects are possible using CWM.

Why use CWM?

It extends and adds body to oil paint, aids in drying time, increases transparency and workability, does not require special set-up or ventilation, and allows artists to build up textural effects and layers. Using CWM also allows the oil painter to dispense with concerns about traditional fat-over-lean rules for building up paint layers. 

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What are some basic techniques for using CWM?

CWM is typically mixed about 50:50 with oil paint, though the ratio can vary according to desired effects. Simply create the wax/oil mixture on your palette for each color, and apply to a rigid surface or to a type of paper suited to oils. CWM may be used for traditional brush painting, but due to the thickness it adds to oils, many artists prefer to use palette knives, brayers, and squeegees to push, pull, and roll the paint. This thickness also means that the paint surface will hold textures applied by pressing, scratching, scraping, etc. with various tools. A semi-dry, tacky surface is receptive to mark-making and transfer techniques. Solvents can be used to selectively remove paint layers or to disperse powdered pigments on the surface.

Which art materials can be used with CWM?

CWM is compatible with oil based paints, pigment sticks, powdered pigments, powdered charcoal and graphite, and chalk pastels. Particulates like sand and marble dust can also be added to CWM. It is not suitable for mixing with water-based media such as acrylic.

Is it possible to use collage in a CWM painting?

Lightweight collage materials such as rice paper and silk can be incorporated into cold wax paintings; heavier materials or objects would need to be affixed to the substrate by other means.

Do I need to use solvents with CWM?

CWM itself contains some solvent. But the amount of solvent used in painting techniques, or in cleaning tools etc. is up to you. Cleaning is possible with baby oil or vegetable oil rather than solvent. If solvents are used in painting techniques, a good brand of odorless mineral spirits is recommended for ordinary use. For occasional stronger solvent needs, try a citrus-based solvent. 

What safety concerns should I be aware of?

Working with CWM can be done in any studio set-up with ventilation adequate for oil painting. Use caution and follow safety procedures when working with solvents and powdered pigments--but these materials are optional in the process.

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What is the drying time?

Drying time for any particular mixture of CWM and oil depends on many variables, including the thickness of application, the color or type of paint used, the temperature and humidity in the air, and the type of support used. Thinner layers dry quickly. They may set up and become tacky to the touch in a few hours. Remember that your painting will dry from the outside in, so allowing thinner layers to dry a bit before adding more on top is a good idea. In general, a painting built up in layers would be dry to the touch within a few days to a week of finishing. Complete curing takes weeks or months.

 

 

What options are there for purchasing and/or making CWM?

CWM can be made by the artist, or there are a number of brands available for purchase.

Gamblin and Dorlands are the most common. An advantage to Gamblin CWM is that there is a variety of other mediums made by the same company that can be added for faster drying time, glossier surface, or different consistency.

What steps are necessary to protect a finished painting done with CWM?

In a word, none. Varnishing, buffing and other procedures are optional but may be used to bring a more glossy surface to the work.

Is it necessary to keep a CWM painting away from heat?

Once thoroughly dry, a painting done with CWM is treated just like any other oil painting—it’s wise to avoid extremes of heat, cold, or damp, but no special steps are needed.

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Is CWM a new product?

Not at all—some form of cold wax medium was probably used in ancient times along with the earliest known use of encaustic or heated wax. Beeswax as an additive to paint was known as early as the 1st century BCE. It is difficult to research the use of CWM in more modern times since many artists have used it for years without making any special note of it in describing their work—it is simply a medium added to their paint. However, ‘modern’ CWM made with solvent was developed alongside the turpentine industry in the late 19th century.

The current interest in CWM may be related to the surge of interest in encaustic painting notable in the past decade. Many artists are interested in both processes. Using CWM for abstract painting is the focus for many contemporary, process-oriented painters, but it can be used in any painting approach.

Besides oil painting, are there other uses for CWM?

It may be used as a final coat for works on paper including watercolors, acrylics, and photos; as a finish on clay, plaster, fabric, or wood works; and has some uses in printmaking. It is a highly versatile medium that opens up a wide range of experimental approaches.