Cold wax and oil

Cold wax medium is a soft paste made from beeswax and solvent which can be used to mix with oil paint instead of oil and turpentine, making it virtually odor free (if you use an odorless solvent like Gamblin Gamsol) and aids in drying the oil paint faster. Both are reasons why I haven’t been using oil paints for 25 years, smell and storage issues.

I’m also experimenting with leaching out some of the oil from the paint as well as blending in powdered pigments to compare the finished look and durability of the wax vs. drying time. When you are used to acrylics, waiting for a layer to settle before you can move on is a very different mindset to work with!

So I got suckered into trying this out (looking at you, Tracy), and instead of just getting a few readymade supplies, I’ve ended up spending quite some time making my own recipes. The disadvantages of that being

  • A. When my brain goes into “science” mode I seem to leave the other creativity behind, the one that thinks up images. I’ve barely even been able to settle on a colour choice, much less a subject to paint, it’s been all about testing and measuring and taking notes.
  • B. Wax takes up to 18 months to cure, so I won’t really know which recipe I prefer until some time next year at the earliest!

I’ve been doing some research too obviously and ended up with too much information in my head, so now I’m going to write my own “book” here on the blog to reference rather than searching through my bookmarks and odd remarks to friends every time I need to remember something. So far I’ve begun a page of CWM info, which will be updated, corrected and expanded as I learn. I’m also planning a workshop page to register my first experimental paintings, but since I have to wait for things to dry it’ll be taking a little while longer before I publish. I may need to relearn planning my paintings ahead and use fewer layers than I normally would?

I did a bit of preliminary testing and pondering such as:

  • Beeswax will dissolve in Gamsol overnight without heating. Indeed. Works great as a basic medium. I like a 3:4 ratio of wax/solvent for working with a palette knife when there is no resin in the mix.
  • The alkyd resin I bought to test does not dissolve in Gamsol. Or mineral spirits. Or mineral turpentine. Or balsamic turpentine. Acetone seems to be the winner, takes a few days. Now, how does that work for an odorfree studio!?  Melting? Sure, at 160° C, creating smoke and a strong smell of burnt plastic (which of course it is). Once it’s actually mixed with the wax and Gamsol, it works great as a painting medium, but:
  • In the end I’ve probably decided to use dammar resin for extra durability to the cold wax medium, which means I will have to heat the wax to make it, but it’s not an unpleasant smell, melts quickly and I can just make loads at a time. Add carnauba or not. Percentage choice pending! This way I won’t get brain damage from the plastic fumes… It seems more yellow in colour and not as transparent as the alkyd, even more so when you add carnauba.
  • The wax with alkyd resin can be remelted to be blended with solvent later without turning into a rubbery mess. It still stinks and smokes however, so it’s not much help, really.
  • Carnauba wax will also not dissolve in Gamsol, and acetone won’t do the trick either. Heat, melt and blend works a charm. Want to test this for the hardest possible finish without cracking. Or possibly to create a mix which will crack a surface layer when I want it to.
  • Gamvar on top of really dry wax layer? Or use a Galkyd layer first? For shine and colour saturation as well as protection (easier to dust off) if you don’t like the matte finish of wax. I’ve also seen info that gamvar can be mixed with a small amount of wax, so that means it must be able to go directly on top? Anyway, I’ll need some finished, cured paintings before I can test that. And obviously it can’t be used on a mix of natural resin…
  • Since the formula is basically the same as encaustic – what DOES happen if you torch it after it’s dry and the solvent has (mostly) evaporated?
  • Must investigate drying time vs. curing time (6-12 months of drying before varnish for instance?)
  • Test on paper to see just how brittle it gets!
  • Next step: mask that filters out the fumes!

What excited me about the CWM is that I’ve been admiring encaustic layering effects for years but I don’t have the space or ventilation (in winter) to work with that. It allows you to make very textured paintings and cut or scrape away upper layers to partially reveal the colours underneath for effect or simply if you regret something. While I’m quite comfortable with my acrylics, I sometimes would like a little more time, or the chance to remove a layer. Using acrylic gels to create a fauxcaustic haze is also just a little bit too plasticky for my taste, so here we are, adding another tool to the already stuffed box.

With the oil paint it still dries a bit too slow for my temper, so that is why I’m experimenting with dry pigments also, as that is quite hard in a day (but you can still carve into it). Or maybe I’ll fall into a rhythm that allows for waiting time and still not use up all my storage space.

In the end I expect this to be another tool in my box to be used when I want a specific effect for an idea and not “all the methods all the time”. Which takes the stress off my initial response of “oh no, why am I even doing this disruptive thing now?”

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