Cold Wax Painting Medium
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Surfaces for Cold Wax Painting
How to choose a surface for use with Cold Wax.

wax on black paper

Zest-it Cold Wax Painting Medium
applied to black paper.


Surfaces for Cold Wax Painting

There's debate about the type of surface when using Cold Wax Painting Medium.
Its said that the work must always be on a rigid surface; some say not.

Reading the works of the late 18 early 1900's on the subject of wax and oil paint techniques, also, from the research and experiments I have done, nothing suggests or indicates that works using wax medium and oil paint need restricting to a rigid surface.
It does need a stable surface that has some absorbency.

Paper has always been a good surface for Wax, prints are made on paper using oil based inks, encaustic painting is often on paper, many works in museums indicate that it is archival. Heavyweight paper has always been good, have a look at these images.

One thing has become apparent however, the modern acrylic primed canvas, with its plastic feel, little absorbency and a 'thin' weave, are an unsuitable surface for a wax/oil painting to live a good life!
Perhaps this is one of the reasons for recommending a rigid surface?

Choose a particular surface according to your working methods or the effect required.

Testing surface finishes

We tested numerous types of gesso, chalk paint, gel's, paste's, casein, milk paint and many others, to establish if the Cold Wax worked and lived a good life with these different finishes. Very necessary if people intend making their own surface to work on.

Like Cold Wax with a good brand name, branded surface finishes can usually be relied upon, as they have been tested for suitability as a surface ground for oil and wax painting.

If you are new to Cold Wax or feel unsure of how to choose a surface. Apply some Cold Wax to cardboard and note how it feels, then do the same with a wall tile, doing this will give you an insight into which you prefer - a hard surface or a softer one.


wax testing on gesso

Waxes tested on different surfaces, both paper and canvas.

1 coat and 2nd
Birch Ply, temporary image

'Birch Ply' as a surface

Birch Plywood is a rigid support excellent for painting onto, it needs no priming for the wax/oil  mixture to live well.
The plywood veneer can be used raw, primed, or a thin skim of wax applied to the surface - another way of priming the surface.
Zest-it Cold Wax Painting Medium can be used to prime a suitable surface, apply in a thin layer.

Birch is a stable, quality ground for use with wax medium and oil paint, especially, if numerous layers will be built-up for the work.
Unlikely to warp, it will remain sound and carry the weight of paint, however, 3mm would be a minimum thickness.

Purchase from your local DIY store, they will usually cut the sheet of Birch Ply to size, or, try online for a large selection. The same can be said for MDF

Paper as a surface for Zest-it Cold Wax Painting Medium

Testing papers that are recommended to be used for painting with oil paint, most  paper surfaces worked very well and without 'bleed through'.
Watercolour paper also works, especially if given a coat of primer. The paper needs to be thick enough and capable of taking the weight of the wax/oil mixture.

Painting with wax and oil on paper can be a rewarding experience, it is responsive and the wax/oil live well on it.
There are concerns about the deterioration of the paper when oil paint is applied, however, a rag paper that is 'buffered' internally and sized externally is highly suitable.

Works of oil on paper have lived well, if Constable's oils on paper are an example, some now over 200 years old in the V & A.

Works on paper using wax and oil paint.

oil wax on paper
Thick stippled wax/oil on paper.


Ready made Boards

Clay, Gesso and Encaustic boards are common in the USA and often used by painters of Cold Wax, because, their surface is designed for wax, both hot or cold!
You can find these online in the UK.

Online you can obtain Linen, Canvas and Clay boards in the UK  ( ArtDiscount) or you can make your own primed with a suitable Gesso.  

 Raw Canvas

The image left is of medium weight Belgium Linen, from Russell and Chapple, which I hand-stretched onto 20" x 16" stretcher bars, it shows the coats of primer.

The first coat, applied directly to the raw canvas, is the Gesso Primer thinned with about 20% water and applied to the whole canvas. Once this has dried, a second coat of undiluted Gesso is applied, when dry the canvas will be 'drum tight' and ready to paint on

You can put just one coat of Gesso on the canvas, but because the canvas is very absorbant applying an initial thinned coat helps with the application.

The job of the 'primer' is to protect the canvas and give a suitable surface for the wax/oil mixture. It is a flexible finish with the degree of absorbency necessary for the wax and oil to adhere well.  


gesso on canvas
Priming a raw canvas.

waxed canvas
Waxed linen stretched onto stretcher bars.

Raw canvas waxed

The raw canvas can be primed with the Zest-it Cold Wax Painting Medium, this protects the canvas/linen (think Barbour Wax Jacket!). Waxing a stretched raw linen or canvas is an ideal surface to paint wax on. The surface is protected from any oil paint, the finish is compatible with the media to be used, its a neutral colour and archival.

Use a stiff bristle brush to apply the Cold Wax.

If you see this information anywhere else, then you know it has been plagiarised.

Making your own painting surface.

Fabric, like the canvas and linen shown right, make excellent painting grounds, either mounted on birch ply/mdf/board or on stretcher bars.

Hessian and Cotton fabrics can be found online, the Linens are from Russell and Chappell. Their shop has a vast array of different types and weights, including, 'off-cuts' which are useful for trying different surfaces. We also have some in the ArtywaxShop

As mentioned before the ready-made canvas can cause problems for Cold Wax and Oil Painting. The acrylic primer used on their weave gives such a 'plastic' surface, consequently, the oil/wax cannot live a good life because the surface is  not absorbent enough!
Do some tests and find a canvas/linen you like and that is suitable for your work.

Copyright © Jacqui Blackman 2012


canvas fabrics for making own surface
Canvas fabrics


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