Thursday, September 19, 2019

Working with Gamblin's Cold Wax Medium

Dreams of Our Mother
8x10 oil/cold wax / NFS
In this studio piece, I embedded photographs into the wax
and used a variety of tools to manipulate each layer.

The same painting in raking light to show texture

Look through the web site for Gamblin Artists Colors, and you'll come across a curious product:  Cold Wax Medium.  Most of us oil painters are familiar with the more common mediums, such as the traditional ones made with linseed oil, turpentine and damar resin, or the more modern ones such as Liquin and, of course, Gamblin's own Galkyd.

But Cold Wax Medium?

Wax has been used in painting ever since ancient Rome, and maybe even before that.  Most often, it took the form of encaustic—that is, beeswax that has been softened by heat and to which pigment has been added.  The heated wax is then applied to a surface with a brush or other tool and, when cool, becomes a very durable layer.  More recently, though, a way of using beeswax that does not involve heat was invented.  In the case of Gamblin's Cold Wax Medium, the beeswax is softened with Gamsol (odorless mineral spirits) to make a paste and, to help the wax to harden more quickly, a bit of alkyd resin is added.  No heat is required.

Here are some of the tools I used in the creation of the above painting.

Yes, you can even use a brush!

Cold Wax Medium can be used in three ways.  First, as with any medium, you can mix a little into your paint.  This will thicken the paint and make it somewhat translucent; it will also give it a matte finish upon drying.  Second, you can use it as a varnish.  It will restore the color saturation and value contrast as would any varnish.  You can then buff it, as you would shoe polish, for a more satin finish.  (Does anyone polish shoes these days?)  Third, you can use it more like an encaustic by mixing pigment (or oil paint) directly into it and then apply it with a variety of tools.  In this last method, you also can embed paper and other objects, build it up, scratch it down—the mind boggles at the possibilities.  One of the things I love most about it is that the wax's natural translucency lets me create a depth that I can't achieve with oil paint alone.

To help understand some of the technical matters, I purchased what is the reference book:  Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts and Conversations by Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin (Squeegee Press, 2016).  The book gives a history of the medium, discusses different versions of it (Gamblin isn't the only maker), informs about materials and tools, and finally takes the reader through a variety of different methods for using it.  I found it very helpful. The Gamblin site also has a good page on materials and methods

(Update:  Dave Bernard of Gamblin suggests the following:  "Try first blending in 25-50% Galkyd Gel or Solvent-Free Gel into the Cold Wax. It makes a beautiful medium that dries harder and more flexible than using CWM alone.")

You may now be asking:  But how well does Cold Wax Medium work in plein air painting?  I hope to answer that in my next post.

Here's one more oil/cold wax painting from the studio:

Ravens at Sunset
12x9 oil/cold wax


Unknown said...

Thanks so much for the shout out, Michael. We're glad you found our book helpful. Please let us know if we can be of other assistance.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

It's a wonderful book! Complete and inspiring. Thanks for writing it.