Saturday, January 7, 2012

Painting Finishes - Cold Wax

I have been busy lately renovating my studio and touching up old oil paintings. I have been putting final finishes on some of them. In the past, I have tried different kinds of varnishes but have never been happy with the final surface of my canvases. I paint with layers, allowing the colors underneath to show through here and there on the final layer of paint. In places where I use more oil, in order to thin the paint to glaze over another color, the surface ends up being more shiny than the surface around it. Other times I like to create a dry scumble of a lighter color over a darker color. Sometimes this ends up being a very flat or dry looking surface.

Creating a final surface with brush-on varnish would sometimes take a VERY long time to dry and would be too glossy. Spray varnishes, now maybe this is just me, but they make the surface look mechanical - too consistent - non-human. Varnish, in general seems to sit on the canvas, not act as part of the surface.

Non-human? Oh, he's off his rocker.

I recently have come across, thanks to recommendations from the staff at Wet Paint, cold wax medium.

This is a medium you rub onto the finished painting with a lint-free cloth. It doesn't need to be a tie-dye t-shirt like I am using here, but t-shirts work well for this.

You can see on this next painting the wax that I have  rubbed on.  It is a bit thick here.  It should be rubbed on thin without any ridges showing.  Rubbing in circles works best.  Let it sit for one day.  The next day, rub it again with a lint-free clothe to buff the wax.  It is just like waxing your car.  When you are buffing the wax, the microscopic platelets of wax are being flattened to overlap each other forming a protective skin.  If you don't buff, the painting still has some protection, but not as good as when the overlapping platelets form a skin. 

Overall, the wax creates a consistent satin surface to the painting that "feels" more a part of the painting than a varnish.  It smooths out inconsistencies in the shininess of the painting surface.  In this picture, on the left hand side of the image, you can see the shininess of a spray-on varnish.  On the far right of the painting, I have rubbed on some cold wax medium.  You can see the difference in shininess.

Also, wax can be applied to the surface of an oil painting as soon as the paint has dried to the touch.  Varnish should not be added to an oil painting until the paint has completely cured months later.  Wax still breathes and allows the paint to cure.  I am very happy with the wax and will continue to use it.


  1. Thank you for your research into this 'finishing' for cold wax paintings.

  2. Hi Jude,
    You are most welcome. It was a great discovery for me.

  3. Hello Brain, I did a large Oil/wax painting on canvas using palette knife three months ago, it seems dry when I touch, but today I wanted to give a finish protective wax coat with a soft fabric, and the pigment comes off, especially where I used Prussian blue.
    I need to deliver it in two weeks and don't know how to make, I would appreciate your help!.