Cold Wax Painting.
Cold wax ointment is my most frequent painting medium. I discovered it in 2015 during a course at the Leonardo Art Academy in Salzburg and was thrilled. I have always loved painting with pigments and now I had found the perfect painting medium for it. The combination of pigments and wax ointment produces an incredible luminosity that fascinated me from the very beginning.
In the first few years, I painted many paintings using only wax ointment and pigments. Sometimes I mixed them on a palette before applying them. Most of the time, however, I first dipped the cloth into the wax ointment and then into the pigment dust. And then I painted the mixture directly onto the paper. This is a very meditative and tactile way of painting. However, it is very difficult to paint details with this method. Over time, I found my own solutions. For example, I used foam rubber attachments from Pan Pastel to work out details.
For example, I painted the Horizons series 1 and 2 in particular almost exclusively using the cold wax ointment technique.
Wax ointment painting is an ancient but relatively unknown type of painting. It is often confused with encaustic. Thomas Hoppe’s book “Wachsmalerei” (Wax Painting) repeatedly mentions that not all wax painting was done with heat (encaustic). It has probably not been researched enough to date. In English most call it “cold wax” painting.
Wax ointments from different manufacturers
In the beginning, I used colorless shoe polish from Erdal. It has a very high percentage of beeswax and is ideal for beginners in this technique. Later, I experimented with ready-made wax ointments. These mostly come from America and are called “Cold Wax Medium”. Presumably this has something to do with the fact that wax ointment painting is more widespread there. I preferred to use the wax ointment from Gamblin and Dorland. The American wax ointments have the advantage that they are relatively odorless. Over the years, I have tried various other wax media, which I cannot recommend.
Gabriele Musebrink also makes her own wax ointments. They come in two varieties – hard and soft. The soft wax ointment is used in combination with pigments or oil paints. The hard wax ointment is suitable for use as a varnish. You can buy both types from Hermann Schulte in Essen (Germany).
I had been thinking about making the wax ointment myself for some time. But the myriad of different recipes put me off for a long time. Finally, I used Gabriele Musebrink’s recipes and made my own wax ointment in larger quantities in the fall of 2021. You can read these recipes in her book “Aufladung Entladung”.
The following gallery shows a selection of my cold wax paintings.
I have heard in a roundabout way from colleagues who have had bad experiences with the technique. Unfortunately, I don’t know any details. So I can only make assumptions and make the following recommendations.
- Do not apply the wax-pigment mixture too thickly. Thinner is better. This also has the advantage that they are translucent like glazes.
- I can only assume that a layer that is too thick may crumble off after drying. This has never happened to me in all these years.
- When I notice that two layers are mixing, I have to let the bottom layer dry even more. Overnight drying is usually sufficient.
- A rough surface is better than one that is too smooth. Nevertheless, I had no problems painting with this technique on Hahnemühle watercolor papers.
- The finished paintings are NOT scratch-resistant. You have to treat them as carefully as a pastel painting.
- Wax-oil paint mixtures can be applied thicker and with spatulas (painting knives). However, they also take longer to dry than the wax-pigment mixture. Compared to pure oil paints, however, they harden more quickly.
Over the past eight years, I have experimented a lot with this technique and gained a lot of experience. I still enjoy using it and can recommend it. But I can’t guarantee that something won’t go wrong, especially at the beginning, until you have developed your own sensitivity for the material.
In any case, I can guarantee that my own work will be durable in the long term.