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

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wax on black paper

Cold Wax Painting Medium
on 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 test 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.

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.

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


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 (Jackson's, TNLawrence, CassArt ArtDiscount) or you can make your own primed with a suitable Gesso.  

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 you like and that is stable for your work.

Copyright © Jacqui Blackman 2012

canvas fabrics for making own surface
Canvas fabrics

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