What follows is a brief introduction to painting with CWM as I use it in my own work and as I present it in my classes. Experimenting with various tools and materials will open up many more possibilities. If you would like to take a workshop for detailed instruction, click here for a list of artists who teach classes in CWM. – Rebecca Crowell
I start with a commercially made, rigid wood panel such as Gessobord (made by Ampersand Art.) It’s possible to use any good quality wood panel, or to mount canvas or linen onto a panel, or to use gessoed paper on a rigid surface. When I use a cradled panel, I tape the wood sides with temporary painters tape (green or blue tape from the hardware store) to keep them clean.
I put a few tablespoons of cold wax out onto the palette and mix in about equal amounts of tube paint with a palette knife, then start applying paint in layers to the surface, using a variety of tools. I have no set amount of layers, and no set amount of drying time between paint applications--I often work wet-in-wet, which requires a rather light touch to avoid mud.
With experience you will start to know the different stages of drying and what effects can be gained at each stage. When applied in fairly thin layers, the wax and oil mixture will start to set up after a few hours or overnight--faster than oils alone. The color and type of tube paint will affect drying time-for example, transparent colors often take longer than, earth colors or opaque white.
The initial layers create a foundation of color and texture, and since they will eventually be covered over, they can be rather randomly and quickly applied with, squeegees and palette knives. (Brayers, which need to have a semi-dry layer underneath for proper grip, are not very useful when working with wet layers.)
As I continue to build up layers of paint/cold wax, I like to alternate between various colors and between opaque and transparent paints to provide a rich surface. I also like to lay down large color areas early on, so that when I dissolve back with solvents, or scrape away, what is revealed is more consistent and predictable.
I work intuitively, and at some point will start to see a direction for the painting that I then begin to enhance or bring out--though I also never hesitate to paint over the whole thing, or wash it out with solvent if things are not going well. Although my ideas and direction for the painting will certainly shift and change as I go, they are not random, but always related to my core interest in landscape, weathered surfaces and ephemeral mark-making.
I use many different ratios of wax to paint during the process, based on my experience with the best amount for the effect I want. The wax helps the paint to dry, to a point—but very thick wax layers will take a while to dry, and I tend to keep my layers rather thin--not a lot of wax. Most of the time during the main layers, I use about 30- 50% wax to paint, but I hesitate to even give a ratio since it varies so much. There are no rules for thin wax layers over thick or the opposite. For example, a very small amount of paint in a larger amount of wax will create a glaze effect. Powdered pigment or powdered marble can be used to thicken the wax and paint mixture if desired.
As an aside, there is no need to worry about traditional rules of fat over lean in oil painting when the paint is mixed with cold wax medium, because the cold wax equalizes the varying ratios of paint and oil that necessitate this rule.
At any point during the process of building up the painting, I may mix in powdered pigment or charcoal, draw with paint sticks or tube paint, use solvent to create lines or expose hidden layers, scratch or gouge through with knives or other tools, and use a brayer to smooth and distribute paint—there are many techniques possible. Various kinds of papers (tissue, newsprint, plastic wrap, wax paper) and cheesecloth are useful for creating texture and blotting up paint.
I am always looking for new objects to use as tools, new ways to create textures, and new mixed media techniques to bring out my ideas with more richness and impact. Cold wax medium provides this great freedom of expression and potential for discovery.