Hot for Cold Wax Oil Painting Art

Cold wax oil painting portrait of a girl Copyright Christine Montague 2010. 6" x 6" oil & cold wax medium on a wood panel

One of the joys of being an artist is the opportunity  for life long learning, discovery and play (to misquote Hamlet “The play’s the thing!”). Artists are probably one of the poorest (financially) of the professional demographics, but the reward of infinite growth is priceless.

For a while now, I have been curious about the encaustic (from the Greek word “to burn in”) or hot wax painting process.  I had a series in mind that I envisioned with the built up, molten, textured, luminous look that results from painting encaustically. However, upon research, I discovered that the traditional hot wax process,  with its fumes (as well as potential toxicity) of melting bees-wax, carnauba wax, damar resin, and pigment, was out of the question in my poorly vented studio which shares air space with 6 other artists.  So recently, when Canadian painter Janice Mason Steeves promoted her workshop in the “Cold Wax Process” -no heating wax, no excessive fumes- I enrolled.

Things to find out. How would this process differ from hot wax? How could I apply it my portraiture painting? Would it have the luminous and texture potentials of hot wax? (FYI I have noticed in word searches that bring readers to this article that it is wondered if canvas can be used as a surface. No. You want the solid surface of a panel os some sort so the wax doesn’t crack when the canvas bends.)

Jan has a beautiful studio in Rockwood, Ontario, that was large enough for 8 of us to each work at a table of our own. Our goals were to play, experiment with colour, texture, and application on our prepared panels. My biggest challenge was “to play” with the medium. I am goal and product oriented, and any attempts to “play”  resulted in one question “what if I did…?” branching into multiple more. I knew I was hooked when 10 prepared panels just weren’t going to be enough!

Dorland’s generously supplied the cold wax medium needed. This is the most remarkable product with a multitude of uses. (Sham – Wax!!  :D) Check it out here For our purposes we mixed it 50:50 with our oil paint and then squeegeed the resulting colours on in layers. Then the creative exploring started – wiping away, scraping, scratching, writing into, lifting off,  blending, brayering in textured pattern from material, lifting off with newspaper, stencilled into – whatever this creative bunch thought to do.

On the second day, Jan instructed us to make ugly work, i.e., no thinking about finished products. Explore, experiment and play were the order of the day. But at the end of the workshop, when we took a look at each other’s work, it seemed, we all failed ! Every piece – and we were a productive group –  had a fascinating element. Eight very tired (playing can be exhausting)  but very happy cold wax converts drove off into the sunset.

Encaustic Painting with Hot wax: Artist Jessie Fritsch has a nice explanation here

Great explanation here about is cold wax “encaustic”. AMIEN stands for Artist Materials Information and Education Network

Here’s another example of my cold wax work.

Snow - Cold wax oil painting Copyright Christine Montague 2010. Below is a detail of the texture

Snow Textural detail of cold wax oil painting by Christine Montague



Filed under Canvas (Paintings), Life as a Visual Artist, Mini Painting lesson, Paintings 2010, Uncategorized

17 responses to “Hot for Cold Wax Oil Painting Art

  1. Very beautiful piece!!! I think this is the first time I have ever seen wax oil painting. One medium I was not familiar with at all.


    • Hi.
      I had only learned of it myself just over a year ago, when I was curious to try encaustic wax painting. This is a fairly old process of heating the wax and pigment. When I discovered encaustic painting needed a space with good ventilation, etc., the cold wax process seemed my next choice. It is my understanding that the cold wax is a relatively new medium. It is probably the most searched item on my blog! A goal for 2012 is to try to do some larger pieces and experiment more. Wish me luck 😀

      By the way, I read your first few blog posts and they were very moving. Wishing you a wonderful, happy and healthy New Year.


      • IMPORTANT. Please accept my apologizes. My web site host, or my domain host has done something to URL! Thus if you click to my web site you are taken to a religious advertisement site. I have NO affiliation and am aghast at the redirction of my site. As you can imagine I have many, many, sites on line that now will be flagged as inappropriate. A bit of a nightmare for the moment!


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  3. Randy Silver

    I just took a wonderful workshop with jan Steeves . I loved working with the wax and oil,..Jan was a wonderful instructor….I would take another workshop in a heartbeat!…but we were told to mix 1/3 wax to oil?


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  5. This was the first time I ordered from Dick Blick, although it is a very famous art supply store. I can’t remember whether it used Fedx or UPS. I think it is UPS that has its own brokerage firm and you’re right, their brokerage fees can be out of sight! I found all the info you wrote about the wax very interesting and I will give Gamblin a try next time. I think by the time I paid taxes, shipping, duty, etc., the big jar of Dorlands came to $90.

    Dorlands generously supplied the wax for the workshop.


    • Ben

      yikes! i’m still learning that it doesn’t pay for me to be too cheap with art supplies. i may try the dorland’s after i get through my small jar of gamblin.

      thanks for the info


  6. Hi again Ben. Thanks for the tip Curry’s has it. Yes I am in the GTA and shop at Curry’s. In fact my son worked there for quite a while – they were great! Although both Gamblin’s and Dorlands are both great products,Dorland’s was recommended to me because it is absolutely smooth. The Gamblins I saw had tiny lumps of wax throughout. It depends what look you are going for whether it matters. I like the portrait smooth – that the sold parts are flat and non textured makes a nice contrast to the wiping and drawing out. .


    • Ben

      i used the gamblin years ago, and had a similar lumpy experience, but the jar i have right now is super smooth. one of the reasons i avoided using dorlands was because the gamblin was made with pure filtered (as opposed to bleached) white beeswax, and from what i could find out about the dorlands, it’s a combination of synthetic waxes and driers, etc, and i wasn’t entirely confident that it wouldn’t yellow in time.
      the fact that they don’t give any information about what kind of waxes they used, what resins, etc made me nervous. the gamblin is kind of pricey, but they are a wealth of information, and really open about their ingredients.

      also, they answer my emails really quickly 🙂

      i’ve thought about ordering more supplies from the US, but concerned about excessive duty, UPS fees, and had a not great experience once or twice. may i ask why you buy from dick blick, how they ship to you, and what your experience has been like?


  7. Ben

    hi there,

    i was wondering if the cold wax slowed or speeded the drying of your oils?
    i just started using cold wax medium, love love the texture and creamy brush stroke, though i haven’t yet experimented with it, just using it to beef up the texture of my oils. i was pretty excited by your blue portrait, and all the scraping away you did. drawing is really my first love, and i like the idea of being able to incorporate more line into my work.
    thanks for sharing,



    • Hi Ben, I am glad you like my blue portrait. I was pretty excited about this process myself, but haven’t had much time to experiment. The portrait was done in the Janice Mason Steeves workshop, and I found it set pretty fast – within a week or so. From what I’ve read, as well as learned in the workshop, the wax is supposed to speed up the drying process.(we used it 50:50 in the workshop) I am not finding that in my studio though with the small experimental works I have started. I am unsure if it is because my studio is quite cold – which may work for the wax, but slow down the oil paint drying part? I had to put the wax experimenting aside until after Christmas as I had a few commissions, and the Williams Mill where I have my studio gets quite involved with events at this time of year, but in January? I can hardly wait to try some more. One thought crossed my mind – maybe I was sent the wrong product! I never did look at the label when it arrived. It should be Dorland’s cold wax, which I ordered through Dick Blick art supplies online.


      • Ben

        thanks Christine.
        i’m being a little impatient with mine 🙂
        i just painted with my gamblin cold wax medium yesterday, and wondering how long it might take, though i do have an email into gamblin to see if they have some experience to relate.
        i have noticed a small increase in drying times of just artist’s oils over the winter, but nothing dramatic.
        BTW, i just noticed that you’re relatively local to the GTA. i’ll check dick blick’s site, but did you know that curry’s carries the dorlands, and does mail order? i haven’t used any but the gamblin, but the dorlands appears to be less expensive.
        apologies for the long reply!



  8. “Cold wax oil painting portrait of a girl” is a great painting. Very inspirational.


  9. karen

    Love this it even feels cold!


  10. Glad you enjoyed the workshop Christine. It was very exciting feeling your enthusiasm and seeing the beautiful work you produced even though you didn’t follow the instructions to make bad work!


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