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What effect does the addition of cold wax medium have on an oil painting?

There is a straightforward answer to this question. Wax has numerous benefits for painters, such as extending and adding body to oil paint, aiding in drying time, increasing transparency and workability. It also allows artists to build up textural effects and layers without requiring special set-up or ventilation. However, these advantages do not fully encapsulate the properties and potential of working with cold wax. After several years, you develop a deeper understanding of the versatile nature and capabilities of the medium. It's essential to stay open-minded and explore new possibilities, as you will inevitably discover exciting and innovative ways of working.

a cold wax painting of a forest by Peter Corr
'Through The Trees' Oil & Cold Wax on Canvas 91 x 91 x 4 cm

Surface Impasto

This painting, 'Through The Trees', showcases the combination of different approaches. My Forest series focuses on creating textural nuance by building a rich surface impasto. In the details below, you can observe how the paint has been layered, carved, and incised to create the illusion of movement, energy, and depth. I applied the first layers of cold wax using a large spatula spread across the canvas with a rubber-bladed squeegee. Different types and sizes of squeegees were used to adjust the scale and dimensions of the marks. The action of dragging paint with cold wax automatically generates striations and structural marks which can be further enhanced with crumpled paper, card and aluminium foil. You could take a look at the work of the German painter Gerhardt Richter to see how he uses a squeegee on vast canvases. I always recommend that you explore a variety of tools and implements to discover what works best for you. We all have different skills and preferences.

'Through The Trees' Close up of surface texture painting by Peter Corr
'Through The Trees' Close up of surface texture

Drying Time

Cold wax medium added to oil paint considerably accelerates the drying time. This has several advantages. You will no longer have to wait a few days between oil paint layers and can work more or less uninterrupted as your creative energy and ideas dictate. It is possible to complete a painting in one session, you just have to accept and adapt to the varying levels of interaction between layers of paint. However, drying is never instantaneous so there will be degrees of dryness/fluidity that can be exploited and used to your advantage. Inevitably this will depend on studio conditions, the time of year, the consistency of the cold wax medium etc. The key point is that the increased rapidity of drying opens up new opportunities for paint handling and speeds up the painting process.

Detail of a cold wax painting of a forest by Peter Corr
'Through The Trees' Oil & Cold Wax (Detail)


The opacity of paint layers can be adjusted by the addition of cold wax. Oil pigments range from highly transparent to more or less opaque and artists exploit this in their work to add depth and intensity to their work. The cold wax medium extends these qualities and opens up the possibilities of using both matt, satin and highly glazed finishes. It is possible to selectively burnish areas of the painting thereby enhancing the richness of the surface and textures. In this work, I have used titanium white impasto for the sky areas and the following day added a layer of Indian yellow thinned with cold wax medium. I sometimes add linseed oil to the cold wax to increase both translucency and gloss.

'Through The Trees' Oil & Cold Wax (Detail) a painting by Peter Corr
'Through The Trees' Oil & Cold Wax (Detail)

Mark Making and Serendipity

The detail below demonstrates how I use mark-making to animate the canvas surface. If you allow the wax to dry for a few hours it can be etched and will retain a range of incisions and marks. Once again, the effect of this drawing or inscribing is dependent on the thickness of the underlying layers of wax and the drying stage. Crisper, more clearly defined lines and textures will be achievable after a day of drying. This is something that only experience will enable you to judge with any degree of accuracy. But, the good news is that there is no real downside to trying things out and sometimes, unintended outcomes can be the most effective interventions. Serendipity is to be cultivated.

Detail of a cold wax painting of a forest
'Through The Trees' Oil & Cold Wax on Canvas (Detail)

Palette Knives and Paint Brushes

No discussion of cold wax medium would be complete without reference to palette knives. I have been using various knives for all of my recent forest series. A palette knife enables you to apply cold wax pigment in a sculptural manner and this is very important. If you are interested in creating texture a palette knife is an essential piece of equipment. But, a word of warning, you should try to get knives that have thin flexible blades, these will provide a much better sense of feel and control. The knives that have limited flexibility prevent you from using expressive mark-making and place a physical and psychological barrier between you and the paint medium.

And finally....Finding The Perfect Note

This section is not directly related to cold wax but it is an essential component of the painting challenge. When I am working with tonal, textural and colour differences between objects and ground to achieve an optimum balance, I resort to a form of visual tuning. If you play a stringed instrument and you regularly have to adjust the tension of the strings to keep in tune, you know exactly what I mean. I think tuning an instrument is a good analogy. With my acoustic guitar, I loosen the tension on the string first, with the pitch below the desired note, I then increase the tension incrementally, moving towards the note. The reference note is another fretted string or a digital tuner. I do this several times, going back and forth before the note is reached. This is similar to painting given that all colours, tones and textures exist in relation to the colours, tones and textures surrounding them. The point that I am making is that in a painting, tones colours and textures only exist about each other. The advantage of using cold wax is that these relationships are established quickly and can be changed much more swiftly, speeding up the decision-making process. I hope this article will help you with your painting journeys.

Peter Corr painting displayed in a room
'Through The Trees' in a room setting


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