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Saturday, April 17, 2010
  using dorland's wax medium: part 1

Recently I finished writing an article about using cold wax medium for Rupert, Gibbon & Spider, Inc., the company that makes Dorland's, the cold wax medium that I use. It will appear on their website at some point in the future, but in the meantime here are excerpts from the first part of the article.

When I first started using Dorland's, I was interested in bringing more abstraction into my work, but feeling constrained by brush techniques. I was also frustrated with other oil mediums I'd tried that made the paint slippery and runny. A sales person at my favorite art supply store recommended that I try Dorland's Wax Medium. I was delighted with the difference the wax made in adding body to the paint, and I began to experiment with ways to apply and manipulate this thicker, faster drying paint. Gradually I moved away from brush painting into the kind of abstract painting I am doing today, in which textured color fields are built up in layers, using a variety of tools.

Getting Started:
In workshops that I teach about using cold wax medium with oils, I have seen artists use this product in a wide range of styles and approaches. Dorland’s is a very flexible and forgiving medium, and the fun is in experimenting to find out what it offers. However, a bit about my basic procedures may help in getting started.

I paint on gessoed panels, rather than stretched canvas or linen. The rigid surface is better for holding up to my rather aggressive techniques involving scraping and scratching, and it also counters any tendency for cracking or sagging as layers are built up.

Ratios of paint to cold wax are a matter of personal preference--most of the time, I use about 1:3 or 1:2 Dorland's to oil paint, though I never measure it. I simply put a large glob of wax on my palette and mix it into individual colors as needed, using a palette knife. For the initial layers of paint, I lean toward about 1:3 or less of wax to paint, because the paint will tend to slide around on the panel with higher proportions of wax. Once a base of a couple of layers is built up, experimentation is easier. A higher ratio of Dorland's to oil paint creates a thicker mixture, and the added body will enable more textural effects. (The mixture can be made even thicker with the addition of powdered pigment or powdered marble, if desired.)

With a lower ratio of wax to paint the result is more like straight tube paint, which is useful for certain techniques. Since the wax acts as a drying agent, using only a small amount of wax usually means the paint will take longer to dry. Finding the right amount of wax for different stages of the painting takes some practice. Fortunately, there is no need to be consistent—it is fine to apply thin wax layers over thick, or the opposite. There is wonderful freedom in being able to use whatever seems called for, to simply paint with no concern for tenets of traditional oil painting (such as the requirement to use “fat colors over lean.” When oil colors are suspended in Dorland's it is unnecessary to be concerned with their oil content.)

I apply the first few layers of wax/paint mixture to the panel with palette knives or squeegees, keeping in mind that these are simply a foundation on which to build the painting, and will be covered over. Because I will later scrape, scratch and sometimes dissolve the top layers of my painting, I like to set up interesting contrasts at this stage--alternating colors, and using both opaque and transparent paints. I also stick to broad color fields rather than small patches of color, so that areas of color are somewhat predictable when exposed at a later point (though there are always surprises!)© 2010 Rebecca Crowell

I'll include more of the article in my next post. The painting above is Lake House #5 (36"x36.")
beautiful subtleties. I would be curious to see how it looks in person compared to the photo. I have had problems getting oil paint to look good when documenting.
Definitely looses a bit in the translation, I just do the best I can with photos, but I know what you mean.

PS: if you click on the photo you will get a larger version.
I have found this a very interesting and instructive post, I look forward eagerly to the next. Thank you.
Inspiring post, Rebecca. I can see why you are in such great demand as a teacher! I love this painting -- will you be showing it in Santa Fe? I particularly like what you have going on in the upper left quadrant.
Thanks, Ian and Diane! the next installment is on its way. Diane, this painting has been shipped to Darnell Fine Art in Santa Fe--probably arriving tomorrow, so stop by and check it out!

I think the work you've been doing with the Dorland's wax has such wonderful and mysterious properties as a result of all the layering and scraping and relayering you do. Your article is great because it describes your process in great detail while leaving it wide open for each artist to interpret in his or her own way.
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       Rebecca Crowell