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Wednesday, April 21, 2010
  using dorland's wax medium, part 2

Here is the second part of the article I recently wrote for the company that manufactures Dorland's Wax Medium:

Developing the Painting

After the initial base layers of paint mixed with wax are in place, I bring a variety of techniques into play to add complexity and depth to the painting. Dorland’s is an essential aspect of most of my techniques, because it allows the oils to be rolled, knifed and spread easily, and provides a receptive base for imprinted images and incised lines.

I work intuitively, allowing the painting process to suggest the direction of the painting. I’m often inspired by some evocative texture or color relationship that evolves as I go. This is not a straightforward process--there are many side trips and dead ends—but each adds some texture and subtlety to the developing image, so nothing is lost along the way. Because Dorland’s aids in drying time, I can take a painting quite far along in one painting session, building up the layers necessary for my complex surfaces.

I have no set number of oil and wax layers, and no particular amount of time between applications. Though I often wait for a surface to feel semi-dry to the touch,I also sometimes work wet-in-wet. This requires a rather light touch to avoid mud, but enables some often lovely blending to occur. With experience, a painter using Dorland’s will recognize the different stages of drying and what effects can be gained from each.

The wax and oil paint mixture usually begins to set up after a few hours, and may dry to the touch overnight, but this is very variable. The color and type of paint will effect drying time (transparent colors often take longer than do opaque colors)as will the humidity and temperature of the studio.

To push, pull and manipulate the wax/paint mixture, and to remove areas of paint, I use palette knives of every size and shape and various kinds of squeegees. These range from artist tools to hardware store windshield squeegees, to my current favorite--a silicon-bladed dough scraper. Even pieces of cardboard or old credit cards can be used as squeegees. Each tool will yield slightly different results.

Besides palette knives and squeegees, my other main tools are different sizes of soft rubber brayers (the type used in printmaking) which are excellent for laying down thin films of paint, creating repeated patterns, and embedding textures. I also use them to apply pressure to the back of a drawing on newsprint or tracing paper, which transfers the image to a slightly tacky paint surface. A sheet of craft foam can also be used as a printing surface. I draw onto it with tube paint and then transfer it to the surface of the painting by going over the back side with a rubber brayer, creating a bold mark.

For textural effects, flat or crumpled wax paper, plastic wrap or newsprint may be rolled or pressed onto a fresh layer of paint and wax. This technique leaves tracks and impressions behind, and lifts off a thin film of paint. Powdered pigment, metallic powder or powdered charcoal can be sprinkled into the surface, and gone over with a soft brayer, creating small, filled pock marks. Thread, yarn or string may be dipped in powdered pigment and rolled onto the surface or pressed in by hand to create lines of various widths and character. Whisk brooms, pot scrubbers, nail brushes—all sorts of bristled objects—make surprisingly interesting lines. Sponges, soft rags, cosmetic squares and cheesecloth are used for subtle transitions. I joke that I never go into a hardware store or discount store without seeing painting tools everywhere—there are endless possibilities. In each of these techniques, and others that follow, the substantial body that Dorland’s adds to the oil paint is essential.

Lines and contour drawings are also embedded in the layers of my paintings. Sometimes I draw with a tube of paint directly onto the surface —one of the few times I do not mix the oil paint with wax (I just squeeze it out as I draw.) I also draw with a brush dipped in solvent, powdered pigment, or a wax and oil mixture, and with oil bars or pigment sticks (oil paint manufactured in stick form). A solvent line, when gone over with a squeegee, often produces beautiful subtleties.

As I near the end of a painting, I may add scratched lines, created with a cooking skewer, dry ballpoint pen, or palette knife. Scratching and chipping away at the surface is possible because the surface of the painting even if it has become fairly dry or tacky to the touch, remains workable if attacked energetically. If the surface has become too dry for these techniques, it can usually be softened by rubbing with some plain wax.

Although I don’t tend to add collage elements to my work, Dorland’s does provide a suitable base for the addition of paper, thin fabric, thread and the like. Collage elements can be layered and embedded into a developing painting at any point. Sometimes, I do like to add a bit of metallic leaf or metallic powder which I work into the surface.

Part of the process of my work is to destroy as well as build up. I never hesitate to make major changes—painting over a whole panel or washing it all out with solvent. I make a special point to eliminate “darlings”--those charming little surprises that pop up during the process. They can easily become too precious and impede the natural progression of the work if allowed to dominate too early on. My process involves both spontaneity and decision making, and careful editing—in the end, I value most what I have learned to control and predict. When it comes to surprises, I keep only what works in the painting as a whole.

Glazing and Finishing:

Near the very end of a painting, when the only changes I want to make are fairly subtle, I sometimes rub a glaze made with of a small amount of transparent paint mixed with Dorland’s onto selected areas of the painting with a soft cloth. This creates a slight color shift or enhanced contrast, and can unify areas that seem a bit disjointed or broken up. For areas of paint that I would like to remove or tone down slightly, I gently rub with plain wax and cheesecloth. When the painting is dry to the touch, I may buff it with a soft rag, one last advantage of using Dorland’s over other types of oil mediums. There is no need for a final varnish, as the wax itself provides sufficient sealing of the paint.

All of these aspects of my process have evolved over time, through experimentation and combining ideas from various sources. They include methods that I’ve stumbled upon, borrowed from my earlier background in printmaking, and discovered while playing with a particular tool or art supply. Almost everyone who tries Dorland’s comes up with some new ideas. This includes artists in my workshop, a few of whom can take credit for something here that they were kind enough to share. Without cold wax medium, most of these techniques would never have become important to my work. Dorland’s has opened up a new abstract vocabulary for me and one that offers new possibilities every day in my studio. © 2010 Rebecca Crowell

The painting above, Up and Down (14"x11") illustrates many of my techniques: the use of solvent and solvent lines, scratching and layering.
So many valuable tips!!! thanks for these precious posts!
P.S. Did I forget to say--I really like this painting?
Such great information, thank you.
I am still experimenting and having fun (what a MESS I make!!!!) and can't wait to see some of these techniques shown in person.
How many layers would you say tends to be your minimum? Is it more like 5 or more like 25 or more like 45? Curious. Thanks. :)
Ha--I make a big mess too! Thank you both for your comments. Jala, some paintings do develop pretty quickly with around 5 layers, but others...well I have no idea, they go on and on. Also, I am often removing paint so in the end all that remains of a particular layer might be a small area or a bit of color stain.
Thank your for sharing your experience with Dorland's. Years ago, I used Dorland's as a finish for my painting. However, I have since forgotten, how in a couple of my paintings, I created a shiny finish, pretty much a semi-gloss. I can't for the life of me remember what I did. I want to finish a painting but I don't want to muck it up. Anyone know if I can add demar varnish to the wax, or something to really shine it up. Anyone ever heat up Dorland's, and if so, did it cool to a satin or a shiny finish. Thank you thank you and thank you!!
From what I've observed some colors when mixed with Dorlands look more matte and some more glossy. Transparent colors generally look more glossy--but I am not talking about a huge difference. You can also buff/rub with soft cloth to enhance the surface shine.

If you go to http://oilandwax.ning.com (a site for people painting with oil and cold wax) I know there has been some discussion about using damar varnish with dorlands.

Not good to heat Dorlands since it contains solvents...

hope this helps.
Thank you, Rebecca. I will check out that site.

Happy Painting,

I am a physician in my 50's who is looking to get back to art and I stumbled upon your work and video at gazoart. It must be wonderful to have lived and experienced the serenity and joy of creating the way you have.
Having a textile design start (1st profession) I am particularly interested in technique and texture, though a complete novice at creating without inspiration of photo, other art, etc. Any tips for someone like me getting started? I have no background in oil, only acrylic and gouache, but I am wanting to experience creating after so many yrs of being away. Where do you purchase the boards or do you make them yourself? The idea of connection with that surface and the scraping and pressure you can use opposed to canvas or paper is especially untriguing. Thank you!
Dr. Teri
Dr. Teri,
Thanks for finding me, and the comment. first, I purchase my panels from Ampersand Art, either gessobord or claybord panels with 2" cradle (though it is the surface that's important--flat or narrow cradle work fine.) I like them very much and they are so convenient to simply unwrap and start painting.

As for getting back into it--a lot of people find workshops to be helpful for this--you can dive in with some structure, meet other artists and try different media to find what suits you best. there are lots of opportunities all over the country for these...I teach workshops myself, more info at www.rebeccacrowell.com/workshops. I bet you would enjoy one of these! You can also google/search for workshops by media or topic.

Also of course, reading up on various artists, joining an art group, either online or in person are good. But the bottom line is setting up a place to work and starting in--there's no need to completely abandon reference materials, photos or whatever you are used to. But try to allow the paint itself to guide you more than your analytic brain, at least at first. There is a large element of play in the initial stages.

Hope this helps--
Hi! I just found your blog and this is great info about Dorlands. I did see where you said not to heat it but on the manufacturer's site (Jacquards) it says it can be heated so that you can use it for cold or hot wax painting. Anyway, I've had some this for the longest time and never really knew what to do with it so now I'll mix it with different things (oil paint, pigment powders, mica powders, etc.) and give this a try! Thanks again for the info!
I know, Ive seen that on the Jacquard website, but from my own research I do not believe it is a good idea to heat the Dorlands. This is because of the solvents and resins it contains, that would release a lot of toxic fumes if heated. It would probably be OK if you had great ventilation or were outside...I have never tried it though. I guess to my mind, if you want to do hot wax painting, best to use tried and true encaustic methods. Plus I think the Dorlands would be relatively expensive compared to encaustic medium.

But Dorlands mixed with any and all of the things you mentioned is magic, and I hope you enjoy experimenting.

By the way you might be interested in joining the discussion site that I started for cold wax painting, http://oilandwax.ning.com

Have fun experimenting
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       Rebecca Crowell