What is Cold Wax Medium? (Hint: It’s Not Encaustic)

As diverse as the term “mixed-media art” is, it should come as no surprise that there are endless combinations of mediums. And yet here I am, learning about the use of cold wax for the first time. If your initial thought was that the technique must be related to encaustic art, you’re not alone. Serena Barton, author of Wabi Sabi Painting with Cold Wax, enlightens us about using oil and cold wax in art in this excerpt from her book.

Continuity (oil and cold wax on panel, 20×16)
by Serena Barton

Using Oil Paint and Cold Wax by Serena Barton

You may be new to oil paint and to cold wax. If you’re used to using water-based media, oil paint might seem a little overwhelming. It can be messier, stickier, it’s slow to dry, and has a strong smell. However, oil paint’s drawbacks are also its strengths. I love wet-on-wet painting–being able to rework a piece while it is still wet. I love having the ability to blend colors directly on the support in amazingly subtle ways.

Unlike acrylics, which are manufactured from synthetic substances, oil paints are organic in nature. (A minor point for my messy cohorts–it’s a lot easier to get oil paint out of your clothes than it is to remove acrylic!) I’m not against acrylic at all. I use it a lot for my mixed-media work. Using both kinds of paint is like being able to drive both automatic and standard transmission cars. Only oil paint, however, can be used with beeswax-based media. So for hot or cold wax work, oil paint it is!

The term cold wax gets a lot of people confused. How can you paint with wax if you don’t heat it, as we do with encaustic? Is cold wax a form of encaustic? Is it a new invention?

Some types of cold wax have been used as a medium since ancient times. A form of cold wax was used, as was encaustic (melted beeswax and resin) to create the famous “mummy portraits” unearthed at Fayum in Egypt. Modern cold wax is a creamy paste consisting of beeswax, mineral solvents, and resins. It adds thickness to your oil paint, extends the paint and dries to a matte surface with a slight natural sheen. It makes oil paint even more malleable.Because cold wax is in paste form, you don’t have to melt it or heat it.

Cold wax helps an oil piece dry more quickly. It can be used straight from the jar or thinned with a little mineral spirits or oil painting medium. (Oil painting medium is a viscous liquid that adds translucence and sheen to the paint and thins the cold wax.) Cold wax isn’t a form of encaustic, as the word encaustic refers to the fusing process of layers of wax. Cold wax is a unique medium.

Really, the best way to understand this medium is to get in and try it out! ~ Serena Barton

You can do just that with the Cold Wax on a Hot Day artist kit. It features Serena’s instructional book Wabi Sabi Painting with Cold Wax, a 16 oz. container of Gamblin oil medium cold wax, and a set of Winsor & Newton Winton oil colors.

Never stop learning,

Sign up for the Cloth Paper Scissors newsletter and get a free download on mixed-media art techniques.


Blog, Mixed-Media Painting Techniques, Mixed-Media Techniques


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.