Wax Medium for Watercolor

Wax medium is a product that is marketed to be used as an additive to oil paint to enhance oil paint colors by increasing the translucency.  It can also be used to seal and oil painting.

But watercolor artists can use the product too. If you like to work in a watercolor sketchbooks or make watercolor cards, you can use wax medium to seal the watercolor paintings you create on these papers.  Here's how:

This is a little bird painting that I did on a 4x6 card that I ruined trying to take masking fluid off before it was dry. I ripped the paper off the back of the bird just above the tail feathers. I tried to fix it by painting in the rough area, but it's too noticeable in person. But, I love the colors in the painting so I kept the card. To keep it from getting smudged, I protected it using some wax medium.  Here's how I did that:

First, I made sure to brush all the loose paper bits off, and remove any other dust.  I knew the card was completely dry, but I'll mention that any painting you want to seal this way should be bone-dry before you start this process.

Then I opened my Dorland's Wax Medium and dipped into it with the tip of my finger.  Below is a pic of how much I took, and I'll tell you now, that was too much for a 4x6 card.  I had to remove the excess off the card with a clean paper towel.

I then rubbed the wax all over the card, right over the image and all the way out to the edges. After removing the excess wax, I smoothed the remaining layer as much as possible with my finger tips, wiping them on a clean towel if I noticed excess was building up.

Here's a comparison of how the painting looked before I waxed it and how different it looked after I waxed it:

Before applying wax medium and after

You can see that the wax medium deepens the colors of the painting.  The neatest thing is that now this little painting is waterproof on that side of the card. Neat!  I could add wax to the other side to make the whole thing waterproof.

For those of you who like to work in watercolor sketchbooks, you may already know about this technique, but if not, this is a great way to seal and protect your sketches.

Wax Medium is Not Wax Resist

Wax resist is a technique of drawing or marking wax onto a painting in areas where you want the paper to resist the paint and water.  There are various ways to do this.  You can use a wax crayon like this one:

Or you can use anything that is made out of wax.  This would include crayons, candle sticks, wax-based colored pencils and any other item made with wax. 

Here's an example of applying wax resist that I did using the crayon above. I used the crayon to write my website name on some watercolor paper and then brushed over it with a diluted wash of paint.

wax resist with one wash

You can also do this technique in multiple layers. Here are the steps: 

  1. Write the word WAX in pencil on some watercolor paper. 
  2. Write over the letter W with the wax resist crayon.
  3. Paint a layer of blue wash over the whole word. You see that the W remains white while the A and X pick up the paint color.
  4. Now write over the letter A with the wax crayon.
  5. Brush over the word with a layer of another color.  The W remains white, and the A will remain blue while the X will pick up the new layer of color.
  6. Now write over the X with the wax resist crayon and paint over the whole word with another color wash.  The W and A stay the same as before, and now the X stays the color it was before you waxed it.
wax resist with multiple layers of paint washes

Hope you found this page on wax medium and wax resist helpful.  If you have any questions, send me a message from my contact page. I'll do my best to answer them.

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