What does wax do for an oil painting?
In addition to the protective qualities of a top coat, wax unifies the surface of a painting. Each pigment has varying degrees of matte and shiny, and each brush stroke can have slightly more, or slightly less medium, resulting in a painting with “flashing” or uneven shiny/matte spots. The wax evens out the surface so it’s all a consistent finish. The wax completes the painting.
Why choose wax instead of varnish?
I prefer wax over varnish because of the ease of application, and the instant application time. Traditional varnish requires a 6 month dry time, and I’m usually hanging my paintings right away. As much as I had wanted to love Gamblin’s new Gamvar, I’ve had a few problems with getting it as thin and as even as required to cover and dry perfectly in one coat. The whole varnishing process, and varnish’s potential interactions with the paint, stresses me out. Every artist knows a story of varnish having a chemical reaction, or re-activating some area of paint, and ruining a completed work. In the stressful time before a show, the last thing I need are problems, so I avoid the whole mess and opt for wax. It’s dependable, it’s fool-proof, there’s no clean up, and it’s generally a calm and enjoyable task.
Gamblin’s Cold Wax vs Renaissance Microcrystalline Wax Polish
I have some loyalties to the Gamblin brand. As a Portland company they’re local to Seattle. The products are good prices, and they have a way of selling exactly what I need. Quality materials, no snobbery. I’ve been using and recommending the Gamblin Cold Wax as a top coat for people’s paintings for years. I was recently handed a tin of something new, though, and I might change my recommendations. See below for a comparison.
Gamblin’s Cold Wax Medium
Gamblin’s Cold Wax Medium is a buttery paste, made from naturally white unbleached beeswax, alkyd resin, and odorless mineral spirits. It can be mixed with the paint to make oil colors thicker and more matte, or applied as a top coat. You can work on a painting after it has been coated, or remove the wax with odorless mineral spirits.
This product smells like bee’s wax, and feels very friendly. The wax goes on easily with a soft rag. I then smooth it out with the side of my hand, or on a very big painting, I employ the soft side of my forearm to work out the rag and finger marks. It does still leave some application marks, so I try to coordinate the application with what compliments the painting (horizontal, vertical, criss-cross, diagonals, and circles for clouds.) It takes a few passes, but it’s easy work, and pleasant with the bee’s wax smell. 24 hours later, I can take a soft cloth and buff the wax to a satin finish, then it’s done.
Renaissance Microcrystalline Wax Polish
I don’t hear about many painters adding Renaissance Microcrystalline Wax Polish to their paint, but I do see a lot of people use this for furniture refinishing, antique restoration, and museum work. It’s an effective non-acidic treatment for most metals, and wood. It’s also recommended for paintings.
The same consistency out of the can as Gamblin’s, this product smells like something out of your dad’s garage. Although they don’t list the ingredients, it’s pretty clear this is a petroleum product. It’s not an unpleasant smell if you like engines and socket wrenches, but it ain’t for eatin’. While it’s the same delicious buttery consistency as it’s scooped out of the can, it goes on smoother and thinner than Gamlin’s wax, it kind of melts into it. I apply it with a soft rag. Once gently rubbed on, it leaves no application marks, and requires no buffing later. Because it “melts,” I don’t have to work it in or even it out as much, and the job of waxing is completed in less time. Because it needs no buffing the next day, it’s done in one step instead of two. Looks like the frantic day before a show just got easier, and that’s a big win for me. Open a window. The smell of dad’s garage dissipates after a couple hours.
Painting by Lendy Hensley, wax by Ruthie V, studio table by Claire Putney
The Microcrystalline Wax Polish went on easier, and with no application marks. That’s a big win for me, as is skipping the second step. I’ll still use Gamblin Cold Wax as a medium to mix in with my paints to make them more matte, and thicker viscosity, but unless smell is a factor, I’m switching my top coat to Renaissance Microcrystalline Wax Polish.
Both are good products, but the Renaissance Microcrystalline Wax Polish is my winner!
Hey art supply companies – As of today, these V-Notes are emailed to nearly 800 subscribers, posted to our Facebook page, and read by countless more on our website. I’m going to be doing more of these product reviews, so feel free to send me your samples, especially if your name is Escoda.