“Watercolors have long been touted as being a very vulnerable medium having to be protected by glass. This ultimately adds cost to every piece of artwork, thus, making it more expensive than if it could be displayed without a frame or glass. Many artists are always on the lookout for an alternative to replace the need for costly framing. Some have explored the option of spraying the artwork with fixatives to alleviate the need for protective framing materials. But in some cases, they have found that these can create an undesired shine, making it difficult to view the artwork without reflective glare. Others tried using acrylic mediums or varnishes that can result in a plastic look or feel, also changing the colors and surface of watercolor paintings making them less desirable.
One solution currently being considered is the use of encaustic wax medium to seal the surface while creating a smooth, soft, and warm luster on the surface of the watercolor painting. Encaustic art is an age old practice that uses melted bee’s wax as a base. Pigments and other substances can be added to create this beautiful and durable form of art. The art of encaustics has been around for thousands of years and is, again, gaining in popularity every day. The use of wax as a painting medium is very intriguing with its ability to produce textural effects along with being able to support collage materials for greater depth in the finished artwork. This medium opens up, far and wide, the possibilities of creative expression using wax. Usually, seen as an exclusive medium to be used only with tools and sundries made specifically for encaustics, other fine artists are starting to open their minds to the opportunities of using the wax supplies with other traditional materials such as oils, acrylics, watercolors, and dry mediums. These techniques are experimental but discoveries, advancing the use, are being made every day.
Kathryn Bevier, from the Enkaustikos Company, makers of encaustic supplies, has worked to develop a procedure used to finish watercolor paintings, as well as, photographs, digital art and prints. In this process she uses Hot Cakes Encaustic Wax Medium which is made up of purified bee’s wax and dammar resin. Dammar resin is often confused with dammar varnish which is extremely flammable and noxious when melted and should not be used for this purpose. In this demonstration, Kathryn uses artwork produced by Robert O’Brien, a New England watercolor artist, to show the successful application of Enkaustikos Wax Medium as a top coat for watercolors.
This demo information is provided by Enkaustikos and is used with their permission.
Preserve your work with an easy, encaustic topcoat!
Artists are finding that Enkaustikos Wax Medium and XD Wax Medium are a great way to protect their works on paper instead of framing behind glass. We chose a watercolor to demonstrate this process. However, photographs, watercolor and gouache, digital art and prints are all suitable for this procedure, provided the paper is absorbent. Here are simple steps to follow to bring a new dimension to your art.
1. Prepare your finished art work by mounting it to a rigid surface. The watercolor shown has been mounted to a cradled hardwood panel with an acrylic gesso as the adhesive agent. Other adhesives such as PVA glue for book binding and Yes Paste can be used as well and are better suited with thinner paper choices.
2. Once you have securely mounted your art to the substrate and the adhesive is dry, trim any excess paper away so the paper is flush with the edge of your rigid surface.
3. Have Enkaustikos Wax Medium or XD Wax Medium thoroughly heated in a metal container. We recommend using a pancake griddle set to approx. 175 degrees F. The more wax medium that is in the container, the longer it will take to liquefy. Do not speed melting time by increasing the heat.
5. Using a heat gun set on low and about 12″ away from the surface of the painting, apply heat in circular motions to re-melt the wax medium on the surface of your art work. This process is called “fusing” and will cause the wax medium to sink into the paper and form a permanent bond with the paper. Some papers will change appearance with the wax medium applications. Once this has cooled, reapply another layer of wax medium and gently fuse this layer to your painting.
You will notice with gentle and thorough fusing that the wax will lose a lot of the texture from the brush stroke. Less wax medium will be absorbed this time and any evidence of undesired brush strokes or pooling of medium can be scraped off with a pottery loop.
Gently scrape until you achieve the desired thickness of wax. Understand that some papers are more absorbent than other, so you may need a few layers of wax medium or just a couple to get the desired outcome.
6. A glossy plate finish is achieved by gently scraping and fusing several applications of wax medium until there are no scrape marks or brush strokes evident. Wax medium is not completely translucent, so keep your layers thin if you want to have maximum visibility of your art work. A final polish with a soft cloth will bring out the shine. Your art work is now preserved!
I hope this project will inspire you to do something new and different. Never be afraid of trying an alternate way of producing or displaying your artwork. Being innovative and exploring new ideas is what keeps the creative process going. Don’t forget to share your discoveries with your artist friends so that you can inspire them as well. Getting together with people who have the same passion is a great way to expand your knowledge and theirs!
Have a Happy Waxy Art Day!
Project by Kathryn Bevier
Photographs by Aaron Thomas
Also, see the video version of this demonstration at:
Watercolor art by Robert J. O’Brien