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Cold Wax is not encaustic

Cold Wax is not encaustic

Cold wax painting does not use the encaustic painting process

Encaustic is the name for both a wax painting medium and a painting process that uses heat to apply and fuse the medium. Encaustic painting uses heat at every stage of the painting process. The name encaustic literally means “to burn”.

Cold wax medium is used at room temperature, whereas traditional encaustic painting is applied in a molten state. Painting with cold wax does not use the encaustic painting process.

Unlike encaustic that you heat up and fuse, cold wax should not be heated as it contains solvents. In encaustic painting, the wax medium must be molten to work with and then each layer needs to be fused (reheated).  Cold wax is not molten.

Cold wax medium is not encaustic medium

Encaustic medium is made from wax and damar resin no solvents are added.

Cold wax medium is wax that has been combined with a solvent such as turpentine or alkyd resin. Cold wax medium is a paste that is combined with oil paint. Cold wax speeds up drying time of oil paint and increases the paint’s workability. Cold wax gives the oil paint a creamy texture that can be spread on a painting like butter.

“Cold wax medium…is a pasty substance made of beeswax, resins, oils and mineral spirits, that is mixed with oil paint and applied directly to a support, without any fusing or heat applied. (For health and safety reasons, heating cold wax is not advised.)” (Source: Rebecca Crowell)


Cold Wax Painting is not Encaustic Painting

Cold wax is a different medium and a different painting process, therefore, it should not be confused with encaustic painting.

Learn about cold wax medium

cold wax medium book cover

If you’re interested in learning more about cold wax painting, I recommend picking up a copy of Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations by Rebecca Crowell & Jerry McLaughlin.

Please add your comments below.

About Ruth Maude

I enjoy experimenting with a variety of encaustic materials, techniques and tools. Everything I learn pushes my creative journey in new directions. I share what I've learned with other artists through my blog All Things Encaustic.

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16 thoughts on “Cold Wax is not encaustic”

  1. do you know if one could apply cold wax and oils on a panel that had encaustic medium as a base layer? I’m tying to repurpose a bunch of panels, but I think I want to use cold wax on the next steps. The panels just have one layer of encaustic residue on them. Thoughts? Thanks!

  2. Hello, i would like to know the drying time between and layer or if you can work non-stop.
    I would also like to know if cold wax and mix with acrylics?
    Can the cold wax guide book be found in spanish version?
    Thank you

  3. Thank you for clarifying cold wax vs encaustic. I’ve been using encaustic for years and get some wonderful results, fairly safely if you keep the air moving. I don’t want anything with solvents.

  4. I would like to know whether I can use Shellac instead of damar and at which ratio to make resin to add it to the cold wax? Also, when not having genuine turpentine at hand, can I use ordinary turps in the recipe when I reheat the mixture in water and then add the Damar?

  5. It might be wise to remember that encaustic medium is not necessarily the 85% beeswax /15% damar resin mixture so commonly quoted as “the formula” for encaustic medium. It is however the one the the USA manufacturers tend to adhere to. There are many other formulations for encaustic medium paints of various types and offering differing qualities. Solvents within these mixtures will add dubious fumes and potential flammability to any heating process, but there is no real reason why they cannot be included. They will however, perhaps, leave residues, and these might have an affect on the resultant compound over time. Your reference to the necessity of heat within the encaustic process is indeed reflected in the very root of the word “encaustic”. But Pliny the elder wrote of more than one type of encaustic approach (three in his record of observation), so again it might be wise to respect history rather than get caught up in a contemporary debate about current trends and approaches. Just an opinion I offer into this thread Ruth. Our modern access to vast arrays of information can also lead to mass misconception; fake news is getting too abundant.
    Any unheated solvent paste is just that; a cold wax paste medium often used to extend, texture and alter translucency for oil paint.
    If there is no heat then that approach would not literally be an encaustic method.
    Encaustic medium is not a fixed formulation; there can be various waxes and or resins etc. involved.

    1. Michael, I am trying to clear up confusion not create it! Yes, different formulations may be called encaustic but cold wax medium should not be confused with encaustic medium. I would argue that “dubious fumes and potential flammability” is a real reason that solvents should not be added to encaustic medium. Cold wax medium contains solvent and should not be heated. I watched your video, what are your reasons for adding solvent to encaustic? Why not just add a coat of clear encaustic medium?

  6. I have work with a material called cold wax, the wax is mixed with turpentine and is soft like butter, then it can be mix with pigments and even oil paint, it can be applied cold, and after you can use de heat gun or the torch… what I learned is that you have to fuse it to the substrate, and to other layers with the heat… my teacher called it encaustic too, because of the intervention of fire…

    1. Susana, if you are going to continue to work with cold wax medium, pick up a copy of the book and read it through. You want to be safe! Not all instructors are teaching the correct way and using the proper terminology.

  7. “Cold wax” comes in two different kinds. One is a creamy mix with solvents, the other, researched by a Spanish artist called Cuni and as a commercial product available is a water-solulable kind of wax, that has been used in ancient Greek and Roman wallpaintings. OK, it may not be “encaustic” as is requires no heat to be applied, but it can be fused after application as good as normal wax-encaustic. There are no solvents that could cause harm when inhaled. (as far as I can see) For me it seems to be the ideal way of painting, as dealing with heat allways bears dangers and hazards may occur. And I would not like to set my studio and home on fire, just being too forgetfull and leaving wax on the heating-source too long. I thought that should be added!

  8. Just joined your Blog. Appreciated your mise-au-point. As an encaustic painter for many yrs, respecting this oldest of tradition, commands a passionate commitment to aesthetics. No short cuts!

  9. Thanks for that great post-explanation Ruth. I have tried cold wax before any instructional books or even internet information was available. I experimented with it by applying it as a barrier layer between acrylic paint (before my chalk/milk paint discovery), and encaustic paints. Thankfully I was working outside because I did heat it with a propane torch and the whole painting went up in flames! I can laugh about it now but I can attest to the fact that anything that is solven-based should never be heated. Needless to say, I don’t use it any more in that capacity. What I do use it for though, is when I paint in mixed media, I will seal the art piece with a heavy layer of glossy varnish or medium. Once dry, I’ll apply a thin layer of cold wax medium over the surface to matt-ify the surface. It actually resembles an encaustic piece. Make no mistake though, nothing even comes close to the beauty and richness of a real encaustic painting.

  10. I paint with encaustic wax and have friends who paint with cold wax. I cannot see the similarities except they both have wax in them, and can bind with oil. The end result is very different and the process is totally different. The one thing I hear is that working with cold wax is extremely gratifying.

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