Cold Wax and the Art of Collage

Her Crowning Glory

This piece, based on an historical 18th century portrait, is titled “Her Crowning Glory.” Instead of big hair, she has plenty of collaged flowers, some bugs and a bird’s nest. Glorious, indeed! (On my website soon, and available now – email if interested!)

Working with collage and my chosen art medium of oil and cold wax presents some challenges. If I was working in acrylics, I’d find the whole collage process much easier. Acrylic medium is basically a plastic-like glue, and getting items to stick works quite well. But acrylic medium, being water-based, will not work on an oil painting.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of glue that works on an oil surface, because many glues are water-based, even industrial glues used for carpentry and wood-working. I haven’t experimented with cyanoacrylate glues, such as Superglue, because of the odor and toxicity. I’m not even sure if they would stick properly to an oil surface or remain clear over time. I’ve searched but can’t find any information I trust on the Internet. I did find one reference on a wood-working site that stated the glues would not stick to surfaces treated with paste wax. Uh—wax! Key ingredient in my paintings!

So I have found through trial and error how to affix my collage elements to the surface with cold wax. Wax is pasty and when fresh from the can is not very sticky. However, it has enough tack that it can stick items that aren’t too heavy. I don’t think cardboard or heavy fabrics would work, but for my purposes, meaning light-weight paper and occasional light fabrics, it is fine. Note that you must work on a rigid surface, not canvas or flexible surfaces. The wax builds up and could crack on a flexible surface.

Here’s what I do:

1. Wait for the surface to be dry to the touch. If it is wet, the paint will smear and make a mess of the collage as you rub it onto the surface.

2. Smear a layer of wax onto the area that is to receive the collage element. I use my fingers, wearing gloves. Even though cold wax is mostly beeswax, it contains odorless mineral spirits and alkyd resin, which I prefer not to have on my skin.

3. Smear a layer of wax on the back of the item to be collaged. It’s OK to wax the front, too. Note that the item will darken as if wet, but once the wax cures, it will return to it’s pre-waxed appearance.

4. Place the item on the surface and gently rub down, from the centre of the item to the outside edges, squeezing out any air bubbles and helping to create a firm bond.

5. Now using a small amount of wax on your fingertip, gently apply wax against the edges of the collage element, burying the edge in a thin layer of wax. This helps to keep the edges from lifting up, which, depending on the type of paper used, they tend to do. I print out many of my collage elements on my Epson printer using standard printer paper and this seems to have a tendency to lift on the edges.

6. Wait for wax to cure for a couple of days and check all the collage elements again, especially the edges. Sometimes a firm press-down works at this point as the wax has cured to a state of stickiness. Sometimes a bit more wax is necessary on the edges to help bury them in wax.

7. Keep fussing and add some curses. Wonder why you like oil paint so much.

8. After everything is cured and finally affixed securely, and after you consider the painting finished, apply a thin coat of clear wax to the entire surface, being especially careful to wax over and around the edges of the collage elements once again. Wait for the painting to cure (a few days or more), then buff with a soft cloth, again being very careful not to rub up on the edges of the collage elements.

That’s it! So easy (har-de-har). But for some reason I find it loads of fun…

Collage elements

Cutting out and organizing the many collage flowers and other elements I needed for this painting.

Collage placement

I place the collage elements roughly in their place, then photograph it as a record to follow when sticking them down.

Lifted edge

The edges of this lily flower just would not lie down flat. I had to wait until the wax was partially cured and was stickier to get the paper to adhere. Even so I worked at it for a few days, sticking down, re-sticking, until it eventually gave up and obeyed!

Detail of collage

Here’s a detail showing various collage elements waxed into place. Nothing lifting so far!

Painted collage

Here’s the same detail with overpainting in oil sticks to help all the collage elements blend together, plus some adjustments for colour and shading.

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2 Responses to Cold Wax and the Art of Collage

  1. Hanna McCown December 14, 2017 at 9:57 am #

    It is delightful and beautiful. What a process. I guess it is the artist in you that loves the challenge of working with collage in oils. The finished work is absolutely gorgeous.

    • Dorothy Siemens December 15, 2017 at 8:16 am #

      Thank you, Hanna, for your lovely comments! I think you are right about the challenge part – it’s definitely a bonus!

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