Artists are always searching for new materials and different ways of representing their feelings, their thoughts and ideas. The medium of cold wax provides a gateway into a world of experimental techniques and creative possibilities. The key ingredients are inexpensive and are relatively simple to combine using an old pan and a griddle. I use a basic recipe of 3 parts turpentine and 1 part beeswax. If I need a softer, more fluid medium I add more turpentine to the mix.
This painting is a mixed media work on a 40 x 40 cm canvas and I have used paper collage and card to establish different relief levels within the painting. The cold wax is a versatile medium and will act as an adhesive layer besides providing opportunities to apply heavy impasto. The rapid drying times speed up the working process and allow swift changes. By varying the oil paint and medium ratio, opacity and translucency can adjusted. Sgraffito techniques can also be used.
This work is an evocation of the Cambridgeshire Fenlands. This is an unforgiving, flat landscape, gouged and crisscrossed by rivers and dykes. It owes its existence to the draining of the Fens by Dutch engineers over 400 years ago and makes no claim to sentimental notions of a pastoral idyll. It is, however, honest, direct, immediate and without pretence… this is genuine beauty, artless charm and magnificence.
What do I mean by reverse archaeology? That archaeology may have something to offer painting is less complicated than you might imagine. The painting that you see here is really 3 paintings in one, except that you can only see the last layer, or the current layer, to be more accurate.
This work started out as a monochrome image using a bitumen ground with a white chalk paint applied in alternate layers. The chalk layer acted as a kind of sgraffito surface that could reveal the darker tones below. At this stage, with the paint still wet, it was also possible to drag the surface with a wide squeegee, a technique used by the German artist Gerhard Richter to create unexpected marks and gradations of tone.
I guess I could have stopped at this point. The painting had already gained a rugged tactile quality with a richly textured surface. I had also used horizontal bands or sections to echo the characteristics of the Fenland landscape and aerial perspective. I reworked the painting a few days later. To be honest, I know the precise reason I made the next set of changes. I had seen a contemporary textile piece in a local gallery that comprised sections of worn, multi-coloured cloth, stitched together in vertical strips. The effect was mesmerising. The artist explained that the old clothing belonged to her husband, a farmer, and she wanted to embed and embody his work in the textile landscape.
I introduced several opaque layers of cold wax medium to the surface. These were stained with light ochre and I waited a few days for them to dry. I then scored regular horizontal lines through the surface to the bitumen. The painting at this stage was monochrome. It had a definite presence with a minimalist abstract quality. I had successfully avoided the trap of becoming overly decorative and too narrowly focused on detail. However, I didn’t stop at that point, hence the reference to reverse archaeology. Archaeology is a process of extraction and excavation, revealing the events of time. My paintings are a process of accretion and sedimentation, which disguise the origins of the work.
I became dissatisfied with the absence of colour in the work and I wanted to introduce a range of warmer, differentiated tones to the gridlike structure. I switched to acrylic paints and some metallic effects, which I applied selectively. As you know, acrylic and oil don’t mix particularly well, but this can be an advantage if you are striving to achieve an uneven, variegated colour. The last part of the process involved the application of heat with a heat gun. The intense heat allowed the bitumen to burn through the wax, reinstating the fine lines and increasing the textural qualities in the paint which momentarily bubbled and then resettled.
This is where I have arrived, and maybe this is where I should remain. Maybe the painting becomes less convincing each time I make a significant intervention. Maybe the earlier foundations and cumulative changes conjure a depth and a weight that may have lifted the work beyond the pedestrian. At this moment, the jury is out.
Let me know your thoughts, it’s always good to hear other viewpoints and opinions.
This painting is part of the geometric tradition of abstraction and is reminiscent of the ‘hard edge’ American abstract painters of the 50’s and 60’s. The colour is applied with a glazing and staining method using successive layers and washes, enhancing both depth and luminosity. Spatial qualities are carefully controlled with certain vertical columns alternately advancing and receding. The addition of iridescent gold paint contrasts directly with the blues, reds and purples of the surrounding space. In different lighting conditions, the metallic and reflective surfaces radiate light.
Working with acrylic is a very different experience from oils. Somehow, the colours are more saturated and intense. This piece is at a critical stage…I haven’t decided yet whether it is finished. We will see.
I tend to use materials in experimental ways, often going against traditional principles and recommendations. This particular painting uses a wide variety of tools and materials, some conventional, much less so. The list of media includes, oil, cold wax, bitumen, acrylic, chalk, pumice, tissue paper and card. The tools range from palette knives to barbecue skewers. In my next post, I will take you through the process from beginning to end.
This highly textured painting on a solid oak block has just been sold to a collector in Scotland. Oak has a very dense grain and provides a resilient surface for the cold wax process. A variety of tools can be used with confidence to create a range of natural textures and fine surface markings. Multiple layers of wax have been used to generate the illusion of depth and translucency.