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How to apply a wax finish to your watercolors

How to apply a wax finish to a watercolor painting mounted on board.

Applying a wax finish to your watercolors has many advantages, it will protect the paper from humidity and is easy and fast to apply, it also has a nice odor that is way less strong than varnish.

I recently did paint those green Chrysanthemums with watercolors and mixed media on paper and did mount the painting on a cradled panel.

Click here to see how to mount  a watercolor painting on a cradled panel board, a step by step tutorial

Green Mums 2New version;Watercolor and mixed media on paper

Green Mums 2, Watercolor and mixed media on paper
Available, click here to buy

 

Here is how to apply a wax finish to a watercolor painting.

 

You will  need:

  • An already painted and dry watercolor painting  mounted on board
  • Krylon workable fixative
  • Dorland wax medium
  • A soft cloth

 

paper has been mounted

Here the watercolor painting had been mounted on board, you need to trim the extra paper on the sides before applying the finish.

cutter to trim excess paper

Using a cutter that you hold parallel to the sides of the panel is the most convenient way to trim the excess paper on the sides.

sides are neat

The sides are now neat. Depending on the media you used on your paper you might want to spray a bit of working fixative before applying the wax. I like to use Krylon workable fixative for that.

In the case of this painting, the blue flowers designs in the background were drawn with colored pencil, rubbing wax on top of colored pencil would displace some of the pencil pigments and blur a bit the designs. Even if your painting is only watercolor, I recommend you spray a bit of fixative to make sure none of the watercolor pigment is disrupted by the wax.

dorland wax medium

I am using Dorland wax medium that I will apply with a blue shop towel. You can buy those at home hardware stores, they have the advantage of not leaving any residue. A soft cloth would work as well.

applying the wax

Next you can apply the wax, using circular motions, like you would do when applying wax on a piece of furniture.

applying wax on the sides of the painting

If your painting is mounted on wood, you can also apply the wax to the sides of the panel as well.

looking at the surface of the painting flat against the light

Looking at the looking at the surface of the painting held horizontally against the day light is a good way to check if you missed any area.

You can then leave the painting to dry for a few days and buff it with a soft cloth to make the finish more shiny.

Have you tried applying a finish to your watercolors instead of framing them?

{ 51 comments… add one }
  • Sam March 3, 2017, 8:10 am

    I appreciate to read all of the tips on wax. I am trying to find out if I need to spray a fixative Elon my mechanical pencil sketches before I apply watercolour to the page? If so would it be workable or permanent?

    Thank you
    Same

    • Sandrine Pelissier March 3, 2017, 9:34 am

      Hello Sam,
      I would not recommend spraying fixative on your drawing before painting with watercolor as it will change the surface of your paper and make it waterproof.

  • Andrée Lachance September 20, 2016, 6:28 am

    J’aime votre blog. Toujours de bonnes idées. J’ai été intriguée par un de vos blogs pour monter des peintures sur des supports de bois. Je viens de monter des peintures sur yupo de cette façon et j’aime le résultat. J’ai utilisé un vernis en aérosol Krylon avant de monter les peintures et des gros livres sur l’envers durant le séchage pour m’assurer d’une bonne adhésion.
    I love your blog. Always interesting ideas. Following one of your blog ideas, I just tried mounting paintings on yupo on wood craddles and I like it. I used a Krylon spray varnish before mounting and heavy books on the upside down side to insure a good adhesion.

    • Sandrine Pelissier September 20, 2016, 9:31 am

      Merci Andrée! Je suis très contente d’apprendre que vous aimez lire le blog et que vous avez bien aime le résultat en montant le papier yupo sur du bois 🙂

  • Sandy August 23, 2016, 5:10 am

    Can you apply a wax coating to an oil painting?

    • Sandrine Pelissier August 23, 2016, 6:55 am

      I would think so but I am not painting with oils so I never tried it.

    • Dsb September 18, 2016, 6:40 am

      Not at all. Do not even try it.
      Oil paint must be allowed to breathe, since the oil that binds the pigments together takes some good time to dry. You do not want to create a film on top of the surface which will trap the oil and fumes on the inside. It’ll mess up your piece.

      • ev December 15, 2016, 6:39 pm

        You can absolutely seal oil paintings with Dorland’s wax. I use only that to seal my oil paintings instead of varnish. Google the product.

  • Brenda elaine shirvis July 24, 2016, 10:29 am

    So glad I found you on Pinterest!

  • Sharleen Field July 21, 2016, 3:48 am

    Love your work! My only concern is – does the wax yellow with age?

    • Sandrine Pelissier July 21, 2016, 5:55 am

      Thanks Sharleen,
      I didn’t notice any yellowing of wax with age. As long as you keep your artwork away from strong direct sunlight I don’t think wax would yellow more than varnish does.

  • bonnie nelms July 6, 2016, 12:55 pm

    would this same procedure apply to watercolor on YUPO…would it be safe to display/sell without frame? wc on yupo makes me nervous because it lifts so easily.

    thanks for your reply.

    • Sandrine Pelissier July 6, 2016, 1:02 pm

      On yupo I would recommend varnishing with a spray varnish or a soft brush and not apply wax.

  • Debbie Kilmer June 11, 2016, 9:02 am

    Where can I purchase this wax for watercolor paintings? Is this a product in art and craft stores, such as Hobby Lobby or Michaels stores? What other ways can a watercolor painting be finished to make the colors of the painting “pop”? In the past, I have been a painter with acrylics, and always used a varnish….so what would work for watercolors without the shine or gloss of a varnish? Thank you for your help.

  • Alex February 28, 2016, 5:40 pm

    I have just read the above on waxing a finished watercolor painting. I have used the Dorland wax with success. There is also another wax medium that can be used in replacement of Dorland, that is, Gamblin cold wax medium. This is a beeswax and OMS mixture. Steven Berry has used this product instead of Dorland.

    Thanks for sharing your technique. Love your blog
    Alex

  • Lisa Gibson November 24, 2015, 11:15 am

    I love using the Dorland’s Wax also due to the low odor. The only thing that is sometimes a bother is the cloth marks on the painting. Are you able to buff those out later?

    • Sandrine Pelissier November 24, 2015, 11:18 am

      Yes, I would try to minimize them when applying the wax, and then buff them later. Maybe use a bit less wax too.

  • ginimom21770600 February 9, 2015, 10:16 am

    What type of wood do you use to mount your watercolours? Do you pick it up at a hardware store?

    I want to stay away from glass and frames as much as possible so finding your process really made me happy.

    Gini

    • Sandrine Pelissier February 9, 2015, 12:34 pm

      Thanks Gini:)
      I am lots of trouble with frames, damages on the corners, broken glass, etc… so I am trying to avoid framing as much as possible.

      I am using a cradled panel that I am buying at Opus, but if you are good with woodworking, it is quite simple to make:
      https://store.opusartsupplies.com/sagro/storefront/store.php?mode=browsecategory&category=147

    • Marcy LaBella July 23, 2016, 5:18 am

      Cradled boards come in every size and are very inexpensive – you probably can’t make them for what they cost to buy. They are super nice to work with come sanded and ready to go. Can’t say enough about them they are great for acrylics, oil painting or mixed media.

  • Leslie Dalton January 31, 2015, 4:05 pm

    Thank you for your info on waxing the painting. The wait time to buff was my query. I do mount my watercolor painting on artist panels with cradles as well. I fix my watercolor before starting the process and I turn the painting upside down to dry after mounting them and stack heavy book over the whole panel overnight. When I trim the overlap, it’s upside down on a mat and I trim the excess with an exacto knife. I love your art! 😀

    • Sandrine Pelissier January 31, 2015, 4:28 pm

      Thanks Leslie:) Turning the painting upside down and put weights on top is a very good idea!
      I am waiting about one day before buffering the wax finish.

  • CheyAnne Sexton December 2, 2014, 8:11 am

    Thanks again for all the wonderful and helpful info. Really liked the part about using the fixative to stop any art process from blurring and moving.

  • Exterior Home Painting Denver CO August 8, 2014, 12:45 pm

    Hey are using Wordpress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog
    world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you require any coding knowledge to
    make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!

  • Sheri Trepina March 18, 2014, 11:07 am

    Really enjoy your work!
    What are your thoughts about UV protection for the watercolours with this technique?
    Thanks for all the wonderful information and techniques you share with us.
    Sheri

    • Sandrine Pelissier March 18, 2014, 10:21 pm

      Thanks Sheri:)
      I might be wrong but I don’t think the wax has any UV protection. This is the same though if a traditional watercolor painting is framed without UV protection glass.

  • Wendy March 7, 2014, 6:48 pm

    Beautiful work, Sandrine.
    Must try this technique. I am looking online for Dorland’s wax – do you use the Jacquard brand? Is the finish fairly matte?
    Thanks

  • Li March 6, 2014, 7:23 am

    I was wondering if it is necessary to use workable fixative prior to waxing? Would final fixative make too much of a non-permeable surface or does the wax remain on top? Thank You.

    • Sandrine Pelissier March 6, 2014, 7:42 am

      I used workable fixative here mainly because of the colored pencils which are also made with wax I believe. Testing on another piece of paper, I saw that the wax would disrupt the colored pencil design.
      Sometimes I spray fixative also to make sure that a watercolor paint pigments don’t move as well, but that is mostly when I brush on the varnish, I don’t think wax will disturb the watercolor pigments as much as brushed on varnish.

  • Arthur F. Coitinho March 4, 2014, 1:41 pm

    Very interesting technique. Enjoyed. You could tell that another brand or type of wax could be used without the wax Dorland?
    Thanks for the opportunity.

    • Sandrine Pelissier March 5, 2014, 8:54 am

      Hello Arthur, I am not sure what other brand will be available depending on where you live but Dorland’s is the most popular by far. May I ask why you would like a different brand?
      I think some of the wax medium here for example would work the same way: http://www.michaelharding.co.uk/news5.php

      • Arthur F. Coitinho March 8, 2014, 2:55 pm

        Hi, Sandrine!
        Thanks for the reply. I do not like to have a different brand, but I live in Brazil and here there is no Dorland wax to buy. We can get through Amazon via online. Here we find other brands that are also composed of beeswax with some other component.

  • mary February 17, 2014, 4:09 pm

    Thank you for sharing I might give this a try

  • Anita Goodson February 17, 2014, 1:00 pm

    Love everything you do.

  • Anita Goodson February 17, 2014, 12:49 pm

    Love everything you do. I wanted to download the 34 pg. & can’t. I am already signed up so it wouldn’t let me. Can you give me directions?
    Thanks,
    Anita

  • Judy February 17, 2014, 11:21 am

    Beautiful work!
    Curious, what did you use for the blue entangle pattern? Marker or ink? and in what stage did you apply it?

    • Sandrine Pelissier February 17, 2014, 11:48 am

      Hello Judy,
      Thanks:)
      I have the step by step tutorial for this painting scheduled for in two weeks. You will see all the steps I took. I did draw the blue zentangle patterns with colored pencils.

  • Louise February 17, 2014, 9:04 am

    Très intéressante cette technique. Selon votre expérience, est-ce que la cire laisse un résidu collant? Est-ce suffisant pour protéger à long terme une aquarelle?
    Merci à vous,
    Louise

    • Sandrine Pelissier February 17, 2014, 9:10 am

      Merci Louise 🙂
      La cire est collante au debut mais apres deux ou trois jours, elle est seche et a perdu cet aspect collant. C’est a ce moment la qu’on peut la faire briller avec un chiffon doux.
      Je pense que la cire offre une bonne protection surtout un bonne etancheite a l’eau, la principale difference avec le vernis est que le vernis content des filtres uv que la cire n’a pas, mais je ne suis pas sure de l’efficacite de ces filtres UV de toutes facons.

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