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

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

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

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

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?

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{ 28 comments… add one }

  • 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.


  • 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.

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  • 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.

    • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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,
      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,

    • 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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