Simple watercolor painting using candle wax

Candle wax can be used to protect the highlights or white passages in your watercolor painting. I have used it to create the impression of waterfalls, white foam on the sea, and to save highlights on rocks. This simple watercolor painting using candle wax was done with only a few colors and some quick watercolor washes. It is one of the early exercises I have all my beginner watercolor students do.

The trick with using candle wax is to understand the surface of your paper and what effect you are trying to produce. If you press lightly, less wax will be deposited on the paper surface. If the paper is textured, rather than smooth, you will get a broken edge of white unless you press very hard. The easiest way to learn the properties of wax on watercolor paper is to try it. Any experimenting you do on various papers and candle sizes will be beneficial.

The wax creates a barrier on the paper surface so that it stops the paint from sticking to its surface.

The one big negative about using wax on your watercolor paper is that it is permanent. You can’t remove it and you can’t paint over it. So you have to really need or want to use it and you have to know exactly where you want to place the wax.

Materials for using wax on watercolor paper

  • Arches 300gsm Cold Pressed (also known as Medium) watercolor paper, eighth sheet (approx. 7.5″ x 6″ (19cm x 14cm).
  • Brushes: Round — Sizes 24 and 12 for larger washes and 8 for the smaller areas and detail.
  • Paints: All Winsor and Newton — Cobalt Blue, French Ultramarine, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Cad Orange.
  • Backing board
  • Masking tape
  • Old towel to control wetness of your brushes
  • Pencil, tissues, and large water container that holds about 3 pints.
  • Clear (white) candle

Drawing

I did a very light drawing of where the rocks would go.

Image showing me drawing with a candle where the highlights in my watercolor painting are to be preserved

Once a very pale drawing is done showing where the rocks will go I drew in the highlights with my candle wax

Image showing how to save highlights on rocks with candle wax

Using candle wax to preserve highlights on rocks

Watercolor under painting

Before laying down my first wash I mixed my sky colors in my palette. The colors used were Cobalt Blue with a touch of Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Alizarin Crimson on its own, and some Cad Orange on its own.

By premixing my starting colors I can paint the big washes very quickly.

 

Photo of watercolor palette showing colors mixed before starting watercolor painting

Colors mixed before starting watercolor under painting

I start my under painting with the Cobalt Blue and Permanent Alizarin Crimson mix. I lay this wash down at a bit of an angle so that the sky does not have a horizontal look. Your brush must be fully loaded with paint. (A fully loaded brush is one that if you hold it vertically, with the point down, it will drip.)

Each wash of watercolor paint must be wet enough that it easily flows down the paper and forms a bead of paint at its bottom. You have to paint it very quickly or you will get streaks in the sky.

After you lay the first wash down, quickly load up your brush with the Permanent Alizarin Crimson and run this along the bottom of the blue wash. I run my brush about a quarter to a half brush thickness from the bottom of the first wash. You have to paint each wash fast enough that you can see the watercolors flow down your paper. If you are not seeing this then you are not loading up your brush with enough paint or you are moving the brush too slowly.

Repeat the above with the Cad Orange mix down to the distant horizon.

image showing painting of the sea

Painting the sea with French Ultramarine added to the left over blue sky mix

I then added some French Ultramarine to the blue mix in my palette and used this to paint the water down to the sand which was a just Raw Umber.

Photo of painting the sea and sand with watercolor

Painting the sea and sand. Notice the whole painting is just one wet wash at this stage

The sea area was a bit weak so I added more pigment while the painting was still wet to strengthen the sea color. I then dropped in a much stronger mix of the sea color under the wet waves.

image of stronger watercolor mix added under the waves to add more form

Add thicker mix of sea color under the waves

I let the under painting dry thoroughly at this stage!

Once the under painting was totally dry, I painted the rocks with a mix of French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. While the rocks were still wet I used a clean damp brush and softened the edges that touched the sand — ­quite often you will see damp sand, even little pools, around the edges of rocks near the sea.

watercolor painting of rocks on sand

Paint the rocks with a mix of French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna

 Finished simple watercolor painting using candle wax

The painting was completed with the addition of a few squiggles on the sand to represent sea weed or other flotsam and jetsam that ends up along the shore. In this case the squiggles are used to break up the sand area into more interesting shapes.

This type of painting can be done very quickly and is a good exercise for teaching beginner watercolor artists how to handle quite wet washes.

The birds would probably have been better left without the wax and then just placed in later with a dark color or white gouache.

Image of completed simple watercolor painting using candle wax

Finished simple watercolor painting using candle wax.

10 thoughts on “Simple watercolor painting using candle wax

  1. Robyn Lovelock

    Hey Joe! Another helpful little demo!
    I bought your new book and I’m loving reading it in bed each night…on my Ipad! You’ve done a great job on it Joe! Congrats!
    I would have absolutely no hesitation….recommending it to anyone…..especially those people starting out with watercolour.
    It’s easy to read and understand….for the novice……but at the same time….plenty of great tips and info for the more seasoned traveller! 🙂
    I think it’s terrific. Thanks Joe. You’ve put a lot of time and thought into your book….that’s very plain to see. I hope you sell heaps.
    Warmest Regards
    Ro x

  2. Joe Post author

    Thanks Robyn, appreciate your support and comments. If you get a chance I would appreciate if you could leave a review on Amazon 🙂

  3. Nancy Martone

    I just discovered your site and am blown away with the beauty of your works. I hope to create some beautiful paintings too – in time. I have already learned some great facts about reflections and shadows so you can be assured that I will purchase your new book. Thank- you so much for sharing your techniques.

    Sincerely,
    Nancy

  4. Francisco Cerquella

    Thanks for sharing, Joe! I have a question regarding the use of candle wax. Doesn’t it stain -leave oily marks- on the paper?
    Thank you

  5. Joe Post author

    Yes the candle wax stays on the paper Franciso. So you have to know where to place it on your watercolor paper as it cannot be removed.

  6. sneha

    I have recently started using water colours. Just wanted to know what to practice initially. I thought of trying nature first. Will it be better if I do one element at a time. Eg. learning to do skies first on small hand made sheets. Then moving on to some other element???. Kindly suggest

  7. Joe Post author

    The important thing is to just start painting and observing what your watercolors do. Certainly skies are a good start, but also playing with different brush strokes to see what types of different edges you create is important too. Good luck with you watercolor adventure.

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