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