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How to Use Wax Resist
Watercolor Painting Lesson

by Jennifer Branch
YouTube Painting Video

How to Use Wax Resist Watercolor Painting Lesson

Painting Lesson Level


Skill Building

Negative Painting
Wax Resist
One of my favorite ways to reserve white paper in watercolor is wax resist. Wax resist keeps paint from staying on your paper. If you have a white area or an area you want sparkling texture, wax is a very useful tool. I like using wax en plein aire where masking takes too long! I don't have to wait for wax to dry so I can continue working!
I find wax to be more effective on rougher surfaced papers.

Once wax is on the painting, it does not come off and the area will resist paint forever.

Dory, Seal Cove, Reflections on the dory using wax crayon technique.

Always make certain you want the wax to stay on the paper. Be careful where you apply wax to your painting. It cannot be completely removed with an iron and newsprint. Some always remains behind. Also, just using masking changes the surface of the paper. Wax resists gouache too. You can't just touch up your mistakes! If you're not sure, use masking. Masking is removable, wax is not.
Artist's Tips
Using wax somewhere you change your mind!

What Wax?

wax resist
I use white birthday candles or artist wax crayons.

Don't use regular children's crayons since they have white pigment which looks odd after paint is applied. Instead of lovely white paper, you have a white chalky dash. If I wanted white opaque color, I would use white gouache.

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Wax on White Paper

wax resist

Example on Arches rough 140# (300 gsm) paper.

Think sparkly sunlight. The birthday candle is softer, so covers more paper and is less precise. The crayon is harder so skims the surface and misses more. I generally use the bought artist crayon, but I've been known to use either.

Angle your paper so the light is slanted across it so you can see where the wax is drawn. This is especially important if you're resisting small details, such as a white porch railing.

Wax on Painted Paper

Watercolor wax resist

Let the underlayer (quinacridone gold) dry, then draw with the wax on.

This is a great texturing technique. If I add a little bit of wax to several layers, I can get sparkling colors shining through dense darks. Think about using this for cool gray tree limbs against dense leaves.

I prefer to use a wax crayon after a layer has completely dried. It tends to pick up a little bit of paint if you don't. also, it tears and compresses the paper rather than gliding over the surface of the paper.
watercolor lesson
You can use clear wax resist for all sorts of effects!
Think about a lovely reflecting pond with autumn leaves. A few horizontal dashes of wax will give you glittering ripples in the pond and allow you to flow from trees above the pond through their reflection below in one wash. And you still get the glittering ripples.

Different Papers Change Wax Resist Effect

The type of watercolor paper you choose completely changes how the wax resists the paint.

In these examples, also notice how the pressure used changes the effect as well. A light pressure misses many places. A heavy dark wash might make it almost disappear. Hard pressure on the crayon will be quite clear and sharp, especially on hot press paper.
Wax on rough press paper.

Arches Rough Press Paper 140#

Rough surfaced paper will only hit the peaks of the paper while the valleys never see the wax. This can give you a wonderful sparkling effect!

Wax on hot press paper.

Arches Hot Press Paper 140#

On hot press paper, wax glides smoothly over the surface coating the stroke evenly. So your resist will be smoothly even with little sparkle.

I much prefer using wax resist on a rough surfaced paper. It gives a lovely sparkle that can't be obtained any other way!

The main problem with using wax resist is it can get gimmicky if used too often or too much. Keep it for areas where it really works, not just an interesting technique to use often. Most of my paintings have a little wax resist on them, but it integrates into the painting. The wax doesn't stand out.

I hope this helps you to learn a useful technique. Wax is almost a necessity when painting on location since it lets the artist paint broad sweeping washes without worrying about little highlights. Those highlights usually make the painting though!

I hope you try wax resist on your next painting!


Try painting tree branches in white paper with wax. Paint 1 wash and let it dry. Then resist a few more branches with wax and paint another wash. Try doing a few layers of this to get a good feel for using wax resist!

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Happy Painting! Jennifer Branch

How to Use Wax Resist painting lesson by Jennifer Branch
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