Waxing Your Watercolors

Years ago I saw mention of “waxing your watercolors” in a discussion group and I was like, wait – what?

So I checked it out. Yes, you can apply a coat of wax to seal your watercolors.

There are pros and cons. The main “con” is that once the finished piece is waxed, it is done. Like really done. You can’t go back and change anything. I know sometimes years later, I will come across a work on mine and think, “Hmmmm… if only I made that one area just a touch darker…” If it is waxed, you can’t.

The “pro” of it is that it does seal the watercolor. Some people do this and then mount the work on a board instead of a traditional frame with glass. I use the traditional glass but I do wax the finished piece if I am going to ship it out to someone.

I don’t know that they won’t handle it roughly, spill their coffee or whatever. It is fast and easy and if it helps to protect the work, I do think it is worth it.

You only need a few things to accomplish a perfect waxing job.

First – I use a regular old lint roller.

This is, of course, optional. Until recently, I had 2 long-haired cats so every painting got a thorough going over when finished. However, even without cats, you can have bits of lint, mask, etc. that you do not want sealed onto your painting.

Next – the wax. The only one I have ever heard recommended for both being easy and archival is Dorlands. It doesn’t yellow and has a rather pleasant smell.

Purchase it here on Amazon

You need a lint free, soft cloth to apply. I use old – but clean – gym socks.

I find it easiest to place the painting on an old piece of mat board or whatever and do a few paintings at a time. Here is my high-tech set up.

Setting up to use Dorland's wax

I just glop some out of the jar and rub it evenly all over the paper.

Using a sock to apply wax

Notice that after the wax is applied, none of the pigment has rubbed off on the sock.

Applying Dorland's wax to a watercolor

Easiest to let it dry overnight and then either apply another coat or just buff. I usually do two coats. After it is dry, buff a bit. Dorland’s says you can buff to a high shine but I usually only see a bit of a “satin” finish. I tried to get a few shots of the finish but it really doesn’t show up in a photo. It is debatable if the colors of the painting are really made darker or richer but the wax certainly doesn’t detract from the look.

Painting waxed with Dorland's

A closeup of the waxed paper.

Detail of Dorland's waxed painting

Ah, but here is why you might want to wax. I am going to take this finished watercolor that I am quite happy with and spent many hours finishing… and pour water on it.

That’s the test.

Water poured on finished painting

Yep. It beads right up. And I wiped it right off. Just something to consider if you wish to preserve a few of your finished pieces.

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