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Watercolour Technique: Wax Resist Painting Method

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

Watercolour Technique: Wax Resist

Wax resist is one of my favourite ways to keep the white of the original paper when painting a watercolour landscape. The wax stops the paint from getting to the paper and you can create lovely sparkles on water, or areas of light in a painting. It's especially good when you don't want the bother of using masking fluid and having to wait for it to dry.

Here is one example of how I've used it a painting of spring woodland. I'll explain the technique in more detail below.

forest using wax resist and granulation

Wax Resist Technique tips:

  • you can use the wax to preserve small or larger areas of white

  • the watercolour paint will sit in small speckles on the wax

  • you need to rub the wax on to the paper quite hard

  • don't pencil underneath the wax - you won't be able to get rid of the pencil marks once the wax is on

  • you can use a black biro to add detail over the wax

Equipment you will need:

One of the joys of this watercolour technique, is how cheap and easily available the equipment is :) :

  • White or cream wax candle

  • or wax crayon

And that's it - apart from your favourite watercolour paints, paper etc.

Very light toned wax crayons also work well, such as pale yellow, or pale peach. I've also tried the wax resist sticks you can buy, but I find they break easily, so I usually revert to a good old candle. However, for more detail, you need a sharper point, so you can sharpen the candle with a craft knife.

Example atmospheric watercolour seascape using the wax resist technique below:

atmospheric watercolour seascape using wax resist

Equipment list

300gsm watercolour cold pressed paper

rigger no 3 brush, round brush no 12

wax candle

watercolour Cotman tubes in: indigo, turquoise, yellow ochre.


Rub wax over the parts of the painting you want to preserve white. In the painting above, I've used the end of the candle, but you could also rub the side over the sea to create more sparkle as below:

Once you've used the wax resist, you can get straight in with lots of water to create a wet in wet painting, covering the sky and sea area with gorgeous turquoise and indigo washes. Remember to keep some areas of the painting light to create all important contrast.

When your first wash is dry, use your rigger brush to create detail: the far hills, the foreground with grasses. You could also add some lovely spatter with an old toothbrush to create more texture in your watercolour seascape.

Wax Resist for Trees

There is another example of how this technique can be used in my previous blog on the Forests Workshop.

About the Author

Ione Harrison is a contemporary landscape artist and teacher with over 30 years' experience of painting and teaching.

Based in North Yorkshire, she works from a studio in Nunnington and delivers workshops across Yorkshire.



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