I’ve been thinking for some time of waxing pigment prints done on the Epson 9800 and the middle of February seemed to get around to it. There are various reasons why one should wish to wax a print – the most obvious being protection against scratches and pollution. However, there are aesthetic considerations as well. Wax adds gloss and a certain ‘rustic’ look if applied in a slightly haphazard manner.I started with prints on Hahnemuhle Torchon and William Turner.I tend to use the latter paper more often now as the Torchon is so heavy it’s difficult to roll without crumpling and send through the post. First I sprayed the prints with Hahnemuhle’s own spray which is anti UV, then I applied the undiluted floor wax containing natural bee’s wax; it’s a pale yellow colour. The alternative is to use pure bee’s wax diluted in painter’s turpentine but this is much more laborious and is also darker. On that score a slightly lighter print than normal is recommended. I use a soft wool duster in a circling motion. The more you polish while the wax is wet the easier it will be to to get a smooth finish when it’s dry. I usually start by putting wax fairly evenly over the whole print then leave it 6 -8 hours to dry and crystallise. Polish with a mechanical polisher if you have one. Then I work on small areas at a time, the wax disolves the older wax and you can see that it starts to resemble black ice. Leave it to dry for an hour or so before buffing with a soft duster. Using a hairdyer I find helps to add gloss to matt areas. Set it on warm and it dissolves the wax and takes out any harsh looking whirls. Polish afterwards in the usual way.
An alternative to bee’s wax is colourless Renaissance wax. This is the real conservator’s medium developed by the British Museum for their priceless artefacts. It doesn’t discolour or oxidise, but it costs a lot more: €15/ £13/ $30 (200ml). I make very big prints and frankly that would be beyond my budget. You can order it from Amazon.
The real bore about waxing is the buffing afterwards. For that I turned to my wife – not because she’s got more stamina than me, but she used to have her own restoration business and thankfully still has the electric sanding machine – what a difference that makes on a 100x 50cm print! Don’t forget to tape the print down.
After polishing I apply another layer, the more layers, the deeper the gloss. After the second overall layer I start to put extra wax sometimes using a brush on particular areas of the print both to add gloss in those parts, but also to add a certain relief on branches, rocks etc. It feels like a painting when you touch the surface.
How long does it take? Well it can literally take days as you have to let the wax dry each time but I would say that it definitely adds an indefinably arty look and feel to the print as well as quality and permanence. On a big print it can look a bit patchy and therefore I recommend using prints in which the subject will benefit from this lightly rough and ready technique.
Up until John Constable’s time landscape painting was heavily influenced by Claude Lorraine. Painters and even grand tourists went into the field with a mirror device called the Claude Glass that enabled them to see the landscape in brown ‘Claude’ tones. Constable reacted forcibly against this fashion and as his friend C.R. Leslie wrote “Sir George (Beaumont) recommended the colour of an old Cremona fiddle for the prevailing tone of everything, and this Constable answered by laying an old fiddle on the green lawn before the house.” The English landscape was patently not the colour of a fiddle.
I tried wax on a black and white print but personally I feel it works better with colour or with sepia as I’ve shown here above. In fact the sepia print looks like polished mahogany ……………or even an old violin – Constable I feel would not have approved.
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