Open to its mid-point and spread out on the table, Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin’s newly released book—Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts & Conversations—has an impressive, substantial presence. At 320 pages, it’s a bigger book than its authors originally envisioned, but that’s what happens when the right people tackle a previously unexplored topic: the urge to create something comprehensive takes over.
Two years ago Rebecca Crowell and Jerry McLaughlin were complete strangers, but thanks to Jerry—who flew from California to Wisconsin to meet and recruit Rebecca with the layout for a “mock chapter” in hand—the two are now great friends, co-authors of a book and the founders of a publishing company, Squeegee Press.
Crowell, who bought her first jar of cold wax medium in 2002, first thought of cold wax as “simply a substance that I mixed with my paint and with which I experimented and played,” but over time it has become a very familiar and flexible tool that supports her intentions and intuitions. Some of the qualities that cold wax offers—including translucency, body and enhanced drying time—have facilitated the evolution of Crowell’s richly textured abstractions.
Through her travels, teaching and exhibitions, Crowell has accumulated a host of followers and part of what has made the book project come alive is the support it has received from a constantly growing community of nearly 2,000 artists. Over 100 of them are represented by images in the book itself, and an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaignto support the $27k production cost of the first printing easily surpassed its goal, raising $45k instead.
What makes Cold Wax Medium such a friendly and valuable book is, in fact, the many varied and vital crowd-sourced images, recipes and techniques that it brings together. Part compendium and part cookbook, it’s a book that couldn’t have been made without the social reach of the internet. As full as it is—with information about tools, solvents, waxes and even presentation—is also supplemented by online “bonus material” that purchasers can access for free. It’s not surprising that a book with a full chapter entitled “Further Possibilities” sees itself as just the beginning.
The book’s many images—which include paintings, collages, combines, prints and even sculpture—are there to provide artistic inspiration, answering what Rebecca and Jerry think of as the vital “why” question that the book needs to respond to. There are also quotes, recipes and tips from many of the artists, as well as a closing set of “insights” in a final chapter that focuses on the reflections of a selection of key artists.
It’s a good thing—a great thing actually—that Jerry McLaughlin was able to convince Rebecca Crowell that a comprehensive book on cold wax medium as needed. As a result, a medium that has been around for a long time is having a revival. The conversations and images contained in this book demonstrate that artists have a facility for taking ideas, methods and techniques from the past and renewing them in unexpected ways. Cold Wax Medium: Techniques, Concepts and Conversations will provide both inspiration and practical information for decades to come.
A debut book demonstrates the artistic use of cold wax.
The manipulation of cold wax as an artistic tool is hardly new: its employment dates back 4,000 years to ancient Egypt, with a resurgence occurring in the 18th century. But Crowell and McLaughlin, both artists with extensive involvement with cold wax as a medium, noticed increased interest in it recently and, as a result, the need for an informational resource. First and foremost, the volume is a reference guide, providing a wide expanse of knowledge regarding cold wax, covering the various techniques available for its use and its properties, the relevant tools and materials, and its applications for different artistic media, including painting, sculpture, collages, and landscapes. There’s also a discussion of how to set up a new studio and a list of resources for supplies and products. A portion of the book is more wide-ranging; besides a brief history of cold wax, the authors also furnish an examination of a full “visual language” as a precondition for making works and a meditation on the process of discovering one’s “personal voice” as an artist. Additionally, there are several short interviews with artists reflecting on cold wax as well as art and creation in general. Not only are the various techniques explored in these pages well-illustrated, readers will also find color photographs of works from over 100 artists.
The authors’ guide is almost impossibly comprehensive—they manage to treat the proper lighting of an atelier, the utilization of cradled panels, and glazing all in one volume. The writing is helpfully lucid and refreshingly shorn of the kind of pretentious, postmodern jargon one expects to discover in a work about contemporary art. While there are extended ruminations on the nature of art and expression, this is principally a how-to book, and the collective experience of two veterans really shines through in the sections providing step-by-step accounts of techniques. The intended audience seems to include both beginners and more seasoned professionals: those who have never set up their own studios before and those on the hunt for specialized tools. The parts that stray from the chief subject for the sake of discourses on creativity tend to be overly broad, especially in contrast to the largely practical lessons otherwise delivered, and read like unnecessary digressions: “We must find the best means of expression for what we hold inside. This requires inner work.” Nevertheless, this is both a timely and timeless volume, and it’s hard to imagine that its scope and quality will be exceeded anytime soon. In addition, the photographic reproductions of art are visually gorgeous, making the offering an attractive coffee-table book, as enjoyable to peruse as it is instructionally valuable.
A thorough and beautifully produced guide to an ever popular medium.