Wax resist drawings, after Henry Moore

April 13, 2014

I cut up two A1 sheets of Arches Smooth 185gsm to make four A2 sheets (far more cost-effective buying it as sheets than as blocks or pads) and had on hand a wide bristle brush, a bottle of Noodler’s Black Ink and a tea light wax ‘candle’, as well as a Rembrandt soft pastel (black), Conte crayons (white and sanguine) and Caran d’Ache Neo pastels (yellow and orange).

westmacott wax resist DETAIL 1Here’s a detail (about A4 size) of the second of the four sketches. I managed four sketches in three hours, with quite some time spent watching the ink dry in the sun outdoors. I learned to leave it out there in the sun while proceeding to the next sketch indoors.


The paper has to be stout and smooth, so hot press watercolor paper is the way to go. Any medium or rough watercolor will work against the wax by pooling it in the crevices. Any ink will buckle and crinkle thinner paper such as cartridge, rather like using watercolor on paper less than 150gsm or so. The paper has to be stout enough to withstand the rubbing of the wax. I imagine Arches Smooth 300gsm paper will withstand a lot of tough treatment.


I did a preliminary under-drawing in graphite pencil and then applied the tea-light candle wax. The particular problem with this technique is knowing where you’ve applied the wax and how much wax you’ve applied – that is, how hard to lean on the wax. Yes, you can look at the paper side on and see where the wax has left a dull mark. In terms of leaning on the wax, the ideal is a pattern of light lines – see left of the head. Repeated rubbing will create a “blocky” look.

Long thin wax candles allow you to cut them into small discrete lengths so they will end up feeling like sticks of pastel; I’m not sure how thin the lines you create will be.

I scraped off the wax with a razor blade in the first sketch, but didn’t pursue this the later ones.  I’ve read of removing the wax also by applying a hot iron (the work covered in newspaper to take up the melted wax). The graphite under-drawing shows through as grey linework after the ink is applied to the wax. I suppose to create very clear whites, one could remove the wax entirely (by scraping or heat) then using an eraser to eliminate the under-drawing.


Regarding the ink, I’ve used expensive Noodler’s black ink. Other perhaps cheaper inks such as Parker and Quink probably work just as well. The question is whether to let the black spots on the wax to dry or not; when smudged they become a non-descript bland grey. Notice the calligraphic sweeps on the white paper as the brush turns direction. It creates a very satiny-looking black (with a brownish tinge) but certainly nowhere near as dark as black soft pastel. I believe that watering down the ink with water will cause the ink to seep under the wax.


My use of additional dry media after the wax was applied was mainly to test out mid-tones.

Black soft pastel is particularly useful in terms of correcting masses and here I’ve run around the outside of the figure and to reinforce some of the darkest darks (eyes, armpit, etc.). The ink on the watercolor paper creates a good base for any pastel overdrawing – it in fact turns watercolor paper into pastel paper. As with any pastel, a workable fixative is required to prevent smudging.

Black Conte crayon seems to leave a brownish grey over the white wax.

Sanguine Conte crayon retains its sanguine red colour over any exposed black ink surface. Caran d’Ache Neo pastel in orange looks a bit brown on the black ink but retains its bright orange colour on the wax whites.

White Conte crayon translates not as white but as pale blue and takes on the texture of paint.

Compared to the shelter drawings of Henry Moore, Moore uses the wax a lot more sparingly – in single lines, rather than a mass of lines or as a big blocked area of white. He seems to work in a way which is lot slower than mine. much more deliberately.


Here are the four sheets, all drawn from a life-size plaster cast of the Westmacott Youth. The first, a full-length study (I focussed on creating a thick layer of wax); the second, the torso (aiming for more linear contour); the third (aiming to extend the linearity into the background) and a return to monochrome with just white Conte crayon; the fourth, in an unfinished state with just wax and ink.


As an alternative to The Figure, see Henry Moore’s more stylized patterns and use of flowers in his barbed-wire textile designs for Ascher, the Czech fabric designer which called on him (and Matisse and Cocteau) to design square scarves to brighten up wartime wardrobes. Moore’s use of flowers are reminiscent of the use wax in yuzen Japanese textiles and the two-colour contrast inherent in Japanese katazome textiles.


1. Finish off sketches 3 and 4 in monochrome, including Rembrandt pastel white alongside Conte crayon black and white, in particularly “evening out” the haphazard-looking background whites.

2. Copying a Henry Moore shelter drawing, or (considering their large size) a detail.

3. Doing four smaller studies, in monochrome, on A4 Arches Smooth 185gsm, trying for a less “scratchy” sketching style and less of an overall “drenching” of black ink. The backgrounds of the Henry Moore drawings, whether black or coloured watercolour, are much more subtle than mine.

4. Experimenting with ink backgrounds which are an alternative to the “hard” black. Moore uses much more subtle backgrounds which are closer to Payne’s Gray watercolor than black. In fact, his “blacks” are more likely to be Burnt Sienna and mid-tones done in Ultramarine/Payne’s Gray than Ivory Black or Lamp Black.

5. Thinking about introducing pen-and-ink, that is, a very subtle black pen line (a standard nibbed pen).





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