ArtDisasterFilter: How do I get wax out of my paper-and-watercolor art project?
November 13, 2010 5:33 PM   Subscribe

ArtDisasterFilter: How do I get wax out of my paper-and-watercolor art project? (Details inside)

My wife is working on an ongoing project that involves covering many small pieces of paper pretty thoroughly with watercolor paint, setting the paper aside to dry, and then assembling into the finished product.

She's laid them out on paper toweling before and had problems with the towels sticking, so we had what we thought was a brain-wave. Wax paper! Ta-da!

Except, not so much. The sticking, still there. And this time, it's pulling a fine layer of wax off of the paper, which is now sticking to the watercolor and threatening to send the whole project to the garbage bin.

Help me save $50 and about six hours of my wife's work.. How do we get the wax off?

Tried so far:

Rewetting the paint and smooshing it around finger-pant style: Worked a little, but still too ugly to use.

Rewetting the paint and smooshing it around with the brush: Oddly, a little less effective than fingerpainting.

Painting over the wax: Nope, watercolor's too thin. Pretty much zero difference.

Ironing: This is of course the classic trick to getting rid of wax. We've sandwiched the painted paper pieces between paper towels and ironed, but the wax will not transfer to the paper towel. Ditto with brown paper.

What haven't we tried? Help make me a hero and save this project!

Thanks guys,
posted by HenryGale to Media & Arts (12 answers total)
Freezing the paper then seeing if the wax will chip off?
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:15 PM on November 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If the wax has been heated and dropped in to the paper, it will be impossible to remove.

If the wax is a thin dry layer, scraping the surface at a flat angle will remove the top layer of wax, but it may also remove the water color pigment.

You will probably spend a fair amount of time trying to salvage the strips, so consider that it may be a wash (pun intended) to begin again.

The third way would be to incorporate the wax into the piece, like a batik.

There's too little visual information and description above to be certain about your desired outcome with the project.
posted by effluvia at 6:43 PM on November 13, 2010

This is tangential to the question, so if you fell it does not belong please flag to have it removed. My wife works with watercolors a fair bit, a trick she has for drying the paint relatively quick is to use a hair driver, med/high heat on low/medium air force.

That may solve the having to set out to dry ->sticking problem in the future.

As to the wax, the only thing I can think of not mentioned already is to try microwaving and blotting, but realistically I don't think it is going to work well, sorry.
posted by edgeways at 7:01 PM on November 13, 2010

Response by poster: I wanted to avoid self-linking, but you can see the intended end result
here. Each "piece" is a petal of a finished rose.

The wet petals dried on wax paper and I guess pulled up the wax in blotchy pieces. The end result is some blotchy, crackly dark spots on the petals that are definitely not salvageable as-is. It's got to be a very thin layer and just on the surface as there was no heat (unless there was a chemical reaction between the watercolor and the wax paper?). Scraping, however, has been largely ineffective. I'd try fine sandpaper if we had any, but that'll have to wait until morning.

Any solution that pulls up some of the watercolor is fine, as retouching will certainly be better than starting from scratch with the 200+ petals that were affected.

Oh and most of the petals are still sitting stuck to the paper. Only a handful removed and ruined so far. Any ideas for removing and leaving the stuck wax behind?

Thanks, guys.
posted by HenryGale at 7:11 PM on November 13, 2010

Do you have any Oxgall?
posted by effluvia at 7:34 PM on November 13, 2010

what about ironing with a piece of absorbent paper in between, maybe a layer of paper towel? You might be able to get the wax to release and run into the paper towel instead.
posted by beckish at 7:38 PM on November 13, 2010

nevermind, didn't make it to that part of the question, sorry!
posted by beckish at 7:39 PM on November 13, 2010

Best answer: You need a "dry" solvent, you could try spraying it in a well ventilated place with butane, the wax will be dissolved and should leave the watercolor intact. Some carpet "spot" cleaners are dry solvent as well , good luck.
posted by hortense at 8:30 PM on November 13, 2010

Best answer: No idea how to get the wax out, but try resoaking some test petals in the watercolor wash and see if maybe the dark parts will soak up the pigment. From the rose picture it seems like as long as they were all the intended color the remaining wax would be alright. (I'm assuming the wax is on the surface like a resist. If it's been absorbed into the paper only some kind of solvent will get it out.)

For the stuck petals, I think rewetting them with watercolor medium and a bit of water might work, then dry again. (newsprint maybe? the greyish sketch paper, not newspaper)
posted by everyday_naturalist at 3:01 AM on November 14, 2010

I work with wax - encaustic - as my primary medium, often combined with other media. I don't believe you will be able to get the wax out, full stop. Your best bet it going to be to make it a feature or just live with it. Given the image you've shown and having heated the paper the wax will have been absorbed into the fibers and is there to stay. For future reference try drying work like that on freezer paper - won't stick or transfer wax to your paper.
posted by leslies at 6:11 AM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I thought of two methods you might try with your remaining strips:

Dry Heat: separate the strips from the paper, place in a crock pot on low heat. The wax residue would become as thin as possible, and the pigment looks like a quinacridone so it should stay in the paper.

Wet Heat: separate the strips from the wax paper, place them in a metal steaming basket or double boiler and gently steam them. The paper will curl more, but the residue should be minimized.

The residue may be gum arabic and pigment rather than wax. Oxgall is a water color medium designed to release gum arabic, the binding medium for watercolor.

There is a variety of rose called "Careless Love" which has blotches and streaks so you could incorporate the uneven look into a new variety.
posted by effluvia at 9:53 AM on November 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your help. I tried a few more things with various results.. We do have Oxgall and it helped a little on the pieces that were already separated from the wax paper. Ditto dry solvent (carpet cleaner).

I can't believe I didn't think of this for myself.. If two things dried stuck together, why wouldn't you try re-wetting as a way to separate them? We just pretty well soaked the lot and they're drying now, separated from the wax paper. It looks like they'll turn out, I'll let you know.

This method gave us the opposite reaction: petals that seem to pull away clean, leaving a blotchy petal shape of paint on the wax paper. I think, effluvia, you are correct. Whatever this paper is coated with, I'm going to guess that it isn't wax, and whatever it was (gum arabic, maybe) bonded with the paint.

I've hung a double clothes line so they can dry stick free.. hopefully it's a success.

Thanks again!
posted by HenryGale at 5:50 PM on November 14, 2010

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