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Revealing through Resistance: Wax Resist Method in Art as a Therapeutic Process

Updated: Oct 2, 2022

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

A process art technique that blends science with creativity is known as the wax resist technique and can be used for a variety of purposes and with individuals across the lifespan. The wax resist method is a watercolor painting technique that embraces the chemical polarity of water as it comes into contact with the wax from the oil pastel or crayon. This simple but versatile technique can be used for a wide range of effects, from subtle washes of color to bold, dramatic designs in which the watercolor contrasts the image created in wax. This type of painting is often used in art therapy, as it can be a very effective way to work through emotions and feelings evoked from the process itself as well as the themes that surface from the technique.

To perform this technique, one will need a drawing paper, a waxy writing tool, such as a white oil pastel or crayon and liquid watercolors. You may want to experiment with using a variety of different types of paper and see if any one works best for you. I will typically work with a mixed media paper surface, but others have found success with smoother drawing paper textures.

Once you have your materials, you can then orient your paper however you like and begin drawing on the white paper with the pastel or crayon. It is recommended that if you would like the markings to be crisp and clear, make sure to add pressure as you are drawing on and making contact with the paper. Additionally, you may choose to create a specific symbol, pattern of shapes or lines or write a meaningful word or quote. With this technique, you can decide if you would like to focus just on the process and sensorimotor aspects of the technique or if you would like to create from intention using a specific theme or pattern. Allowing the wax medium to repeat shapes or patterns can be therapeutic and relaxing in itself.

The next layer of this method is to add the watercolor paint. It is important to gather enough pigment on the paintbrush when applying the paint on top of the surface- this means that your brush will have more of the paint loaded onto its bristles and will be less diluted with water. Make sure to overlay the paint in areas where you applied the wax material and allow yourself to notice and experience the transformation of the surface and the imagery that emerges.

Let’s think about the therapeutic properties of this technique for a moment. When using a similar color crayon or pastel on paper, such as a white oil pastel on white paper, there is an additional layer to the process that can add meaning to the experience. Consider the experience of drawing without being able to see what is being created as you go, having to trust the process and movements of the material on the paper. Consider how your strategy might change or how you might navigate the process when you are unable to see the image develop until you have decided it is time to add paint. The process of adding paint can be a significant experience in being able to watch your image emerge, with the paint filling in the areas of the page that are not covered in the wax markings.

In an art therapy session, we may often encounter an artmaking process that parallels or mirrors a part of our lived experience. In thinking about the wax resist method, we can reflect on feelings and thoughts surrounding common themes stemming from this art process, including resistance, emergence, the unknown, trust, ambiguity, separation, and revealing. We might find it meaningful to consider what about us is emerging, becoming revealed, and/or resisting being covered up.

Remember as you are engaging in this process that it is okay for us to let go of expectations. Trusting yourself through the process and letting go of any preconceived notions or expectations for the final product is essential to your healing.

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