Learning new tricks with old oils

Sage.pearThis summer I developed a sensitivity (sensitivity = ranging from lightheaded dizziness to all out room-swirling vertigo) to solvents (paint thinner, with and without odor, turpentine, and mixtures that contain them).

I carried on through the plein air season, first focusing on not standing downwind of my solvent filled brush jar and then starting to experiment with alternatives. Painting existed long before the petro-chemicals on which we rely, but the “old ways” look pretty obscured by the sands of time.

I want to consider all sorts of alternatives, please if you’ve been exploring solvent free oil painting, I’d love to hear more – and art supply companies certainly have seen this growing sensitivity as a niche market worthy of exploration. But before I discuss what I’ve found, here’s a quick overview for non-artists as to how I used solvents in my painting. First of course, solvent cleans up: the classic potsolvent.free that holds the dirty brushes, and the damp rag to wipe down the palette, assorted spills and paintings that can’t or shouldn’t be saved. Solvent is also an additive to many medium mixtures, both purchased and artist mixed. Including solvent thins the mixture and speeds the drying time. Both can be highly desirable traits. When initially starting a painting I sketch on the canvas with paint (usually Indian Yellow with a touch of Dioxazine Purple for a lovely warm brown) that has been substantially thinned with “thinner” to create an imprimatura.

Admittedly, I could just bid a fond farewell to my oils but I’m not feeling it yet. I’m told acrylics have improved considerably since I was in college and I should give them a try. Not loving the idea. Too plastic.  Acrylic gouache has some nice qualities but dries annoyingly quickly. I do love my traditional gouache (originally the French opaque version of the English transparent watercolors ) water-based, and portable and lovely for intimate work. Oh, the downside? mats and frames with glass unless I break with the display  standard. Hmm, there is a box of oil pastels around . . .

So, where did I start . . . first switched out the can of odorless turps to hold the dirty brushes for a can of food grade safflower oil, this is not for mixing with the paint (the painting would never dry!) – just swishing dirty brushes.

Something I’m not clear about, and if anyone knows, please chime in below, I’ve heard that painting oils (stand and linseed oils) can already contain solvents although not listed as an ingredient. Possible for uniformity? Then I bought the available solvent free mediums manufactured by  Gamblin and M. Graham. and have started to give them a try.

Gamblin makes solvent-free fluid and gel, both containing safflower oil. Both described as having moderately fast drying rate and increasing gloss. Not sure I want to increase gloss.

M. Graham’s Walnut oil is slow drying, yes! and its Walnut Alkyd Medium is not so much. But its glossy. And reminds me about spontaneous combustion of oily rags.

I used the Walnut Alkyd Medium for the imprimatura of the sage and pear painting. It worked. But glossy.

I’ll update on my experiments in the future. Haven’t used these 4 enough to offer more info.

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About Carol

A mild-mannered mom, and wielder of oil paint coated brushes.
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