Oils for Oil Painting: Part II

Now that I’ve gotten some information out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the oils available for painting with. We can start with refined linseed oil, since it’s the most flexible and commonly used. It gets complicated though, because there are a few variations of linseed oil in use.

First, there’s hot pressed vs cold pressed. The concept is the same as it is with cooking oils. Cold pressed oil yields a higher quality oil, it will retain its properties for longevity. It’s pretty amber in color, but will resist becoming more yellow with time. This is the original way the flax seeds were pressed to make the oil, it is a slower process, and requires a higher volume of seeds. Hot pressed became popular to increase production and lower cost. It’s still good oil, just not quite as good as cold pressed.  Dry time is 2-3 days. It’s still better then any of the oils you buy at the grocery store, which is refined for food grade consumption, not fine art purposes. So it’s said. I haven’t compared the two by microscope, and I don’t have a chemistry degree anyway. The statement made by many, is that food grade oils are not as refined as artist grade oil, and that it has materials in it that are safe for you to eat, but that are not desirable in paint films. I have chosen to not take the risk, especially if I am going to spend 80+ hours making a painting, I want that thing to last as long as freaking possible. I want my paint film and materials to be as absolutely archival as possible.

Old Holland mills with cold pressed, and their paint is very pigmented and stiff. Some painters are all about it, some are not. It’s high quality for sure, but I like a more buttery paint out of the tube. Quick note on brands – you really need to try a brand to decide if it’s right for you. I like some more then others, and I use lots of different brands and mix them. There is no one best brand, and there are a bunch of really nice professional grade paints out there. Student grade paints are okay at first, but if you start making sales, switch to professional grade paints. They handle much nicer, will last, and you aren’t cheating a client with cheap paint that may fade quicker. You also kind of cheat yourself with student grade paints – the use of more filler and less pigment means you go through it faster. It may take some time to stock up on those expensive paint tubes, but it’s worth it. If you are taking the time to really learn a craft, a trade, I feel really strongly about using good materials to create your products. Each canvas I make and paint on represents ME as a brand, as a person and as an artist. I want what I make to be top notch. My name is on the thing. The thing is my name. I take that to heart, and wish to represent myself in the best way possible. Anyways – Oils!

Cold pressed oil is better oil, but I personally can’t feel a difference between that and plain old refined linseed oil. I’ve been using refined hot pressed for a while, and use cold pressed on occasion. Some really serious painters out there say that commercially available artists oils are still not really pure enough to use out of the bottle. They purchase it, and then further refine it on their own in a process called “Oil Washing”. This refining process takes about two weeks, and leaves you with half of the oil you started with. I have never done it, but you bet if I ever do I will blog about the experience.

Next up, we have Stand Oil. Stand oil is linseed oil that is viscous. It’s thick, like honey, and needs to be thinned down. A very traditional medium used is 1 part stand oil, 1 part damar varnish and 1 part turpentine. This recipe has been around for a long, long time, and many people are still using it. The advantage to stand oil is that it’s polymerized – it’s made by putting the oil in an air tight container and heating the oil until a double bond forms between the molecules instead of a single bond. The stuff is tough, and it’s almost the most elastic form of oil you can get. It also dries much slower. I once had a painting teacher who recommended I use stand oil for an impasto technique. I made a 4 x 5 ft painting, slopped on stand oily paint with a palette knife, and that painting took a full year to dry. 6 months in, you could still dent the top paint film with a finger nail. Good news though, is that I will never have to worry about that painting cracking. It’s solid.

There’s other processes done to linseed oil to change its properties and dry times, and refinement level. There’s Sun Thickened Oil (which is actually a step up from Stand Oil, but this stuff is expensive)  Bleached Oil, Boiled Oils, all these variations.

Poppy Oil is a really popular oil as well. It’s very pale in color, and it dries slower then linseed. There’s a paint company that mills with poppy, and they are very lovely paints indeed, and they come in so many mixed colors it’s astounding. Plein Air painters seem to love them for not having to mix on site a lot. I love the slower dry time and the slippery feel of the paint is luscious. I have heard it does not yellow, but I have no proof of that. I had that one painting yellow on me, so word of advise with poppy oil – stick to panels for it, because it yields a more brittle paint layer and maybe don’t slop a bunch of it into a white background, and then definitely don’t add a few drops of Liquin to make all that poppy oil dry faster. It’s dry time is about 4-5 days. Oh! One other variable to discuss – the WHITE PAINT. Do you know about the White Test? This guy is right up my alley, check out his site.

Cassandra, 2010 Yellowed significantly with time. You can see the start at the top there.

The last oil I am going to talk about here is Nut Oil. Walnut oil is the current most popular one. There’s a very wonderful hand milled paint available with this oil and I love it. It dries in about 3-4 days. It may not keep as well as linseed, and some people who have bought very large jars of walnut oil have discovered it spoils with time if not refrigerated. I have never experienced this myself though. I love Walnut oil, and it is my primary oil now. It’s also best on rigid substrates.

Something I have encountered a great deal of while researching and experimenting with oil materials is conflicting information. This is rough. It’s best to view yourself as a mad scientist out to discover what’s really going to happen. Experiment and experience are key. I have to make that disclaimer when discussing these things. All the variables abounding are also going to make differences. All the information I give is from my own experience. Maybe the dry time of an oil is different in California then here in Texas, because of altitude or something. Remember, so many things are at play here. This is why it’s best that I stress when learning about materials to KEEP IT SIMPLE. If you go mixing different oils and alkyds into a piece, and something unwanted happens, you don’t know where the problem came from. It’s best to keep the paint films stable, and simple. I will mix poppy oil paint with linseed oil paint, but only sparingly. Plus, linseed oil paints overwhelm poppy oil paints, and then you are sort of wasting the more expensive paint. Mixing the different kinds of paint come down to the style of painting you are doing. If you are layering in the indirect method, glaze and layer away! If you are mixing and slopping that paint on, take heed and pay attention to what you are using.

That’s it for oils for now! Enjoy, discuss, and ask any questions you’d like!




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