Painting solvent-free with traditional oils

Readers who have followed my blog for any length of time may know that I have been in pursuit of solvent-free painting methods for some time. My reasons are two-fold; it's better for my health and I simply don't like the mess of dealing with solvents on a regular basis.

So for the last 10 months or so, I have been painting pretty exclusively with Cobra water miscible oil paints by Royal Talens for my studio work, though I still used traditional oils outdoors for plein air painting. This worked fine, though I still struggled with certain aspects of my chosen materials. In the studio, while the Cobra paints worked really well and complemented my working methods, in other respects I missed the depth and richness that certain colors in my traditional oils  provided to me. On the flip side, I still really hated having to carry around solvents when plein air painting. Both the weight of the liquid and especially the mess of pouring and emptying the solvents really bothered me.

So, after listening to artist Leslie Saeta's excellent Artists Helping Artists podcast featuring an interview with Robert Gamblin, (of Gamblin Artist Colors) I took special note of their discussion surrounding Gamblin's relatively new line of solvent-free gels and mediums. I will admit I have known about these mediums for a while, and even have some of them in my studio. But in truth I haven't done much with them, because other than thinning my oils in the beginning stage and cleaning my brushes between strokes, I don't use painting mediums and so I really wasn't sure how they would benefit me.

But in this podcast, when I learned that you can actually use solvent free gel to clean your brushes during the painting session, well, that got my attention. I can use my beloved traditional oils without a can of messy solvents in my backpack? Now you're talking!

"At the Ready", Oil on linen, 16x20" ©Jennifer E. Young

"At the Ready", Oil on linen, 16x20" ©Jennifer E. Young

To experiment with the working properties of the method discussed, I executed the above painting in the studio. I did use a small amount of Gamsol in the beginning stages of my painting to adhere to the fat-over-lean principle of painting in oils. But I can carry this in a small container (a repurposed bottle no larger than an eyedropper that it once held my Argan face oil)  to squirt out a just little onto my palette for whatever small amount of thin washes I may need.  After that point, though, I paint with mostly just paint, maybe using the solvent free gel to get a little bit of slip in my stroke when needed, but mostly for cleaning off my brushes between strokes.

For clean-up on site, I wipe my brushes clean with the medium, maybe with one last squirt of Gamsol from my little bottle, before packing everything up . The final clean up takes place back in the studio. Different artists use different things to wash their brushes, from Murphy's Oil Soap to baby oil to plain old soap and water. I've used these too, but my favorite is Master's Brush Cleaner. This stuff comes in a tub and lasts forever. I can't even remember when I bought my current tub and I'm only about 1/3 of the way through. I just wet my brushes, swish them around in the tub, and the remaining paint is easily washed out under water. Something about this stuff seems to really get the oil residue off of the bristles and condition them at the same time. I don't know what's in that magic tub, and I'm not sure I want to know. But it seems pretty innocuous, though I always wear my gloves now when handling my art materials.

I'm really happy to be reunited with my traditional oil paints. I still like the water miscible oils, but it's hard to shake that first love, and now, it seems, I don't have to.

October Pumpkins

In Hanover County, Virginia,  where I now live, fall is particularly lovely. The profusion of green has given way to warm rich tones of gold, red and orange. October is pumpkin season, and you don't have to drive too far around here to find a roadside stand where you can pick up some  pumpkins to decorate the front stoop. If you are feeling adventurous you can even take the kids to a pumpkin patch so they can pick their very own.  Myself, I rather like leaving them put and painting them right where they are growing (in this case, the pumpkins, not the kids!). 

"October Pumpkins, Hanover" Oil on Panel, 8x10" ©Jennifer Young

"October Pumpkins, Hanover" Oil on Panel, 8x10" ©Jennifer Young

This painting came about after getting a call from a painter friend of mine. She'd made arrangements to paint at the Hanover Vegetable Farm on one of the last days in October, and invited me to come along. I drive past this farm from time to time and I'd been eyeing those pumpkins for a couple of weeks. But for whatever reason, I hadn't gotten around to calling the proprietor up about painting there. So when the chance arose, I jumped on it. We got there around 8 a.m. The sun was low and the moon was still up. And of course, there were all of those cute round pumpkins gathering round the dirt path and echoing the shape of the waning moon. 

While I have really loved painting with my water soluble oil paints in the studio lately, I painted this piece solvent free using traditional oils. I used a little bit of Gamblin's Solvent Free Gel for my medium, and cleaned my brushes with walnut oil. I'm happy to report that it worked out just fine. I am so glad to leave that messy can of toxic solvent  out of the picture and just pack a little bottle of walnut oil and a small jar to swish my brushes in for cleaning. 

It's been raining around here for the last couple of days and I am anxious to see if the foliage will hold up until the sun comes back out. It would be great to get out a few more times before we have to say farewell to all of this gorgeous autumn color. We will see....

First painting since the move!

After re-reading my post from yesterday I started to feel like a wimp, complaining about the heat and all. Then I tried it and realized that heat stroke does not improve your art one iota! All kidding aside, it was boiling lava hot outside on my patio. I only lasted about an hour before I decided I'd have to leave it until the next day, and pick up where I left off. And so I painted this piece over two sessions, noting the time of day and returning to wrap up at the same time this morning.

"A Taste of Summer" Water soluble oils on Linen, 12x12"   Jennifer E Young

"A Taste of Summer" Water soluble oils on Linen, 12x12"  Jennifer E Young

This little outdoor still-life setup includes the herbs and flowers I brought from my old place, as well as a big beautiful housewarming gift from our new neighbors (the pink and orange spray behind the basil). A  marriage of old and new,  I felt it was the perfect subject to kick off this new beginning.

I experimented with this painting using Cobra water-soluble oil paints by Royal Talens . I was inspired to try them when I started following the very talented painter Mark Hanson's discussions about them on Facebook and on his blog. I have friends who use water miscible oils, too, but having tried them before without success I haven't been compelled to try them again. But when Mark suggested that his migraine headaches may have gone away after switching to these oils, I took notice and decided to try this new (to me)  line of paints myself.

I have suffered from insomnia for years, and yet ever since we moved to the new house, I have only had two bad nights. That's pretty incredible! Coincidentally, with the exception of yesterday and today,  I have not painted since we've been here. Is it possible there is some other reason for my new-found improved sleep? Absolutely. But it's also possible the fumes were getting to me and I didn't even realize it. It has also bothered me for a while that I am eating as much organic and natural food as I can afford, I'm also inhaling volatile organic compounds on a daily basis in my work. And if we ultimately decide to set up my studio in our current attached garage, water soaked paper towels are going to be a lot safer than ones soaked with mineral spirits, odorless or not!

I first tried water-soluble oils several years ago. I believe they were Winsor & Newton's Artisan series. At the time I found the handling too gummy and tacky and not to my liking at all. I may not have given them a fair shake though, because in recent weeks I have read that you really should not thin your paints with water or it will produce that tacky, gummy effect and make the paints rather dull and cloudy looking. Instead, Mark advised not to rinse off your brushes too much with water, but to just wipe off the brushes as much as possible in between color mixture sinstead, and save the water for the final cleanup. If needed, use a water miscible oil painting medium created specifically for these paints rather than water to increase viscosity.

That advice made a world of difference and I found myself painting without fighting with my materials. There was a slight difference in the handling and a few old habits to overcome, but nothing so difficult as to put me off. I would say they did not flow as easily for me as my traditional oils, and the color intensity was a tad weaker, but not by a tremendous amount. On the other hand, they have absolutely no odor and seem like they would be great for travel.

From what I have read so far, the drying time may be a bit longer than what I'm used to. But that should not be an issue for ole' Pokey, here. I do hope they dry well and evenly, without any dull passages or great shifts in color or value. I will report back on this if I notice anything remarkable. I look forward to experimenting more with these paints. I really hope these will be my new go-to paints, and that I can ditch the OMS once and for all!