Fast Drying and Painting Into a "Couch" May 3, 2022 07:57

Recently I did a ton of research into the drying times of various pigments. Alkyds make my eyes burn and my throat sore, so I can't use them to speed drying. Having come from acrylics, I am always impatient with the slow drying of oil painting and usually have to keep multiple paintings going at once just to have something to work on. For a while, I've been using a lead/manganese drier (which should be used only with walnut oil, not linseed, as the latter can result in wrinkling), and it does help, but I would prefer not to have to use it if I could. I already had some knowledge of which pigments dry faster than others, but I wanted to have everything nailed down. So I researched the drying times of every single paint I've got (95 in all) and even purchased a few that were identified as fast driers that I didn't expect, like Old Holland's Ultramarine Red Pink (PR259) and Holbein's Transparent Yellow (PY95)--which, btw, is so transparent it's more like a glaze. 

Detail of oil painting by Harold Roth, "Ghost Trees"

I was surprised to find that two colors I never used that I'd bought years ago on a spree were designated as fast driers--Unbleached Titanium and Unbleached Titanium Pale. After reorganizing my paints so that all the fast and moderate drying paints were closest to hand, when it came time to paint the trees on "Ghost Trees" (see detail), I decided to try the unbleached titanium pale. I used that pigment to do the leafy parts and then mixed it with some spinel black (a fast-drying black) to make some grays for the branches. 

The next morning, the trees were almost all dry. And this is with no driers at all, although I did use one drop of turpentine in the grays I made to paint the branches in order to have a runnier paint. So there's a huge difference between regular titanium and fast-dry titanium on the one hand and unbleached titanium on the other. I highly recommend trying the unbleached. True, it's not a bright white, but I have learned that brightness is highly related to how dark the rest of the painting is.

By the way, when I decided to try using a small amount of turpentine to thin paint for some purposes, I bought Winsor & Newton's and found that it had the most horrific smell imaginable, like formaldehyde. I know it says it is pure distilled turpentine, but from the smell I have to conclude it is distilled from the wood pulp, not from the sap, and that product will include stuff like formaldehyde and benzene. The stuff I bought subsequently is distilled from the sap and does not smell like carcinogens but more like pine trees. Usually I like W&N, but they sure dropped the ball on the turpentine.

I paint into a thin freshly applied oil "couch," as folks call it, which technique is helping me hugely with creating fine detail.  I have tried using a couch before, but whether I used my palm, fingers, or a big brush to apply the oil to the dry canvas and then wiped it off with a shop towel or a flour sack towel, the layer that remained was always too thick--so much so that sometimes the paint would crawl. I saw a video in which Sadie Valeri (I am learning a ton from her painting classes) used makeup sponges to rub the oil on and then thin it with a clean side of the sponge, so I tried it. It works unbelievably well. The veil of oil is as thin as a whisper, allowing me to make wonderfully fine lines with a very small filbert (a brush type she recommends) or a liner. What's more, you can use the corners of the makeup sponge to clean up mistakes. This is a game-changer for me.