My Blog

The Sun and Oil Painting II April 28, 2022 04:39

Using light to dry and brighten oil paint

Oil painting November 3, 2021 12:26

I've been doing watercolors exclusively for quite a while but began to miss oils, despite their inconveniences and because I still felt weird about using a lead-manganese drier in my paints to hurry them up. Then I came across mention of the King in Yellow in a horror novel I was reading, "Southern Gods" by John Horner Jacobs, who named a madness-causing bluesman Ramblin' John Hastur (Hastur being the King's other name). This reminded me of reading about the King in Yellow when I was a teenager and read the collection by Robert W. Chambers of the same name and then came across this name in various stories part of the Cthulhu Mythos. I always thought this was a scary figure, described with no more than a line about the tattered scalloped edges of his yellow silk robe..We are told that a play with the same name caused its audience to go mad in the second act.  And I got a hankering to paint him.

I asked my friends on Facebook what did they favor for this task? Almost all recommended oils. Okay.

The King in Yellow abstract oil painting by Harold Roth

I had a lot of brush cleaning to do, since it had been so long since I'd used my oil paints that the oil in the brushes had hardened. I had to clean them by soaking them in orange solvent and then scrubbing them with mild soap. Whew! But once I started, the painting just flowed. I was surprised.

I had to take a break to do a project with a deadline, which I will be posting about this weekend or early next week, but when I finished that, I immediately went to finish the King painting. I'm happy with it. 

Meanwhile, I had been working on a watercolor still life that had taken me a couple of weeks already. I still haven't finished that. Not much is left to do. I had anticipated doing a series of still lifes, but having dipped back into oil painting, I remembered how much more forgiving it is than watercolors. Yes, oils are smelly, messy, have an involved cleanup, and there is the drying issue, which has been big for me because there are a lot of components of traditional oil painting that I can't tolerate. 

One of them has been lead, and I posted before about using a lead-manganese drier, Siccatif de Courtrai. I had this product for a few  years before I actually used it, gingerly, and then I got hooked on it. There were a couple of things I noticed about this stuff. While it didn't always work as quickly as I'd like, I actually didn't mind the smell. I realized it must have some refined turpentine in it, not the cheap stuff I had smelled in the past. Also, using the drier meant, for some reason, I no longer smelled the oxidizing oil. Maybe there is some chemical reason for that, but I don't know what it is. All I know is that having the window cracked a bit makes it so I can paint with this stuff no problem and the speedier drying has been a game-changer for me. So much so that I bought some "English distilled turpentine," which is supposed to be the best quality turpentine and less anoying than its cheaper siblings. I haven't tried it yet. I look forward to it.


Siccatif de Courtrai May 1, 2021 13:33

I mentioned Siccatif de Courtrai a couple days ago as a 19th-century paint drier containing lead and manganese that I'd bought some time ago and decided to actually try using. I hadn't used it before because I had been spooked by lead and really, I'd found that by using walnut oil and keeping 5 or more paintings in rotation, I always had something dry I could work on and didn't really need it. I had a separate studio then and so I had plenty of room to store paintings drying.

But now I don't have a separate studio and have way less room for drying paintings, though I am utilizing the space above my T5 plant lights, which get warm but not hot. Still, I felt like it was a good time to check out the various driers I have. I decided to try Siccatif de Courtrai first, not least of all because only one drop was necessary per paint glob. I thought I could deal with that much lead and manganese.

This stuff is supposed to be problematic on linseed oil, causing it to wrinkle, but it is said to work well on paint using walnut or poppyseed oil. Although I had plenty of paints made with linseed oil, I typically have used walnut oil in a solvent-free painting method. I've used poppyseed oil mostly as a finish and a sun-dried version at that. 

But the first painting I tried the siccative with, I decided to try painting with regular, NOT sun-dried poppyseed oil, since I have a bunch from a while ago. Although the siccative is supposed to render a relatively thin layer of paint dry in 8-12 hours, that was not the case with the paints to which I added poppyseed oil. In fact, the paint was still wet two days later. Disappointing. I should say I did NOT put a layer of poppyseed oil with siccative to start the painting. I think this might have made a difference.

Yesterday morning, I decided to try it with a painting where I used walnut oil as the medium. This is not any special walnut oil, not heat-treated or sun-thickened but just out of the bottle from Spectrum (although I also have a gallon jug from Jedwards, although you can get a sun-thickened walnut oil from Kremer). I started with a layer of oil+siccative that I applied and wiped off and then painted into, then added one drop of siccative to each paint glob on the palette plus the walnut oil, maybe five drops, which is about as much oil as I usually use.

Amazingly, by the end of the day, the thin parts of the painting were actually dry, and this morning, the whole painting is entirely dry. This is faster than the walnut alkyd I was using, which gives me a headache. This stuff doesn't give me a headache, although it has something of a smell. I'm thinking it has turpentine in it.

Siccitif de Courtrai by James Woods

The Siccatif de Courtrai I'm using is by James Groves and contains lead and manganese. He makes all sorts of other interesting stuff, some of which I have, like Gentileschi amber medium and the drying walnut heat-bodied oil (which he no longer makes). I will no doubt end up trying these and other of his products, since this siccative has been so successful.

Other companies also make this siccative, but they mostly seem not to include lead or manganese. For instance, I noticed that the version by LeFranc & Bourgeois comes up first in search results, but their "white siccatif de courtrai" doesn't contain manganese, from what I can see, and their newer version of it doesn't contain lead either but instead uses zirconium and calcium. Their brown siccatif de courtrai is/was supposed to contain lead and manganese, but I have not seen it for sale. Sennelier also makes a version, but likewise without either lead nor manganese. In fact, from what I can see, a number of companies make a version of siccatif de courtrai that contains zirconium and calcium instead of lead and manganese. So, not at all the same thing as what I am using, despite the name.

I saw one remark out there that said that this size bottle of siccative would be used up in one underpainting, but all I can say is that the canvas in such a case would be the size of a barn. This is for using at one drop per nut of paint. I think it's going to last me a while, and when I use it up, I should be able to get another bottle for twenty bucks, which is reasonable, IMO.

I'm going to slowly push the envelope with this siccative in terms of paint thickness, since I do like to have a certain blobby quality in some paintings. It would be great if this stuff shortened the drying time for that.


Back to oil painting April 28, 2021 17:00

I've been thinking about doing oil painting again. I've missed it, especially the ability to blend and to glaze easily. I love working with watercolor on the watercolor ground, but it limits what I can do because it lifts so easily.

OTOH, oil paints take a while to dry. I used to deal with that problem when I had a separate studio by having several paintings going at once, like five. There would always be something ready to work on each day, and it helped me learn how to paint faster. 

So this morning, I pulled out my oil painting carts and cleaned off all the tubes, which had gotten quite dusty, and the brushes, which were thick with cat hair (miss you, Blackie!) and dust. I used packing tape to easily clean the brushes and sorted through which ones seemed redeemable and which weren't. I also got rid of some that I knew I would not ever use, like the fan brushes and some grainers. I chose the cleanest ones to work with and put the brushes that had gotten stiff from old oil to soak in some citrus solvent. This is the only time I ever use solvent.

Since I'd forgotten a lot of what I knew when I last used my oils, I decided to use the walnut alkyd. This does speed up drying, and I remembered using it a lot in the past. But I forgot that it gave me a headache. I still have that headache 6 hours after finishing painting. So lesson remembered, and I will throw that stuff out.

I do usually paint oil only, no solvent, and typically have used walnut oil, although I've finished some paintings with a layer of sun-thickened poppy oil instead of varnish. It looks nice, doesn't yellow, is easy, and has no solvents. I've always wanted to try making my own paints with poppyseed oil. Nostalgia for a world I never knew, I guess. But I do own a few tubes of Blockx oil paint, which is made with poppyseed oil instead of linseed oil or walnut oil.

At any rate, I began working on a painting and quickly got frustrated, mainly because I forgot to oil in before starting to paint. Oh well. Another wonderful thing about oil paint is how easy it is to wipe off. I did that three times before I got anything that I thought was worth working further on. It's pretty terrible, but it's a start. 

My apartment is a loft, so there isn't a lot of room to store wet oil paintings, but I thought to put them  on top of the light fixtures I use for my mandrakes with a little fan blowing on them. The fixtures get warm but not hot, and this is out of the way. I can definitely put four paintings on the fixtures if I want to keep a good rotation of dried paintings going. Just not sure if I will enjoy the smell of the drying oil. It's not toxic or anything. I just don't like the scent. But at least now I not only can have all the windows open but I also bought an air purifier for a different reason, and that should help too.

After I got done, I broke out another canvas and started looking around in my cart to see what I had stored in there, and I came across mediums I'd bought in the past and not used. One of them is Siccatif de Courtrai. This is an 19th-century medium that contains lead and manganese as paint driers. I got spooked by lead in the past, in particular because in the past I often resorted to using my fingertips to blend edges of paint, and I know lead can be absorbed through the skin. So I never used the stuff.

But now I thought it would really help me to give it a try, since it is alleged to dry walnut or poppy-based paint in 8-12 hours without the wrinkling it might cause in the presence of linseed oil. If I could get a painting to dry overnight, that would be great. 

I have a ton of walnut oil on hand--I bought a gallon a while ago--but I also have some poppyseed oil. So I'm going to try oiling out with that plus one drop of the siccatif. It's also recommended that one drop be added to each glob of paint the size of a quarter. 

AND I ordered some gel finger cots, which I can use instead of my bare fingertips if I can't resist doing that.

I also see Tad Spurgeon has a new edition of his vastly wonderful book on oil painting, and that's on my list now too. I've got an older edition but would enjoy seeing what he's come up with since then. Looking forward to making stuff.