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View Full Version : Is it really necessary to use mediums in oil painting?


Alexa Dawn
12-21-2018, 04:04 PM
Sorry if this look like a repeated post. But I'm about to buy oil painting supplies to start painting, and I have seen many comments and videos that say that you must use both linseed oil and solvent, and others say that it isn't necessary, and others that only one of those is necessary.

From what I've read, I understand linseed oil makes paint more fluid, but that to much makes the paint yellowish and that it slows down the drying of the paint, and solvent makes it thinner and serves to clean brushes but it is toxic. And both things are a little expensive.

Is it really necessary to use any of those or even both of those things?

If it is, then what happens if you paint without them?

Is there any other way to clean brushes, like soap and water?

Which, if any, of those two things would you recommend me to buy if you think I would need at least one?

DAK723
12-21-2018, 04:29 PM
No, you do not need to use mediums for oil painting. What many - perhaps the majority of - oil painters find, is that the paint out of the tube is thicker and doesn't flow as well as they like. So, they add "something" to the paint to make it a little thinner so it flows better.

I would recommend trying to paint using paint straight from the tube. If that doesn't work for you, then you can start with simple mediums. Linseed oil, despite all you read on the internet about yellowing, is the most popular drying oil to add to paint. Adding a little bit of oil would be the recommendation. This will make you paint more glossy and will make it dry slower. The next easiest medium to try would be a mix of oil and solvent. OMS (Odorless Mineral Spirits) would be the solvent that is most recommended as it is the least toxic. Just make sure you work in a well ventilated area.

If you want to avoid solvents, there are also solvent free oil painting mediums that you can buy. An internet search should reveal that information.

Perhaps the simplest way to begin oil painting without using solvents, is to try the Water-Miscible Oil paints. The major advantage to them is the ability to rinse your brushes in water while you paint. They are also easier to clean with soap and water at the end of your paintings session, although all oil paints can be cleaned that way as long as you don't let the paint dry in the brush.

Some solvent free oil painters (using traditional oil paints) use oils (such as linseed or walnut) to clean their brushes while they paint. Specially made brush cleaning soaps, such as Masters brush cleaner are also popular.

Hope this helps,

Don

Alexa Dawn
12-21-2018, 05:00 PM
This will make you paint more glossy and will make it dry slower.

...although all oil paints can be cleaned that way as long as you don't let the paint dry in the brush.

Some solvent free oil painters (using traditional oil paints) use oils (such as linseed or walnut) to clean their brushes while they paint.

Don

Thanks for the recommendations.

About the linseed oil, glossy paint or not, that doesn't matter to me, but by the way, I have read that, that gloss dissapears when the paint dries, is it true?

About cleaning the brushes, I usually don't sink all the brush's bristles into the paint when I use watercolors, so if I avoid it in oils and clean them with your recommendations I should be able to avoid all kinds of solvents and just use a little oil to clean them.

Ron Francis
12-21-2018, 05:24 PM
Further to what Don said, generally any addition to your paint will be detrimental to some degree, so adding anything should be done in the smallest amounts possible to achieve the effect you want.

Paint as it comes out of the tube is formulated to have the best pigment to oil ratio for that pigment, (PVC), so adding more oil will change this ratio.
Of course there is variation within different manufacturers.

Adding solvent creates the risk of making your paint underbound, meaning some oil will be washed from around pigment particles, creating a weak paint film.
The result is that, once the paint is dry, you can rub it with a cloth and some paint will come off onto the cloth.

I can't recommend water miscible paints, but I've asked a question about them at MITRA (University of Delaware Conservation) to see what they think.

Alexa Dawn
12-21-2018, 05:37 PM
Further to what Don said, generally any addition to your paint will be detrimental to some degree, so adding anything should be done in the smallest amounts possible to achieve the effect you want.

Paint as it comes out of the tube is formulated to have the best pigment to oil ratio for that pigment, (PVC), so adding more oil will change this ratio.

Adding solvent creates the risk of making your paint underbound...
The result is that, once the paint is dry, you can rub it with a cloth and some paint will come off onto the cloth.

That's important to know, I never found that in the pages I read. Thank you very much, knowing that, I definitely will avoid solvents and limit myself to only the necessary amount of oil.

JCannon
12-21-2018, 06:53 PM
I think that people worry too much about this business of "underbound" paint layers. Let the painting cure and varnish it. The paint isn't going to go anywhere.

Lots and lots and LOTS of paintings have been made with OMS and turpentine. It's not something to avoid.

The people who recommend using little or no medium usually don't glaze or scumble. But there are those of us who love the subtle effects which only glazing and scumbling can achieve.

Mediums are fun to research and to make. I've made all sorts of elaborate mediums involving rare ingredients. But in the end, you'll probably return to the basics: OMS and oil.

Raffless
12-21-2018, 07:01 PM
The most 'useful' you ask for out of the two is Solvent. Unfortunately its the most toxic.

DAK723
12-21-2018, 08:03 PM
That's important to know, I never found that in the pages I read. Thank you very much, knowing that, I definitely will avoid solvents and limit myself to only the necessary amount of oil.
The problem with using solvent and creating an underbound paint usually will occur if you use ONLY solvent - and too much solvent. In other words, you do not want to create a watercolor type wash using only solvent as your medium.

I also want to add that many paint makers when asked to recommend a medium, will say that the best medium to use is a combination of an oil and a solvent (usually OMS). When the medium is a combination of oil and solvent, they say that you can use more medium (perhaps up to 25-30% compared to the amount of paint). If you use oil alone as a medium, the recommendation is more like 10-15%.

In terms of gloss, a very general guideline is more oil = more gloss. For this reason, it is a good idea to use a similar amount of medium throughout the painting. If you paint some areas without medium, they will be more matte and areas with more oil will be glossy.

Again, this is a general statement as different tubes of paint (different colors) are not all made with the same amount of oil and the pigments have their own matte and glossy characteristics. So, even when under the best circumstances you may find some variation in matte and glossy areas - which is quite normal.

Don

AnnieA
12-21-2018, 09:15 PM
The people who recommend using little or no medium usually don't glaze or scumble. But there are those of us who love the subtle effects which only glazing and scumbling can achieve.
I think you're absolutely right there, JCannon. There tends to be a large divide in terms of many aspects of technique between the needs of those who glaze and those who don't.

The two main approaches with oils are direct painting and indirect painting. In direct painting, or alla prima, one applies paint in more or less one layer, wet-into-wet, directly onto the canvas in one session. The direct method often uses impasto passages. Painters who use the direct approach often strive to achieve expressive and visible brushwork, which can give the painting a very spontaneous look. In contrast, indirect painters use an underpainting (which may be done in shades of gray) and build up the painting with many thin layers of transparent color. These layers are very smooth, without brushmarks. This method can result in a beautiful depth of color and glowing look. There are also painters who use a combination of both methods.

The type of medium you use, and whether or not you use one at all, are determined by the method of painting you wish to use. While there are mediums produced expecially for direct painters, some don't use any at all. But mediums are almost always used by indirect painters.

So Alexa, have you considered how you want to paint? I don't mean to put you on the spot, and it's perfectly OK (good, in fact) when beginning to try out both methods. But when you ask about use of mediums, be aware it is something dependent on the method of painting you want to do.

sidbledsoe
12-21-2018, 09:40 PM
Is it really necessary to use any of those?
It all depends upon how you want your paint to handle. You must figure it out, and use what is best for you. I myself use only a little bit of solvent, it is the best painting medium I have ever used, and is essential for me, but that is just me. The caveat to not use too much medium applies to every single medium that exists.

what happens if you paint without them?
Then you will paint with one consistency of paint, as it is when it comes out of the tube.

Is there any other way to clean brushes, like soap and water?
yes, you can use soap and water.

Which, if any, of those two things would you recommend me to buy if you think I would need at least one?
buy a small bottle of each one, oil and solvent.
get a low odor artist solvent OMS like Gamsol (https://gamblincolors.com/oil-painting/gamsol/) which is much less hazardous than typical household cleaners,
and is rated in the same toxicity realm as solvents that are used for cosmetic purposes or typical hand cleaners/sanitizers.

equinespirit
12-22-2018, 04:00 AM
Aside from your method as already explained above, you will find a big variation between paints as to how the flow straight out of the tube which may also affect whether or not you want to add a medium.

TomMather
12-22-2018, 08:31 AM
Buy some small bottles of different mediums and find out what you like.
- Odorless mineral spirits (OMS) thin paints and make them dry faster. OMS are great for applying the first layer of paint or underpainting.
- Linseed oil is the classic medium and makes paints dry slower. It can be mixed with OMS in underlayers.
- Walnut and safflower oils are clearer than linseed and dry even slower.
- Alkyd mediums such as Galkyd and Liquin make the paint flow similar to oil mediums but make the paint dry much faster.
- Gamblin makes a Solvent Free Medium that makes paints flow well and dry faster but contains no OMS. It is pretty much odorless.

I have tried all of these mediums and currently use Gamblin SFM. I work quickly and find linseed and similar oils too slow drying. With linseed, you sometimes have to wait a week or more between applying layers of paint. I used Liquin for a while to speed drying times, then switched to Galkyd and later SFM to cut down on my use of solvents.

equinespirit
12-22-2018, 08:38 AM
Another thing to bear in mind is that the temperature and humidity where you are also affects drying time.
Here in Portugal in the summer linseed and safflower oil are both dry enough to add the next coat in 24 hours, in winter you can add another day unless its really thick then you can extend that another day again.
I also have problems with OMS drying too quickly in summer.
So many variables to consider which is why you need to experiment a little to find what suits you.

JCannon
12-22-2018, 12:23 PM
"Here in Portugal in the summer linseed and safflower oil are both dry enough to add the next coat in 24 hour"

Okay. That settles it. I must move to Portugal.

Also, that piri-piri chicken looks pretty damned awesome.

Alexa Dawn
12-22-2018, 02:29 PM
So Alexa, have you considered how you want to paint? I don't mean to put you on the spot, and it's perfectly OK (good, in fact) when beginning to try out both methods. But when you ask about use of mediums, be aware it is something dependent on the method of painting you want to do.

Thats true. I have thought about it, I will try to explain it here:

I really would prefere to complete a painting in no more than a month or two, I don't want to take years to complete a painting. But I want to have enough time to paint correctly and be able to fix mistakes, so I don't want the paint to dry too fast, but nor too slow.

Also I prefer to work in as few layers as possible, so I could combine both techniques as you said, and work like no more than four layers, maybe, because too much layers would take too much time too.

So going from there I would have to experiment a little and see what works better for that goal.

What do you think?

Pinguino
12-22-2018, 02:38 PM
You might also consider a "gel" medium, such as Gamblin's Solvent-Free Gel. This stuff comes in a tube, like paint, and is cheap. It has the consistency of a very soft paint. If one of my colors is too thick, straight from the tube, then I add a touch of the gel (just using the brush). Can also be used for glazing and scumbling, if your technique admits preserving brush strokes. I also use the gel for "rinsing" the brush when I change paint color, but beware of getting it up near the ferrule.

WFMartin
12-22-2018, 06:16 PM
Paint simply must flow in the manner you want it to flow, for the purpose of creating any, and all of the effects you are trying to achieve.

If the paint you have chosen to use somehow already exhibits the characteristics of flow that you require, then you don't require a medium.

However, if your paint is not of the consistency that enables you to achieve your effects, then you will require the use of a painting medium.

It all has to do with making your paint do what YOU want it to do. Whether or not you use a medium depends upon whether or not the paint will flow appropriately [for your use] without a medium. The quality of your work should not be held captive by a paint that won't handle as you need it to handle; nor by some penchant you may have for avoiding the use of a painting medium. In my opinion, that is just not worth it.

equinespirit
12-22-2018, 06:27 PM
"Here in Portugal in the summer linseed and safflower oil are both dry enough to add the next coat in 24 hour"

Okay. That settles it. I must move to Portugal.

Also, that piri-piri chicken looks pretty damned awesome.


Haha! the piri-piri is indeed very good! great wines too!
And yes, it is really convenient for the most part how the paint dries here, I was really surprised to read people saying how long it took in other parts of the world.

Alexa Dawn
12-22-2018, 06:37 PM
Paint simply must flow in the manner you want it to flow, for the purpose of creating any, and all of the effects you are trying to achieve.

It all has to do with making your paint do what YOU want it to do. Whether or not you use a medium depends upon whether or not the paint will flow appropriately [for your use] without a medium. The quality of your work should not be held captive by a paint that won't handle as you need it to handle; nor by some penchant you may have for avoiding the use of a painting medium. In my opinion, that is just not worth it.

That's very true, thank you very much. I felt pressured by the different opinions of all of those sources I've read.

I will take into account all of the counsels of this post and search my own way.

AnnieA
12-23-2018, 01:16 AM
Alexa, it's really hard to advise someone such as yourself who is just starting out, but one thing you might do is find several paintings in a style that appeals to you, and that you'd like to try. Then just figure out whether the artist was using the direct or indirect method and start off that way.

It's really hard as a new artist to figure a lot of this stuff out, since there is so much advice out there, and often no mention of the personal preferences of those offering it. I know on starting out myself, I was immobilized for quite a while because it was all so confusing! So you might consider getting some canvas paper and just playing a little with the paint to see what it can do. Do something simple - paint an orange or a lemon. That way, you're not committing to anything, and the painting, because you're using just canvas paper, will not be so precious that you'll freeze up for fear of taking a wrong step. Remember - painting really is fun!