In essence it is pigment dispersed in an oil. This is usually linseed, and added to this could be a number of other ingredients such as fillers, binders and thinners. The more expensive colours tend to contain only high quality pigments and oil. Cheap paints such as the ones you might find in a market will have inferior pigments, oil and a lot of cheap fillers. At Jackson's we avoid the lowest grade paints and only offer paints with minimal or no fillers - the professional grade paints will only ever contain pigment and oil binder without fillers.
The beauty of oil paint is in its versatility, durability, lightfastness and the rich colour that can be pushed, scraped and wiped across a huge variety of substrates. Its slow drying time allows you to re-work over days and weeks until you are happy with the results. The downside of oil colour is that it needs to be washed with detergents or thinners, however over recent years eco-friendly and pleasant smelling solvents have become widely available.
The difference between the ‘artist’ quality and the ‘professional’ quality is usually down to the number of single pigment colours in the range, as well as the pigment to oil/binder ratio. Artist quality is our recommendation for beginners and serious amateurs, however many professional artists use artist quality very happily. We suggest you buy the best that you can afford as you will be rewarded by the quality. If you are working to a budget or on a large scale the student quality paints we offer will certainly be adequate for your needs.
Student grade paints are defined by having a lower pigment: oil ratio, however most brands of student paint are manufactured by makers who also produce professional grade paints, and so the processes are the same and paint consistency is reliable. Our ranges are displayed roughly in order of quality and can be mixed with one another, allowing you full control over your chosen palette.
Titanium white is the most popular white because it is reasonably opaque and inexpensive. Zinc white is a useful tinting white because it is semi-transparent. Flake white is very opaque but contains lead and is mainly only used by professionals.
‘Hue’ colours are made from synthetic pigments that are made to look just like the real thing. They may mix differently to the original pigments but will undoubtedly be cheaper.
Ideal for those who work at home or those who are more sensitive to harmful and abrasive solvents, water mixable oil colour allows you to enjoy the rich and luscious nature of oil colour whilst being able to wash brushes and thin colour with water – the best of both worlds! All watermixable oil colour ranges can be mixed with one another. Holbein Duo Aqua and Winsor and Newton Artisan also have their own range of water mixable thinners and mediums. Please note that while these colours are water-mixable, they are still oil based, and so supports should still be sized and primed properly to prevent the oil from rotting the support.
Oil sticks by R & F, Sennelier and Winsor & Newton are made of artist’s quality oil colour blended with wax – this allows you to draw with oil colour and is a really versatile and exciting way of applying colour. Oil sticks can be used on their own to make bold, crayon-like marks and can also be thinned down with solvents into washes and stains, just like conventional oil colour. Use them to draw into wet oils, over dry oils and acrylics, or use to draw your composition prior to working in normal oils over the top….there’s a lot to explore with this medium!
Alkyd oil paints such as Winsor and Newton's Griffin Alkyd paints are bound with a synthetic alkyd resin. This possesses many of the qualities of linseed oil but it is much faster drying. It tends to dry in half the time of conventional oil colour. Many artists find this suits their way of working.
Alkyd is a synthetic resin that has come into popular use in colours and mediums within oil painting. The Winsor and Newton Griffin range of colours uses Alkyd resin as its binder. The advantages in doing so lie in the speed at which alkyd resin dries, and also its low cost. Unfortunately alkyd resin does not have the same colour holding capacities as a natural gum resin such as damar might have, which is used by Schmincke in their Mussini oil colour range. This means that the colour depth and brilliance is compromised slightly. However alkyd mediums are perfect for students or beginners, as well as for using when painting out of doors for all levels of ability (ease of use, practical reasons). It is also a good medium to use in the initial layers of a painting (underpainting) as it dries quickly, and one can then continue to work over the top with a medium that is made up of more lustrous, richer ingredients, if one so desires. Remember always the fat over lean rule – this means that the initial layers of oil colour should have less oil content than the layers applied over the top in order to allow the painting to dry solidly throughout the layers – this will give your painting stability and minimise the paint’s ability to absorb water from the air. Alkyd is also used in C. Roberson’s Oil Primers and Jackson’s Thixotropic Alkyd Oil Primer, and this allows these primers do dry a lot faster and be sold at a much lower price than the pure lead primer by Jackson’s. There are many alkyd mediums available, with varying consistencies and by a number of brands – check the details of each individual product for their unique characteristics. Brands Available Include: Jackson’s Fast Drying Oil Painting Medium, Jackson's Alkyd Oil Medium and Jackson's Gloss Gel Medium for Oils Winsor and Newton Liquin (all varieties) Daler Rowney Alkyd Flow Medium
There are a number of pre mixed mediums that use traditional, natural ingredients that achieve a greater degree of colour brilliance and depth. Because these mediums replicate the recipes used by painters for hundreds of years, we know the extent of their permanence and stability. If you know you are only going to use a specific ingredient for one purpose, i.e. as part of a particular medium, then buying a pre mixed medium might be the most cost and time effective way of doing so. If you are more likely to want to explore the possibilities with how to alter and manipulate mediums by altering the ingredients and their proportions, then it may be better to buy the ingredients separately to mix yourself.
Some of the Pre-mixed, traditional mediums available:
Below is a brief guide to other ingredients that you might mix with oil to make your own oil painting mediums based on traditional recipes.
The rectifying process is carried out by steaming out the spirits of the turpentine. This is different process to distillation of the spirits, yet serves the same purpose of removing any impurities that may have a disadvantageous effect on its drying process. Rectification is a mechanical process that uses water and is a much newer process of purification than distillation.
Beeswax is a popular medium among artists who like to paint more gesturally or with impasto colour. It is a mixture of linseed stand oil and bleached beeswax paste. It thickens oil colour and dries with a semi-matte sheen. Beeswax is particularly effective when mixed with semi-opaque and opaque colours.
Solvents can be divided into two main categories: Those that are extracted from pine trees and those which are petroleum based. Generally it is considered that the solvents that are extracted from pine trees are better suited to using in painting mediums, and in the cleaning of brushes etc., but the quality of these gum-resin based solvents (turpentine) vary hugely, so it is worth considering this when making your decision on which to buy. The quality of these is reflected in the price you pay. Many manufacturers call their high quality turpentine different names, and so if one comes across an English distilled turpentine, or a rectified turpentine, or a gum spirits of turpentine, one is going to be looking at pretty much the same product, and it would all come down to testing each one out to see which one does the job best for you.
Pure turpentine contains more impurities than English Distilled turpentine but is great as a brush cleaner prior to rinsing with soap and lukewarm water. Turpentine is made from the gum resin of pine trees, which is then purified or distilled or rectified to remove the impurities found in the resin, leaving a pleasant, pine smelling, yet effective thinner and cleaner of oil paint. If your turpentine does not smell as good, it could be down to the fact that it may have not been purified to the same extent, or that it may have been made from the mulch and dead pine tree leaves and branches as opposed to a live tree source. Such turpentines will be less stable and although may be cost effective, we would only really recommend these for cleaning brushes and not as an ingredient within an oil paint medium. We strongly recommend using all qualities of varieties of turpentine in a well-ventilated work area, as inhalation of the fumes should be kept to a minimum.
Warning - turpentine may suffer some discolouration if exposed to air over a prolonged period of time, so always worth keeping the lid on tight when not in use.
White Spirit is a paraffin derived, clear transparent liquid, and generally speaking is considered too unstable to be used in oil paint mediums, although can be used as a very effective cleaner for brushes after an oil painting session. However there are special ‘Artist’s White Spirit’ such as the one available from Winsor and Newton, that Winsor and Newton claim is suitable for painting with as part of a medium.
Low odour solvent is another petroleum based thinner, which has had its harmful aromatic solvents removed from its hydrocarbons – while Jackson’s calls theirs a ‘Low Odour Solvent’, Winsor and Newton call theirs ‘Sansodor’ (a name derived from the French for ‘without odour’) and it is worth remembering that these are much the same product. The key things to remember with these are that they are less stable than the very finest turpentines, they dry slower when mixed as part of an oil painting medium, and even if they do not emit as strong an aroma into the atmosphere, they still contain harmful fumes that should not be inhaled and so a well-ventilated studio is of paramount importance to the healthy artist’s well-being!
If the artist is concerned about one’s well-being in the studio and would like to find a friendlier solvent to use, then Zest It is our recommendation. Zest It is a solvent, primarily for use by oil painters. It is made from an Aliphatic Hydrocarbon and pure food grade Citrus Oil. It has a neutral pH value and contains no CFC's or Aromatics and has low VOC's. It is a clear, colourless liquid which has a pleasant 'citrus' smell, is inherently biodegradable and evaporates without leaving any residue. Independent laboratory tests show it has no detrimental effect to the oil paint or pigment quality, proven stability and a long active life. It does not emit any harmful paint fumes and although it is a little more expensive than other solvents, it can be recycled (left to stand so residue sinks to the bottom, and the clear Zest it can be decanted into another vessel to be used again). If you are looking for a solvent with a longer history of use, then Oil of Spike Lavender smells of fresh spring meadows, and has been used by oil painters for hundreds of years. It does emit some fumes but not as many as turpentine, low odour solvent or white spirit might, and it is less potent, and less abrasive than any of those solvents. It has a thicker consistency, and is known to be great for maintaining the quality of brush hairs when used straight as a brush cleaner at the end of a painting session, as well as part of a lustrous, easy-to-use painting medium when mixed with stand oil. It is pricey but a real treat for any serious oil painter.
Larch Venice Turpentine is not for cleaning brushes – it is a thick, thixotropic natural balsam that is extracted from resin (oleoresin) and mixes beautifully with oils (especially walnut or stand oil) and a little distilled turpentine to make a thick, lustrous, glossy, rich oil painting medium that increases the transparency of your colours.
Pure Turpentine is a natural product distilled from pine trees. It can be used in oil painting mediums by mixing with oil (linseed, linseed stand, walnut or safflower etc.). It is also great for cleaning brushes as it is effective yet is not as strong as white spirit and will not dry out the natural moisture of your brush hairs as much. However please note that prolonged exposure of natural hairs to any solvent will accelerate the deterioration of the quality of the hair and cause them to become brittle and break more easily. Turpentine can also be used to thin oil based varnishes, and is superior to white spirit in its ability to blend easily with oils to create even mixtures. To make your own varnish you can simply suspend damar resin crystals wrapped in a lint free cloth into a jar of pure turpentine until the crystals have dissolved. Turpentine’s slow evaporation rate creates a gradual drying time, which again, allows for a more lustrous finish to dried colour that has been mixed with turps.
Warning - turpentine may suffer some discolouration if exposed to air over a prolonged period of time, so always worth keeping the lid on tight when not in use.
Larch Venice Turpentine is a slow drying thixotropic balsam for use in mediums and varnishes. Pure resin from the Austrian Larch tree purified and slightly heated when decanted. Dilute with turpentine or place in warm water bath to obtain fluid consistency.
A layer of varnish on a finished painting will protect it from dust, dirt, grease and UV rays. It will also even out any unevenness of sheen on a paint surface e.g. a gloss varnish will make the whole picture surface equally glossy. All solvent varnishes are made up of resin and solvent. The resin provides the stable, solid, fast drying and glossy component of the varnish, and the solvent the liquid vehicle, which evaporates in the air with time which allows the resin to solidify once more after the varnish application. There are 2 main types of solvent varnish - a final picture varnish, and retouching varnish. The difference between the two is that the picture varnish will have a greater resin to turpentine ratio than the retouching varnish. The reason why is that the picture varnish is designed to be more concentrated to form a more solid, continuous layer of resin over a finished work, the layer will be even in its appearance. Its strong, solid structure will not allow water or other liquids to permeate through it, and conversely will not allow any liquid still contained within any semi-dry oil colour beneath the layer of varnish to escape into the atmosphere.
If a painting is not sufficiently dry when varnished with a final picture varnish blooming may appear, as well as more visible cracks in the varnish as the paint beneath shifts. This is why it is very important to not apply a final picture varnish until the painting is at least 6 months old. Picture varnishes should be removable so that they can be taken off and replaced with a new layer if the old layer gets damaged or dirty, and all good varnishes will state the best means of removing varnish (although it will be with the use of the solvent that is used in the varnish itself). Because retouching varnish has more solvent in it, when it dries liquids are able to permeate through the layer of varnish, which means that the painting does not need to be fully dry before its application. It is used as a temporary protection layer as well as a device to unify sheen during the painting process.
Small quantities of varnish are also sometimes used in oil painting mediums to act as a siccative (to speed drying) as well as add a little more gloss to the finish. The resins used vary but typically it is damar resin if it is not a synthetic alternative, such as ketone. Damar resin is extracted from the Dipterocarpaceae family of trees in India and East Asia, and as well as in varnishes, can also be found in the binding of Schmincke Mussini oil colours. It is thought to increase the appearance of colour brilliance, and is a good ingredient in oil painting mediums as it has a good colour holding capacity.
Generally speaking, damar is preferred to synthetic resin as it is thought to provide a deeper, more lustrous finish, as well as being less likely to yellow with time and having more stability. The solvents are either turpentine or white spirit, which dries slightly slower than turpentine. Winsor and Newton also offer a range of Artisan varnishes which are water-based and to be used to protect fully dried paintings created with the use of Artisan colours, and can only be removed with the special Artisan varnish remover. All solvent varnishes can be applied with a spray or a thin flat varnish brush, and can be used on all dry oil, alkyd or acrylic works.
Matt varnishes can be made 2 ways – either with the use of a wax that is matt anyway when dry, or by adding a matting agent to a varnish that would otherwise dry gloss. Michael Harding’s matt varnish is made with beeswax and double rectified turpentine and C. Roberson & Co also produce a similar beeswax picture varnish. C. Roberson and Co.’s ‘Matt Varnish’ contains a petroleum based microcrystalline wax, which is elastic and adhesive in its nature, as well as matt in appearance. Matt varnishes by Royal Talens and Jackson’s Art Supplies contain a matting agent (in the case of Royal Talens they use silica), which serves its purpose but the only snag is that the matting agent tends to be marginally denser than the other ingredients in the varnish and will sink to the bottom of the bottle over time. This may lead to an uneven sheen, so it is absolutely vital to give your bottle of matt varnish a thorough stir or shake prior to use.
It is both cheap and easy to make dammar varnish, to use either as a retouching varnish or a final picture varnish. It is a case of diluting one part dammar crystals to one part turpentine. Wrap your crystals in a piece of cheesecloth or muslin and tie at one end, and suspend in a jar of your solvent. As I said earlier, the more refined the solvent the easier to use the varnish, so try and use something that has been rectified or distilled of its impurities. You will need to gently stir every now and then for the following 2-3 days, as the crystals break down. After about 3 days all the crystals should have dissolved and you then have your damar concentrate. With this you can either a) make picture varnish, by mixing 1 part damar concentrate to one part solvent, or b) make retouching varnish by mixing one part damar concentrate to 3 parts turpentine. You may also make a matt varnish by also diluting a quantity of beeswax in the same jar of damar concentrate.
The versatility of both oil and acrylic colour means that artists use the paint in thin glazes and stains as well as very thick impasto splodges of colour. Your brush is instrumental to the appearance of the marks that you make with your paint. Although oil and acrylic brushes are considered to have the same specifications, we must stress that we advise keeping the brushes you use with oils separate from the brushes you use with acrylics.
Hog hair is relatively inexpensive, and is popular among beginners, although higher quality ranges are the preferred choice of many professional painters. Most hog hair is white, relatively stiff, and will leave an imprint of the hairs in thickly applied colour. The Jackson’s Black Hog is a slightly softer, finer hog hair, which is favoured by painters who like to use their brushes for both thin and thick applications of paint.
Sable is more commonly known to be used in the manufacture of watercolour brushes, because it is soft and fine, with good spring, meaning that sable hair brushes possess good liquid holding capacity and control. In oil and acrylic painting sable hair brushes are favoured for very smooth brush work and detail. Because oil and acrylic painters tend to demand larger brushes than watercolour painters, and because sable is relatively expensive, the larger sizes can be very expensive. However having been made by Da Vinci, our oil and acrylic sable brushes are made to the highest quality and are designed to last.
Synthetic hair brushes tend to be shinier, silkier, springier and longer lasting than natural hair. As with hog hair brushes there is a wide range of choice available at Jackson’s, from inexpensive brushes for beginners, to more expensive, long lasting options for professional artists
Palette knives are really useful for mixing colour on to a palette, as brushes get very loaded with paint easily and it can be difficult to get the paint back on the palette! It is much easier to use the smooth metal of a palette knife to move the colour around. Cheaper palette knives tend to be a lot thinner but this can be to an artist’s advantage when using a palette knife as a painting tool, as it allows for a little more spring. The more expensive palette knives such as the excellent Jackson’s palette knives are made of an incredibly sturdy carbon steel blade, and could almost be used as a paint scraper. A paint scraper is a tool with a slighter sharper blade, which is effective in taken dried layers of paint off a painting support or palette.
With the right priming and sizing, oil paintings can be created on many surfaces. At Jackson's we sell a choice of different traditional surfaces that you might like to try painting on.
Canvas stretched and fixed on to a wooden frame. The tension of the canvas on the frame is important; a tightly stretched canvas is much more enjoyable to paint on than a slack canvas. We sell both cotton and linen stretched canvases. Cotton is cheaper because the threads are not as strong as linen, which is very hardwearing.
These are boards that have canvas glued to one side, which provides a nice texture on to which you paint. Our canvas boards have shear edges, but the canvas panels have the canvas glued around the edges and fixed to the back. Canvas panels and boards are often used for oil sketches, and once framed they look just as professional as a stretched canvas.
The canvas sheets, pads and blocks section lists a number of unstretched surfaces that are suitable for oil painting. Finished oil paintings can be made on these but they would need to be mounted on a backing board and framed for presentation. They are usually used by students and professional painters for experimenting or for large, quick oil sketches. Arches Aquarelle offer a unique oil painting paper that looks and feels like regular watercolour paper but it is made with a special sizing that can take oil paint without the paper deteriorating in the way that regular paper would when exposed to oil.
Unstretched canvas is best fixed on to a rigid support prior to being painted on, so that it does not move around when you are painting on it. A frame is the traditional support on to which canvas can be stretched, but some painters like to glue it on to a board, or staple it to the wall to be stretched after the painting is finished, as Pierre Bonnard was thought to do himself.
Oil painters must coat or ‘size’ their canvas prior to painting in order to prevent the oils of the paint seeping into the fibres and causing them to rot. Traditionally artists use a layer of rabbit skin glue to size their canvases. Rabbit skin glue usually comes in bags of dried granules, which are best melted in a Bain Marie (double boiler). The idea is to use a relatively soft haired brush to apply this very fluid, warm (and smelly!) substance to the canvas, working it into the grain and allowing the glue to laminate the threads. It should not be applied so thickly that a layer of the glue is noticeable. Rabbit skin glue is also available as a jelly like substance which thins out on heating. As well as forming a barrier between the oil and natural fibre of the canvas the glue will also cause the canvas to shrink slightly, thus tightening the canvas to the frame and increasing the tension or ‘spring’. Research has proven that rabbit skin glue is slightly hygroscopic - this means it absorbs water in humid conditions and when it does this it will swell. Repeated swelling and contracting caused by the natural changes of humidity in the air will, over time, cause a finished painting to crack. A number of non-hygroscopic acrylic mediums (AV, Jackson’s, Golden) have been developed and many artists prefer to size their canvases with these alternatives because they believe their work will not deteriorate over time – however because these are recent developments, acrylic mediums have not had the test of time to prove that they are wholly suited to the purpose of sizing canvas. Once canvas has been sized it can be primed with oil primer. Oil primer generally allows the paint to glide around the surface more easily, and is less absorbent. Oil primer tends to be a little more off- white than acrylic primer, however both acrylic and oil primer can be tinted with colour prior to application. If you like working on unprimed canvas this is also a possibility, but we cannot stress enough the importance of sufficiently sizing your canvas prior to applying oil on canvas.
Use a synthetic or relatively soft hog hair brush that is clean and dry. Load with primer and apply evenly by brushing the paint on in random, varied directions. If the paint is not gliding on easily dilute it (with water if it is acrylic or solvent if it is oil). I find that by dipping my brush into a pot of solvent or water before dipping into undiluted primer, I am able to achieve just the right consistency of primer for application. Keep the layer of primer as thin as possible and leave to dry – at least 3-4 hours for acrylic primer and overnight for oil primer. Then apply a new layer if necessary. The more layers of primer the less absorbent the canvas will feel, and the brighter your colours will appear. Most artists tend to apply 2-3 layers before considering a canvas ready for working on. If you like a particularly smooth surface on which to work, gently rub a fine piece of glasspaper or sandpaper over the canvas to remove any lumps that may have appeared in the primer. Now you have your blank canvas and the possibilities of what you paint on it are limitless. Might I just add here that if you have a photograph or drawing that you are keen to transpose on to canvas, we sell a range of projectors (including the digital art projector which you can plug straight into your pc or mac) that are designed solely for the purpose of easily doing this otherwise time consuming task.