Jackson’s Professional Oil Paints are made using the highest grade pigments and the purest refined oils, and every colour is carefully formulated to bring out the individual characteristics of each pigment. Artists Martin Clarkson, Frances Cooley, and Gail Reid try out a selection of colours by taking them out on a plein air painting session, and then share their thoughts on the range.
Martin Clarkson Tests Jackson’s Professional Oil Paints
Photo credits: Kirstin McEwan Photography
Towering vertically out of the ocean off the east coast of Scotland, the monolithic Bass Rock has been an fascination to me since summer 2021, when me and my partner Kirstin ( the Artist behind the lens here) first took a boat trip from the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick. A primordial plug of volcanic rock, once the molten heart of a huge network of volcanoes, has since been chopped up and smashed by the north sea, weathered by time, inhabited as a prison for Jacobites, until later was turned into a lighthouse post. As fascinating as that all is, for me, the magic of this place is its seabird population. It boasts the largest single colony of Gannets in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is spectacular to experience in the summer seasons. Gannets, like a lot of seabirds currently, are experiencing a terrible time dealing with an ongoing outbreak of Avian Flu, alongside continued impacts from overfishing. So, in honor of these majestic and remarkable sea creatures I wanted to take my shiny new Jacksons products to the beach, and celebrate the Big Bass.
I love painting Plein Air. Any excuse to be outdoors, be present in nature and just absorb the experience through the act of painting is always what fuels the spirit and reminds me what life is all about. I am no stranger to Jacksons Professional Oils, I have been using them consistently since i completed my degree at Loughborough School of the Arts back in 2012. From layered and materially complex studio works, to alla prima oil sketches made in the wilder reaches of Britain. I have always loved their buttery, silky consistency. They glide beautifully on the palette, and retain a rich hue true to what you should expect in a premium oil paint. Cheaper paints often contain waxy additives, which in all honesty has its place for some fantastic sculptural underpainting, but for today’s instance we’re dealing with Plein Air so speed and malleability is essential.
I’ve been working outdoors seriously since 2018, exploring remnants of ancient natural worlds that thrived thousands of years back. Over the years, through numerous failures, I have learned that your setup is key. A smooth hand made gesso panel, a quick easel set up and some clamps or even guy ropes to stop the wind having its way, makes for a higher success rate. After that, the economy of mark is key, stretching and sculpting the delicious oils with the hopes of describing as much as possible, within a mark made. It’s all about touch, and Jacksons Professional oils works for me. Whether thinning the body down to a gruel thin watercolour consistency, or beefing it up with some bees wax in the studio, coupled with the fact you can get your whites ground in safflower oil for that archival quality, for me it’s a material I can continually rely on.
I believe the price is fair for what you get, yes there are some incredible other brands on the market which I also have their place, but for the way I choose to deploy the paint, Jacksons means you can be bold yet not compromise on quality. These days I have stripped back my palette, choosing a limited core range of Burnt Umber, French Ultramarine, Titanium White in Safflower oil and Cadmium Yellow Deep. I do have a few extra colours handy if necessary or I want a change for the seasons, but ultimately I like the challenge of mixing your own, so buying four Professional Oils rather than a whole range makes sense to me.
I was pleasantly surprised by the apron. Working outdoors, often I hike fair to great lengths to reach my subject so I tend to be kitted out in hiking gear that is decorated with painty fingers or a rogue splodge of white out of nowhere. This Apron however i would recommend, probably more for the studio, it feels comfy to wear and looks great in brown, it brought out my eyes. I like the adjustable set up to your shape and size and covers the body well. Plenty of spacious pockets for brushes, keys, phone, or the kitchen sink! It really is a useful piece of kit and looks smart for those studio profile pictures, but personally I like to keep my outdoor set up as purely essential.
Now, this was a product I was keen to try out. I have used the Liquin Original in the past, and personally I quite like it. These days, however, I stick to a traditional hand made mixture of Stand Oil and Distilled Turps or Gamsol. This product I figured might be the Jacksons equivalent of Liquin, It does not have the gel like body and instead sits closer to a traditional medium. It skates beautifully, and holds the oil at a nice consistency. You don’t need much, I purposely went overboard to see what might happen and even though I got a bit carried away, the results were good. I was expecting a glossy finish but the paint film has dried nice and balanced, the brush marks are still there, crusty hog or silky synthetic applications still retain that sense of touch. I would say keep an area of your palette free for stiffer paint applications as this liquid does run when you get going. I would recommend this product. I like the shiny tin bottle to keep the light out, hopefully if stored correctly it should keep well, just decant what you need and take it on an adventure. Slightly cheaper price compared to the same size bottle of Liquin Original, given the choice I would go for the Jacksons after reviewing this product, however I would be interested to see if this medium yellows at all over time compared to more traditional options.
Finally, Jacksons Low Odour Solvent. I saved this product for testing in the studio, as I did not find it appropriate to use outside due to its risk to nature. Cleaning my palette and brushing with it, I found it far less harsh as you might find with white spirit in a low ventilated space. This product I think will be fantastic value for those just getting into oils, or perhaps work at home where fumes can be an issue. However, I am unsure whether it is suitable to be used whilst painting to a higher standard , at a risk of degrading the archival quality of the paint over time. Perhaps the Jacksons Pure Sol or Shell Sol might be more appropriate there, whilst still creating a safer material to use within a studio environment. Turps, as fantastic as it is, is terrible for your health and having some modern alternatives I think is a great idea. I have used Gamsol by Gamblin in the studio and it is great for low odor when using a vigorous amount of turps to apply thin layers.
Outdoors, I aim to be more considerate and try to keep any medium strictly to the palette or panel. I have seen Sennelier do a ‘ Green for Oil ’ range, and I would seriously consider a Jacksons product along those lines for Plein Air, to safely and confidently be used within a wild environment.
I like the functionality of the tin with the pop out nosel, making for easier handling of the product. With a square tin, it’s handy for storing away in a materials cupboard, and keeps any light out from possible discoloration. I have noticed rust in the past from other brands in the inside of tins, but only once the product has been open and exposed to air for a long period of time. Best decant it into brown bottles if you’re unsure.
I have been continually impressed with the Jacksons range over the years, and although they might not meet all of my specific needs, they offer an amazing and quality range for a good price. It’s great to see a broad range of materials available for Studio or Plein air approaches, beginners or professionals. I would happily recommend Jacksons to Artists at any stage of their career, and probably have done on numerous occasions to date. Thankyou for the opportunity to write a review.
About Martin Clarkson
Martin Clarkson is a British artist living and working in Nottinghamshire, England. Clarkson Studied Fine Art Painting at Loughborough University under Colin Smith and John Atkin. Over the last decade, he has worked on various creative ventures which include working as a painting technician at Loughborough University; studying at the Santa Catalina Art School in South Spain; curating and showing work in various exhibitions around the Nottingham arts and cultural scene; and hosting talks and educational workshops as accompaniment to exhibitions or as a visiting artist to schools or colleges. From 2018 to present, Clarkson has shifted his approach from working primarily within a studio context to painting En Plein Air, focusing first hand on observing the wild landscapes of the British Archipelago. Clarkson has exhibited internationally over the years, and most recently was invited to show his ‘Ancient Oaks of Sherwood’ series as a guest artist with ‘The Obejvak Project Space’ in central Prague.
Frances Cooley Tests Jackson’s Professional Oil Paints
It’s always exciting to unwrap a new box of paints and these are the Jacksons own brand of professional oil paints. I’m thrilled to have been asked to try them out and can’t wait to put them to the test. Firstly I like to squeeze them all out onto my palate to analyse the consistency and make up a swatch to see how they compare to my current oils mostly from Micheal Harding. I was pleased to see that they were all fluid and very concentrated with pigment.
Here are my chosen colours that are a little less than I am used to:
I’ve chosen to try them out on a still life with some vibrant coloured fruit as one of the reds is new to me- the Napthol Vermillion. The next test was a quick en plein air subject that I am familiar with so I could concentrate on the quality of the paints.
I prefer to prepare my canvases, in this case a Jackson’s MDF board covered in Linen, with a coloured gesso. The Gesso provided plus my acrylics worked well and dried quickly. Normally I will use Raw Umber to create my initial sketch, this worked well and the oil paint was very concentrated plus thinned well as a wash for my shading.
Next I wanted to place the deeper tones and create the range hues that this still life has, I was interested to see how well the two reds worked together alongside the blues. I used the Vermillion that is new to me with the Crimson on the strawberries and cherries adding Raw umber and ultramarine for the darker tones. The yellows mixed with the blues with a touch of crimson and raw umber gave me some lovely vibrant tones.
These steps were done mostly in the morning as I prefer to use natural light and this has a strong direction through my studio window. For the next stage I started to introduce lighter tones and the colours that I have, gives me some wonderfully subtle tones especially for the background and vibrancy for the fruit and plate where needed. The final highlights and added movements to a painting is one of my favourite bits and the titanium white with a tiny touch of Cadmium lemon yellow did the trick.
En Plein Air
With this piece I wanted to capture the light at a specific time of the morning so needed to mix quickly. The oils performed well as they are beautifully fluid and rich in colour, I really enjoyed painting this piece. I started by mapping out the composition simply with the Raw Umber and moved swiftly onto the water as the reflections were at their best. Once this was achieved I could afford to slow down and start mapping out the layers of the background and coming forward to the SS Great Britain.
The pale purple backgrounds and sky were mixed with the Titanium white, Lemon yellow, crimson, ultramarine blue (red shade), and a spot of raw Umber. These created some beautiful subtle shades. I hadn’t used this Red shade of Ultramarine before and have decided to use this in the future.
To conclude I would say that these oils are of a high quality and a reasonable price compared to the Michael Harding and Windsor Newton oils so I shall be using them from now on. Also the 3mm MDF linen covered boards are light, rigid and well covered, these will work well with my smaller works and especially for en plein air work. Thank you also for the practical and robust thick cotton apron which should last me for the rest of my working life.
About Frances Cooley
Frances has spent a lifetime creating graphic designs, illustrations, drawings, and paintings. She gained a degree in Art and Design in 1984 in Brighton, has travelled the world spending a year in Hong Kong working for Henry Steiner. For the last 15 years she has been working full time as an artist in Bristol enjoying experiments with texture, geometry and colour in oil paintings. Her work includes nature, still life and figurative studies. Whether travelling or in her own back garden, she finds inspiration in the beauty of nature. Her paintings en-plein-air bring to life the gardens of England, Wales, Italy and France.
With still life her aim is to capture that first moment that attracted her to the subject; light, vibrancy of colour, abstract shapes and movement. Over the last few years her work has developed and she can now let herself go and use more movement in her strokes and also bring in graphic symbols to bring the composition together. In the last seven years she has applied herself to portraiture with some classes at the Mall Galleries with renowned artists and also workshops with Andrew James. Previous experience with life drawing has helped her to work swiftly with bold strokes to show the sitters personality and to give life and movement to the piece. She now takes on commissions. Last year she had a piece exhibited at the Mall Galleries in London
Gail Reid Tests Jackson’s Professional Oil Paints
I deliberately went ‘green’ for this painting escapade: Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol is a local event and beauty spot, rescued from development thanks to a community action group in 2003. Open to the public, it is set in a wooded amphitheatre landscape with beautiful Victorian architecture, a well mown memorial garden, herbaceous borders and gatehouses at the entrance. My daughter Izzi painted alongside me, and my son Leon was on camera duty. As we were setting up (in sunlight), the skies opened. The caretaker very kindly offered us a relocation to the nearby gatehouse porch, which was perfect, open, but sheltered. He also modelled, and is the only figure in the painting.
I normally use an eclectic assortment of oil paints and brushes – everything from student grade to top of the range. I work both alla prima and indirectly, large scale or small, with a preference for single pigment paints.
I used the following Jackson’s Professional Oil Paints:
General Notes on the Paints
The first thing I noticed was the lack of bubble wrap in the packaging. The tubes have a stripe of the actual paint on them, which is a nice artisanal touch, and useful for quick glance/comparing similar colours. Under that stripe of paint are two printed rectangles (black and white). This is a really cool device to indicate opacity. But the brushstrokes are so generously applied that even transparent pigments aren’t as different as they could be over the black/white panel – if the underlying panel was bigger, left visible at the top edge of the paint stripe, and the paint was applied more thinly, it would be awesome.
I enjoyed the curated hints on each tube about the pigment’s behaviour on the tube. For example ‘Mixes well with yellows, good for botanical subjects. Average drying and tinting rates’. It reminded me of book shops and off licences with hand written staff reviews on the individual items. From a practical point of view, my first stop is the pigment code and opacity indicator, so I would prefer if they were really big and clear.
One thing the paints all had in common was perfect (to my taste) viscosity, and even consistency. I needed very little medium, and there were no surprises. Even the Phthalo Green was very manageable.This is impressive considering it’s done on balancing the particle size and oil ratio without any extenders or fillers. There is a lovely Jackson’s Professional Oil Colour Chart with all the info, which speaks of the care that has gone into this range.
Individual Colour Notes
I generally push/pull the composition together with thinned Burnt Umber, and a rag for wiping out. This went straight onto the board beautifully, and was pleasingly warmer than I’m used to. The Ultramarine (Blue Red Shade) gave a nice transparent cool option, which another time I would make better use of to plan colour temperatures during that early stage.
Wiped out, the Burnt Umber persisted just enough on the canvas board to temper the sky slightly without muddying. I’m used to a less transparent white, but wanted to try the Zinc White to see how it behaved in the sky. Predictably, given the nature of Zinc White, I needed a lot of it, and found it was better for glazing/scumbling at the end. That said, it made a beautiful mix with the Cobalt Blue, and being less dominating than other whites it left me more able to adjust. If only the actual sky had stayed a match for that lovely colour – two minutes later it was grey and pouring with rain! Anyway, as per Jenny Aitken’s assertion, Yellow Ochre and Dioxazine Violet came to the rescue for the body of those backlit clouds, and I used a more opaque white for cloud highlights when the sun came back out.
I’d love to try the Ultramarine (as designed, to replicate Lapis Lazuli) for glazing, perhaps fabric on a still life or portrait subject’s clothing. It was a bit light to make my usual chromatic black with Burnt Umber (should have used French Ultramarine for that).
My surprise hit was Chrome Oxide Green. A lovely opaque, flat, useful mid tone green, which mixed beautifully with Yellow Ochre for blocking in the trees. The Dioxazine Violet mixed very well with it too, to cool it. I’m not going plein air without it ever again (except maybe seascapes or desert!).
As soon as I saw the Arnos Vale ‘Welcome’ sign, I knew that was my chance to get the Phthalo Green out. It is such an inorganic looking paint colour that it perfectly distinguished the sign from the surrounding vegetation. Being such a bully, it barely flinched when I tried mixing anything with it!
Once home, I’m a terrible one for meddling with plein air paintings. I felt the painting needed more aerial perspective. Despite the warnings on the tubes (maybe thanks to my not having gessoed the canvas board, and having used a bit of medium), the painting (apart from the Zinc White) was touch dry the next day. So after a couch of medium, the Zinc White and Dioxazine Violet came in very handy as glazes, and to adjust the tree-line. Finally I picked out a few warm highlights on the building/foreground hedges. The Yellow Ochre did a beautiful job of warming up my punchy old tube of Titanium White for this.
Sadly, the light caught on the box hedges, where the caterpillars had stripped the leaves off the hedges. And the only visible skeletons in the graveyard were the Ash trees that I scratched into the distance. Suffering from the dreaded dieback, they are (as in the rest of the UK) being ‘managed’ down, to avoid the danger of spontaneous falling. Par for the course on such a beautiful, historic, community estate.
As Izzi painted alongside me, I asked what she thought of the Jackson’s Professional Oil Paints: ‘They spread and mix really nicely, you can tell they’re good quality. I particularly like the Dioxazine Violet, for muting greens and adding drama to a cloudy sky.’ Izzi painted her canvas with a bright pink acrylic base coat before we set off.
OK so I love the Jackson’s Artist’s Apron. Feels like it’ll last a lifetime, and no excuse now for dirty clothes. Next time, I’d choose black to minimise light reflecting back onto the painting, especially when the painting is wet and you’re working into the sun. If I lived alone I’d probably wear it all the time, in fact I’m wearing it now as I type! Great tip from this review to tie a knot in the tails to keep them in place.
The Jackson’s Premium Cotton Canvas Art Board is a lovely firm white substrate, with quite a pronounced texture – grippy and sucks up the paint. Personally I really like this, as it speeds up drying time and would be good for scumbling/sanding down dry paint for texture. But I’ll probably put a layer of gesso on next time. As an additional bonus, the cardboard box that the materials came in is really nice and strong, and perfect fit to re-use when posting the finished 16 x 16 in painting.
About Gail Reid
Gail’s practice is rooted in observational drawing. She uses pencil and oils to describe still life, human, animal, rural, and urban landscapes. Not seeking a pristine finish, her work is figurative with expressive traces of process. Gail is a contestant in Portrait Artist Of The Year 2023. She exhibits and takes commissions, most recently at the Royal Portrait Society 2022, Ruth Borchard Online Exhibition 2023, and was longlisted for the Jackson’s Painting Prize 2023. Gail shares her process on YouTube.