Saturday, June 22, 2013

DaVinci Didn't Paint With PLASTIC, and Neither Do I

I have followed the tenets of the old masters in terms of my oil painting mediums, primarily because it seems to me that if their paintings can survive for centuries, I’d like mine to survive that long, as well.
I use traditional materials in my painting mediums, which I mix myself, from a recipe that I invented, based upon logical information I have gathered over the years, from other artists who enjoy the benefits of traditional materials.  

Today, there seems to be some sort of attraction for the use of the more “modern” painting mediums, such as the alkyds.  Alkyds, while not truly being "plastic", are synthetic (rather than natural) resins, whose beginnings sprang from their use in the painting of industrial machinery, bridges, park benches, and the like.  They were never engineered for the creation of fine art.  It was only through insidious, and cunning marketing that they ever gained recognition in the field of fine art.
When the manufacturers of this stuff decided that they could package it in attractive, designer containers, and sell relatively small quantities of it for three or four times its industrial value, the focus of the manufacturers then became that of trying to convince fine art oil painters that this stuff was somehow advantageous for them to use, compared to the time-tested, traditional medium of the old masters.  Their ploy seems to be to convince oil painters that these materials have been engineered to solve some sort of problem that truly never existed in the first place.

The popularity of these alkyds seems to be centered, primarily, around materials such as Liquin, by Winsor & Newton, and Galkyd, by Gamblin.  These are both examples of alkyd mediums.  I truly question their compatibility with traditional oil paint.  Liquin becomes gummy, draggy, and tacks up quickly on the palette while you are working with it, but doesn’t seem to really be all that “fast-drying” once it hits the canvas, where it usually remains tacky and sticky for days after it has been applied.  It is cloudy because of a clay ingredient, known as Kaolin—the same stuff that is in the anti-diarrhea medicine, Kaopectate.  Why any oil painter would prefer a cloudy oil painting medium is beyond my comprehension.  It does not keep well, and after a few weeks or months will turn brown and become hardened in its own bottle.  It smells like kerosene.
Delamination of layers of paint containing alkyd mediums has been reported, which seems to be caused by the fact that alkyd mediums dry fast, like a “lean medium”, yet remain flexible, like a “fat medium”.  This makes it nearly impossible to predict with any degree of certainty, just where they should be placed in an oil painting, containing layers of more traditional drying oils, resins, and solvents.  

Most of  these alkyd mediums set up on the palette much too fast to be able to do any effective glazing or layering, and they all pretty much smell like petroleum products—gasoline, kerosene, and the like.  If it is a fast-drying medium that is the attraction, I can offer several recipes of traditional ingredients that will easily fill that requirement.

One artist whom I know once referred to Liquin as “Satan’s Vomit”, and I pretty much concur.  My constant goal is to convince the beginning oil painter to avoid the use of alkyd mediums with traditional oil paint, as I have, and to intelligently mix their own layering and glazing mediums to accommodate their own painting methods.  (Linseed Oil or Walnut Oil, and a solvent are the basis of a sound, user-friendly, painting, and glazing medium.)

Even Winsor & Newton claims that they do not recommend the mixing of much Linseed Oil with their Liquin, because they claim the applied paint "may dry unevenly", or that doing so "might cause problems over time", which logically leads one to ask the question, “Then, of just what does Winsor & Newton think oil paints are made, if not Linseed Oil?”  That seems to smack directly at "incompatibility", by my simple logic.

I have ceased pleading my case for avoiding this atrocious alkyd material with traditional oil paint on the various art forums upon which I am a member, merely because there are too many painters who have been misled into the use of this plastic stuff, thinking that “modern” automatically means “better”, and they constantly refute my advice to beginners to avoid using alkyd medium.  I don’t much care, because through experience, I am in position to have seen through, and past the attraction for it, but I only desire to convince those who are new to the medium of oil paint that traditional mediums not only “work better” in terms of allowing one to apply paint in an easier fashion, but are more logical to use in terms of archival integrity, as well.

Anyone who may be interested in having my recipe for what I consider the best, most useful, traditional, glazing medium I’ve ever used, please e-mail me with your questions.


  1. Thank you! I've been using Liquin. I never realized, and I am so thankful for this information....

  2. I thank you also for this advice. I will email you. I would very much like it if you would share your recipes.

  3. Thanks for this article, it is really interesting to learn about Liquin and I agree about the terrible smell and tacky qualities as it dries. I will email you for your recipe.

  4. Personally, I think that any ingredient, beyond the oil paint itself, is foreign to the notion of painting 'traditionally'. Just how long ago was it that anything, besides oil paint, was used in creating pieces? I get what you're saying, Bill, that these alkyds are not 'compatible' with what you view as traditional oil painting ingredients, but you're awfully close to falling victim to the pot calling the kettle black. I guess I'm just a purist and stickler for doing things (purely) the old fashioned way ;)

  5. Well, many oil painters use appropriate mediums for the purpose of achieving the effects they desire. I am one of them. I truly could not perform the glazing operations that I do without my chosen painting medium. By the way, many of the old masters used mediums--some of them inappropriately, at times, for sure, and some of them poor in terms of archival integrity, but ALL with the purpose of causing the paint to handle the way they wished it to handle.

    If you are such a "purist" that you prefer not to employ a painting medium, no matter how wonderful it makes the paint handle, you may, indeed, be missing out on a great deal of the enjoyment of oil painting.

    Quite often when I encounter a painter who shuns the use of any appropriate painting medium, it is because they have been using an alkyd, and believed that is the way a medium should perform.

  6. I would also like to add that many really GOOD and APPROPRIATE painting mediums can be used very INAPPROPRIATELY. But, I am not addressing that sort of mis-use of appropriate mediums, here.

  7. @thevaliantx:

    Numerous "additives" have been used along with "just oil paint" for centuries: lead and cobalt driers; Damar, Copal, Venice Turpentine, and other natural resins and balsams; ground mica, gold, glass, etc.

  8. Yep, and some are "good", and some are "bad", and the goal is to select the good ones, while eliminating the bad ones, based upon their compatibility and behavior with oil paints.

  9. Thank You so mush Bill, for Your advice. I will email You and I will appreciate if You will send the recipe of medium. Always so great when an artists share their experiences and open for that. Thanks a lot!!

  10. Thank you for your advice and willing to share your experience. I will email you for your recipes .
    Thank you very much!

  11. Da Vinci didn't paint with plastic because it didn't exist in the 15th century. Also, if it existed in his time, he would have been the first one to try it! Da Vinci experimented a lot and once used a mineral oil on a mural which didn't dry. He tried to heat the mural with a fire to no avail and ruined the painting.

    1. He also painted the Mona Lisa, which still exists today! And, I'll guarantee that he didn't paint that with plastic, or alkyd! LOL