Oil Paints And Mediums

Oil Paints, Mediums and Supplies by Jill Saur

Oil paint dries much slower than any other painting medium and requires patience.  However, in the end, if done correctly, painting in oil is extremely rewarding.   

About Oil Paint & Solvent Free Oil Painting

Oil paint is made by mixing dry powder pigments (pure color) with refined linseed oil.  The gold standard of consistency is a buttery mixture.  It dates back to the fifteen hundreds.  However, the oldest oil paintings were discovered in caves in Afghanistan from the seventh century.  In the 15th century in Europe, oil was the main medium used to paint over the tempera paintings.  They polymerized oil by heating in the sun.  It made the oil thicker.  They also added thickeners (resins) and turpentine.  Turpentine was the main solvent. The discovery of binders became a game changer for oil painters.  It helped the artists to create transparent paintings.  The church was the primary patron of the arts.

For centuries, in traditional oil painting, the artist mixes linseed oil and mineral spirits (turpentine) or other solvents, to make the paint a thinner consistency, making it easier to brush on.  This is what I did when I painted in art school.  However, over the years, I’ve developed a physical sensitivity to solvents and no longer keep them in my studio or paint with them.  Breathing in toxic solvents (even the ones that are odorless) is unhealthy and can cause lung cancer.

The great news is that solvent free painting is entirely possible!  After months studying, networking with other professional artists, and talking with paint manufacturers, I’m applying a method that works best for myself and my students.  My studio is solvent free.

Since oil painting is painted fat over lean (lean being the first layer), I paint water mixable oil thinned with water to establish my underpainting or drawing.  This will literally dry in about ten minutes. Underpainting in your first step of painting helps to establish your values and light source, resulting in a painting with more depth and dimension.  

The following layers can be painted with either water mixable oils and their solvent free mediums or non water mixable oils and either Gamblin Solvent-Free Gel or M. Graham's Walnut Oil to thin the paint. There are many solvent free products to clean your brushes.

How does it work that you can mix solvent free oils with water? On a molecular level, the oil vehicle has been modified to make it mixable in water, eliminating the necessity for turpentine or other dangerous solvents to thin paint and clean brushes and other supplies. Water-mixable oils are real oils. They are water-mixable, not water-based.

Can Cobra Oils be combined with traditional oil paint? Yes, they can be combined to a maximum ratio of 1/5 (20% of traditional oil color can be added to Cobra Oils) and you can still clean your brushes with water and soap.  Currently, I can only recommend Royal Talens and Holbein Duo because that is what I use. 

As mentioned earlier, I also paint with traditional oils.  I use Gamblin Solvent-Free Gel to thin the paint and walnut oil to clean the brushes in between applications of paint. 

I clean my brushes with Dawn soap and water.  If I need to, after cleaning with soap and water, I soak my brushes in either Bristle Magic Paint Brush Cleaner & Reconditioner or Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer.

 Oil painting should completely cure before adding a final varnish.  Otherwise, you will seal in moisture and your paint will probably crack.  You can varnish with a temporary varnish before your painting is completely dry but I don’t do this.  I let my paintings completely dry before I varnish them.  I wear a mask and I use Gamblin Picture Varnish.  I apply it outside because of the vapors. 

Winsor & Newton Oil Products

Winsor & Newton Oil Paints

In 1832, Henry Newton and William Winsor formed the company Winsor & Newton. They're known for producing high quality paint and materials.  I've been working with these oil paints my entire life.  


Winsor & Newton Artists' Oil Colour Artists' Gloss Varnish - This product provides a final varnish for oil and alkyd paintings that have been thoroughly dried (at least 6-12 months).  This varnish provides superior protection against dirt, grease, and UV damage. There are three formulas with varying degrees of gloss.  I use the Gloss Varnish.  You may prefer a different one.  The Gloss Varnish is a general purpose, non-yellowing varnish.  It dries to a high-gloss finish.  You can mix this with a mat varnish to get varying degrees of gloss that you prefer.  If you varnish your painting before it dries, you'll seal in moisture and your paint will eventually start to crack.  Be sure your painting is dry!  Use in a well-ventilated room or outdoors.  Use a mask.


If you want to use a temporary varnish before your painting is completely dry, I suggest that you use a retouch varnish such as Grumbacher Damar Retouch Varnish.  This is for use during intermediate stages of an oil painting to even out the gloss of unfinished works.  This varnish can also be used to protect paintings before the final varnishing.  This varnish is transparent, quick drying, and glossy. Allow it to completely dry before overpainting.  Only use this product in thin layers and use it outdoors.  This product is not intended for use as a final varnish. 


Gamblin Varnish

My favorite varnish for oil painting, and the one I use is Gamblin's Gamvar Gloss varnish.  They also offer this varnish in matte and satin.  I use a mask when I varnish and I either open the windows or do it outside.

Cobra Water Soluble Oils 



Cobra is Royal Talens’ line of water-mixable oil colours. Cobra is a professional oil paint with the same high-quality pigments and viscosity you know and love, without having to use harmful solvents. Your workspace can now be free of solvents like turpentine, as the only thing you need to dilute Cobra is water!

Cobra oil paints are available in 70 colours and two ranges: Artist and Study. To complete your arsenal, Cobra also offers paint brushes, a soap to clean your equipment with and various auxiliaries, including painting mediums and varnishes. 

Cobra has a wide range of mediums.  Please refer to their website for details.

M. Graham Oil Paints

Artist, Art Graham, had years of experience working for other companies when he branched out on his own and started his own company.  His products are based on his own high standards and values.  I've dealt directly with the Graham family and have nothing but the utmost respect for them and their exquisite paints.  Their paint is manufactured without fillers or additives.  They create these fine artist oils in small batches.  Every color is rich and saturated with the highest possible tinting strength and tone.  Renaissance masters such as Da Vinci and Durer favored walnut oil over linseed oil.  Art Graham uses walnut oil as a binder for all his paints.  It flows freely and has less tendency to yellow or crack.  


Avoid Harsh Solvents With M. Graham Walnut Oil 

Walnut oil removes paint from artist’s brushes.  It's a natural vegetable oil that doesn't evaporate.  The addition of walnut oil to color squeezed directly from the tube, will slow drying time and enhance the flow of paint.  It will also increase the sheen.  I encourage students to try using this as their sole medium when painting with a brush. Turpentine is a harsh solvent and toxic to ones health.  Turpentine was invented during the Industrial Age, long after the great masters of oil painting.  The great masters used walnut oil alone to clean their brushes and enhance the flow of paint!


Rembrandt Artists' Oil Colors                                                    

Rembrandt Artists' Oil Paints are manufactured in Holland.  They're made with the highest quality standards and have a rich buttery feel.  Their color intensity is second to none because they use expensive pure pigments.  The pigments are ground very finely in a binder of the purest linseed or safflower seed oil.  All of this results in a paint that is smooth, creamy and paints very evenly on the canvas.  I love these paints!


M. Holbein Duo Aqua Water Soluble Oils 

Because these paints clean up with soap and water instead of harsh solvents, Duo Aqua Oil Colors are safer than regular traditional oil paints when used in the studio.  These paints were developed to offer the same high pigment quality and archival qualities of regular oils, while allowing soap and water clean up.  These paints have rich hues, high color intensity, excellent resistance to light and a wonderful array of colors!  These paints can be diluted with water and they dry faster than traditional oils.  These paints can be mixed with acrylics, watercolors, gouache, and oils, to create different effects.  However, these paints are no longer water soluble when mixed with more than 30% traditional oil color.



If you want to do a palette knife painting using these paints, you can use Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Oil Impasto Medium.  This medium thickens water mixable oils for textured painting and it also speeds drying time.  Always mix this medium thoroughly into your paint.


The Masterson Sta-Wet Palette Seal: I love painting in oils with the Masterson Sta-Wet Palette Seal!  This specialized palette keeps the paint moist, extending the life of your painting time.  With the sealed lid, the paint will stay nice and fresh!  It comes with several sheets of palette paper.  You'll have to purchase more paper separately.



© 2007 - Jill Saur, Jill Saur Fine Art LLC.