Saturday, November 11, 2006

Oil Painting Mediums

Recently I learned how to mix my own painting medium based on a recipe from the Old Masters. I love using this mixture. It has several advantages: 1) I can vary the percentage of fat/lean. 2) It doesn't smell. 3) It doesn't dry out in the container. 4) I mix up just what I need.

In the picture you can see the ingredients. They are all Winsor & Newton products.

(l-r) Linseed Stand oil, English Distilled Turpentine, Dammar Varnish, my container.

The recipe is as follows:

For the underpainting (Verdaccio or Grisaille):
  • 1 part Linseed Stand Oil

  • 1 part Dammar Varnish

  • 5 parts Distilled Turpentine

I call this mixture 1-1-5

For the middle layer:

  • 1 part Linseed Stand Oil

  • 1 part Dammar varnish
  • 4 parts Distilled Turpentine

I call this mixture 1-1-4

For the top or final layers:

  • 1 part Linseed Stand Oil

  • 1 part Dammar varnish

  • 3 parts Distilled Turpentine

I call this mixture 1-1-3.

I measure out the ingredients into small baby food jars and label them with 1-1-5, 1-1-4, and 1-1-3. You can see that 1-1-5 is the leanest because it has the most turpentine, and 1-1-3 is the fattest because it has the least turpentine. This allows you to follow the rule of "fat over lean."

When I was learning about this medium, I asked the question, "can you substitute regular Turpentine?" The answer is yes, but it will smell. English Turpentine has little to no odor. Regular Turpentine stinks to high heaven, if you ask me. I'd prefer to pay more for the English turpentine just to avoid the odor.

When using the medium, I use a small eye dropper to drop a few drops into my paint mixture before mixing it up with a painting knife.

As long as I'm painting in the style of the Old Masters, I'll continue to use this recipe because it is certainly better than any of the other mediums I've tried. Here's a few comments about those.
Liquin - a Winsor and Newton product designed to thin oil paints and helps them dry quickly. I used to use it exclusively. However, it has a very strong smell and tends to dry in the bottle before I can use it all up. I don't use it anymore. The smell bothers me. Plus my bottle dried all up.

Galkyd and Galkyd Lite - Gamblin products. After I stopped using Liquin I started experimenting with the Gamblin mediums and found that the Galkyds create a glossy painting surface that I like. Galkyds also don't smell much and you can use them as a varnish when your painting dries. But like Liquin, if you don't use them up fast enough they dry in the bottle. I quit using them when I learned how to mix my own medium based on the recipe from the Old Masters.

Daniel Smith Classic Painting Medium. I think I read that Richard Schmid used a formula similar to this one. It's a combination of Turpentine, Stand Oil and Damar Varnish, very similar to the Old Masters. However, it must contain regular turpentine because it smells really strong. In spite of the smell it thins the paint wonderfully, stays glossy, and doesn't dry up the container. I use it for my daily oil paintings because they don't take that long and I'm not doing any layers. But for longer paintings I can't stand the smell. You can only buy it at Daniel Smith Art Supply in Seattle.

Now, here's a picture of me working on a painting in the Old Master's style! Note: I'm in the final layers, using the 1-1-3 mixture.
Yup, that's me!


Paintdancer said...

hi Marie,

Thanks so much for sharing this recipe! Funny, I took a workshop with Hodges Soileau a few weeks ago and we used a similar medium except that he replaced the english turpentine with Gamsol, which doen't smell at all. I really like it a lot and have been using it ever since.

Glad to get a look at the back of your head!


Anonymous said...

I just started painting again and found that all of my old mediums had either dried up or changed consistencies! I couln't find mt recipe for mediums so I googled it and found yours which is what I remembered using before. I'm so glad you posted this and your tips.

M L Montague said...

Damar Varnish!!!! Thank you! Getting back into painting (I'm usually glass-haven't painted in years) I could not for the life of me remember the third item. Thank you. I can sleep now (and paint).

Anthony said...

Thank you so much for this, it was very informative, and Just what I was looking for! I will have to experiment :) Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

This is the formula I have used in the past as well, but needed the refresher on the appropriate combinations,thank you. I have a question. I have two bottles of Colbalt dryer but have never used them and am not really sure how are when to use them, any thoughts?

maria said...

Just wondering if I could use this same recipe but substitute the English turpentine with odourless solvent. Thanks

maria said...


Just wonering is I could substitute the english turpentine for odourless solvent? Would that work?


Marie Wise said...

Well I don't see why not. It might alter the consistency of the medium, because English Turpentine is thicker than odourless solvent, but overall it should perform the same.

joang863 said...

Thanks for this "recipe" Marie. I had all the ingredients, so why not? It also costs less. My site is

I want to check into your links too.

rob said...

maria,love red blooded angel,is there a need to varnish after using the old masters recipe,thanx rob

rob said...

maria,love red blooded angel,is there a need to varnish after using the old masters recipe,thanx rob

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