After obtaining a bachelors degree from University in chemistry and IT, I began giving art classes in 2008 teaching students of all age groups and genders. In that time I have seen a lot of misinformation about the perils of oil painting, how the fumes are toxic, and the paint is not natural and you need to buy special earth paint kits from some secret band of painting monks. Surprisingly old fashioned oil painting is not only very eco friendly it’s very frugal as well.
Reaching its peak in about the 1600’s it was well before the industrial revolution and rampant consumerism. Paint was hard to come by so artists wasted very little and failed paintings were scraped back into the jars from whence they came.
Yes, oil paint can not only be stripped but reused again and again. And as for the fumes, well its only vegetable oil, linseed and safflower, but if that is not to your liking you can add a few drops of lavender oil, but remember you should always have a little cross ventilation even though these are vegetable oils.
Artists ‘oil’ paints are made from seed oils not mineral oils as most people think (mineral oils hadn’t been invented yet). The two most common oils, which are still in use today, are linseed oil and safflower oil for whites. The beauty of these oils is, not only do they dry to a beautiful luster; they can be softened, or rejuvenated, by an application of more oil, in fact the Dutch master paintings you see in the gallery are restored every 50 years. This has got to be the pinnacle for recycling, what other product looks as beautiful now as it did 400 years ago?
‘What about cleaning up with all that turpentine?’ I hear you ask. Actually the best thing to clean oil brushes with is more linseed oil.
To make cleaning easier, remove as much paint as possible with kitchen towel. Wash the brush in Linseed oil to remove all of the paint from the bristles. A wash pot with a cleaning screen in the bottom, is the simplest way to thoroughly clean your brush. The screen opens up the centre bristles and allows the Linseed oil to penetrate right up to the ferrule end.
It’s particularly important to remove all traces of paint from this area because paint allowed to dry here is the fastest ruination of a brush. Allow the cleaned to dry on kitchen towel.
If you have any brushes that do have dried paint at the ferrule end, you can breathe life back into them with Linseed oil.
Soak the brush well in Linseed oil and work it into the bristles at the ferrule, pull the brush back and forth vigorously across the palm of your hand to help loosen the paint, rinse in Linseed oil and repeat, you may need to do this a number of time if the dried paint has been there a while. Dry the brush, but don’t wash with water, leave it like this for a couple of days, then repeat with the Linseed oil. It takes time for the Linseed oil to penetrate the dried paint clinging to the bristles.
One major don’t. Don’t leave the brush standing on its bristles in any jam jars or containers you are using, the bristles will bend and another brush will be ruined. The clear linseed oil can be decanted out of the wash pot and used again the dirty oil in the bottom can be used as a primer.
Turpentine is only used for washes in the first stages of oil painting as it dries quickly and artists use natural turpentine from, you guessed it, turpentine trees. This is better than the mineral turpentine in hardware stores but costs more.
Frames are made from plantation timber and the canvas is cotton. But you’re thinking, what about the left over paint? Don’t worry, all the paint left in the bottom of tubes and in the cleaning jar is gathered together and used as ground (base coat) for the next painting, nothing is wasted.
So fine art is not only eco friendly it’s frugal as well.
Guest post by Luke Verhelst, Bachelor of Science (Joint Major IT and Chemistry), Sydney, NSW, Australia. A wildlife lover and artist, Luke’s art is published in a Commemorative book “My Australia” with a forward by the Hon.RJ Hawke. Utilising his degree in science and IT, Luke created an online art and technology school www.wix.com/l_verhelst/study.