Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Robert Hannaford in his studio
Water mixable oils are a relatively new invention, and even if many professional artists were skeptical about them at the beginning, they became increasingly popular. Like me, many artists discovered them because they were searching for paints easier to use, or with less toxicity. At Adelaide Central School of Art I found out the rules of safe painting. Conventional oils are not dangerous as long as you work in a ventilated space, and as long as you don't eat them, or you don't let them come into contact with your skin. Toxic solvent and turpentine can be avoided with success if you are preoccupied with your health. Unfortunately many artists don't follow the rules, and I have never given much importance myself to toxicity, till I found out with sadness that the great artist Robert Hannaford got severely ill. I had the chance to meet the artist, he encouraged me to paint portraits and advised me how to start selling. 
Robert Hannaford, Self-portrait, 1996

Alfie, how he was called by friends, had the bad habit to chew on his brushes while he was caught in painting.  Alfie broke the first rule of safe painting, to not eat in the studio, especially the brushes and paints. The self-portrait bellow, which was a finalist in the Dough Moran Prize, was born from this story. Alfie had to be fed with a tube in his stomach and when he was able to paint, he used disposable gloves. 

Robert Hannaford, Self Portrait with Tubes, Oil on Board80 cm x 64 cm, 2007

After Alfie's sad experience, I felt that I needed a change, so I decided I wanted to paint in acrylics, as beautifully as my professor Chris Orchard. He was painting only in acrylics and he told me that he never managed to paint in oils. I found this impossible, as I have painted in oils since I knew myself, as a small child. And if he couldn't paint in oils, the opposite was true for me. After so many years of painting in oils, my trial to paint in acrylics was a big failure. The acrylic was drying too fast, and I wasn't able to blend any colors on the canvas. The palette seemed to dry in minutes, and my inspiration was vanishing if I had to stop continuously to renew my palette with fresh paints. About paintings, what can I say, they looked unfinished, and the paint just refused to spread. Every time I ended up covering everything with oil, and a painting in acrylics became a painting in oils. After about two years of on and off acrylics, and after I asked Chris Orchard many questions, I succeeded finally to paint in acrylics.

Christopher Orchard, Air, Acrylic on Canvas, 124 X 135 CM, 2005

I was able to paint in numerous techniques, and my portraits in acrylics were mistaken for portraits in oil. For a while I painted only in acrylics, enjoying the advantages of clean and fast painting. After seven years of living in Australia, I finally was able to travel through Europe. All those magnificent masterpieces painted in oil revived my first love for oil. But now I was too used to acrylics and its advantages, so I wanted something else than conventional oils. I knew about water mixable oils from a visit to Deborah Trusson's studio, by the time when I was a student in Adelaide. This self-portrait bellow, painted in Artisan water mixable oils, was sitting on an easel in the center of her studio. Trusson had been shortlisted in the Archibald Prize with this work. 

Deborah Trusson, Naked, water soluble oils, shorlisted for Archibald Prize 2005

The Artisan chromatic is very limited comparing to the pure and brilliant colors in high series I was used to. But the water mixable oils can be mixed with conventional oils, so I continued using some of my special colors. Artisan seemed to not have quite the same coverage as the conventional oils, but in time, I got used to it. In the mean time I got back to conventional oils, but Artisan helped to make the transition.  

In general, water soluble oils are exactly like conventional oils, they look the same, and behave the same, as long as you don't use water for mixing or diluting the color. Water is used only for rinsing brushes while you work, and cleaning after painting. Artisan oils come with a few mediums plus linseed oil for diluting.

If you like experimenting, you can try water for diluting, you might get something which doesn't look like oil at all, but more like acrylics or watercolors, but be aware that the stability and durability of the paint might be affected in time when you break the rules. 

Because water mixable oils don't need toxic solvents for thinning and cleaning, they are easier and more convenient to use in class rooms, in shared spaces, around children, or healthier for sensitive people. That's why I recommend Artisan colors to my students in the class room. This is what the people from Winsor and Newton say about the Artisan colors: " Purely based on the high grade of raw materials, Artisan could be considered an artists' grade, however, the inclusions of hues and the shorter palette, means that Artisan can be in fact be considered somewhere between and artists' and students' grade". 

Here is the basic palette I recommend to my students:
titan white (titan has a better coverage than zinc white)

zinc white (better in some combinations)
cad yellow medium or light series II*
lemon yellow
yellow ochre
cad red light series II* (a bright orange)
cad red medium series II*
permanent alizarin crimson
french ultramarin
prussian blue
phthalo green
burnt sienna
burnt umber
ivory black 

*Buy series II and avoid "hues", which are not made of one pigment. When you combine two colors to obtain other colors, it's better to mix colors made of one pigment only. Mixing colors which are made of a combination of pigments can get you dark and dull colors. That's why professional colours are a better choice, especially for beginners. One pigment colors are easier to combine, and the results are more encouraging for beginners.
When you buy colors, get two colors for each primary, a cold and a warm one. For example lemon yellow (cold) and cad yellow (warm), or prussian blue (cold) and ultramarin blue (warm). 
If you can afford buy more colors like:
zinc white (more transparent than titan white, good for mixing or transparent layers)
cad red dark seria II
viridian green
cerulean blue series II
sap green
cobalt blue
burnt sienna

Other water mixable oils are Holbein Aqua Duo and Grumbacher Max Artists Oil Colors, both for professional use. Holbein has a large range of colors, though Holbein Aqua Duo has the disadvantage of a higher price and some of the colors are not made of unique pigments. Artisan is though the most popular brand of water mixable oils in the world.  

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