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- Artists' Oils
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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are the primary colours in the Artists' Oil Colour range?

2. How do the whites in Artists' Oil Colour differ?

3. What are the drying times for Artists' Oil colours?

4. Which white should be used for underpainting?

5. Is Flake White available in tubes?

6. What does hue mean when used in colour name?

7. Is Manganese Blue suitable for lower layers?

8. "Oiling out" is recommended for dull areas of a completed oil painting, how is this done? 

9. What is the "fat over lean" painting rule?

10. What are the three basic oil painting rules?

11. Without adding linseed oil to it, are Winton Oil Colours be more or less viscose than Artists' Oil Colour, so easier to apply to the canvas?

12. What are the best brushes to use with Artists' Oil colour?

13. Why should an oil painting be varnished?

14. How should an oil painting be varnished?

15. How can I tell when my oil painting is fully dry?

16. How can an artists' varnish be removed from a painting?

1. What are the primary colours in the Artists' Oil Colour range? 

The three primary colours in the Artists' Oil Colour range are Transparent Yellow, Winsor Blue [Red Shade] and Permanent Rose. These colours are the best selection when only three colours are used. We recommend Winsor Lemon, Winsor Yellow, French Ultramarine, Winsor Blue [Green Shade], Permanent Rose and Cadmium Red when using a six colour mixing system.

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2. How do the whites in Artists' Oil Colour differ?

The nine whites in Artists' Oil Colour ensure that artists have the widest possible array of choices, as in every other part of the spectrum. Because of its paler colour and lessened tendency toward yellowing, most of our whites are milled with Safflower oil. 

Safflower Whites
The following whites are made with Safflower oil.

Titanium White
The most popular modern white. It is the whitest, most opaque white, softer than Flake White No. 1.

*Flake White No. 1
The traditional lead white in oil colour, Flake White is excellent for painting as a result of its flexibility, durability and speed of drying. The inclusion of zinc pigment improves its consistency. This is the stiffest white in the range.

Flake White Hue
A titanium based formulation which avoids the hazardous lead based Flake White No.1. It has a lower tinting strength than Titanium White to match Flake White and a similar drying rate to the original.

Zinc White
This is a less opaque white, making it ideal for tints and glazing. It also has the shortest consistency.

Transparent White
A titanium based white with extremely low tinting strength, providing the palest white glazes.

*Cremnitz White
Also made from Lead, the absence of zinc gives a stringy consistency. Some artists may prefer a pure lead colour in principle.

Iridescent White
A mica based pigment which makes a pearlescent white. It is effective mixed with transparent colours.

*Lead white in tins: For reasons of toxicity these colours are only available in tins in the EU.  

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3. What are the drying times for Artists' Oil colours?

The long drying time of Artists' Oil Colour is also a key feature of oil painting. The colour remains soft and wet for a few days and therefore allows corrections to be made from day to day.

All colours will become touch dry in thin films in 2-12 days. The different reaction of each pigment when mixed with oil results in the different dry rates. Each colour is individually formulated to optimise its drying rate, which helps artists to avoid the problems of slow drying underlayers. However, the following list is a guide to the likely variations:

Fast Drying [around two days]:
Permanent Mauve [manganese], Cobalt Blues, Prussian Blue, Raw Sienna, Umbers, Flake, Foundation and Cremnitz Whites [lead].

Medium drying [around five days]:
Winsor Blues and Greens [phthalocyanines], Burnt Sienna, Cobalt Violet and Greens, Ultramarine Blues, Mars colours [synthetic iron oxides], Sap Green, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Ochres, Cadmiums, Titanium White, Zinc White, Lamp Black, Ivory Black, Pyrrols, Bismuth Yellow, Perylenes.

Slow drying [more than five days]:
Winsor Yellows and Orange (arylides), Quinacridones, Alizarin Crimson.

Liquin Original is the perfect medium to speed the drying time of oil colour. It will speed the drying by approximately 50%.

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4. Which white should be used for underpainting?

Safflower whites are not recommended for extensive underpainting or as a primer. When oil colours dry, the paint film undergoes a number of dimensional changes, increasing and decreasing in weight as different chemical reactions occur.  

Semi-drying oils, such as safflower and poppy oil, undergo greater dimensional changes than linseed oil. While a safflower oil based white is perfectly appropriate for use in normal applications and mixing, it is not suitable for use with underpainting. The movement of the film can lead to cracking the layers applied above.

Linseed Oil Whites
For underpainting, we recommend the following:

Underpainting White
Titanium pigment ground in linseed oil which is recommended for under-
painting or extensive layering with white. It has added texture to assist adhesion of later layers and is fast drying.

*Foundation White
Lead pigment ground in linseed oil which is recommended for underpainting or extensive layering with a lead white.

Both Underpainting and Foundation White may be used throughout the painting if so wished.

*Lead White in tins: For reasons of toxicity these colours are available only in tins in the EU.

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5. Is Flake White available in tubes?

Flake white and other lead products are affected by EU legislation.  Understanding the implications regarding artists' materials is complicated and Winsor & Newton have invested a lot of resources interpreting these implications to ensure the supply to artists is maintained at the same time as complying with the law.  The following is a precis of the changes.

In 1992, lead was banned in the EU in household paints whilst artists' materials manufacturers successfully gained an exemption for artists' colours.  The EU has continued to legislate against lead, in a number of categories.  From the 31st July 1995 in the UK, lead compounds and products containing lead compounds were reclassified as ‘toxic for reproduction'.

For the UK this has the following implications:

i] Products labelled as toxic require child resistant closures if sold to the general public.

ii] Products labelled as toxic require tactile warnings of danger if sold to the general public.

I quote below the precedence taken by Winsor & Newton in early July 1995.

The mandatory guidelines affect the retailer/supplier as follows:

i] Flake White, Foundation White and Cremnitz White can no longer be supplied in tubes.

ii] These products are available in 150ml childproof tins.

iii] Each tin is labelled with mandatory warnings and a further special instructions leaflet is provided in the outer box.

iv] These products will not be displayed on open shelves.  They will either be behind the counter or in a locked display.

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6. What does hue mean when used in colour name?

"Hue" means colour and indicates that a modern pigment has been used instead of the traditional one. For example, 'Cadmium Red Pale Hue' is a 'colour of cadmium red pale'. A hue colour is not necessarily inferior.

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7. Is Manganese Blue suitable for lower layers?

Semi-drying oils, such as safflower and poppy oil, undergo greater dimensional changes than linseed oil. While a safflower oil based colour is perfectly appropriate for use in normal applications and mixing, it is not suitable for use with underpainting. The movement of the film can lead to cracking the layers applied above.

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8. "Oiling out" is recommended for dull areas of a completed oil painting, how is this done? 

Oiling out is the application of an oil medium to a painting which has sunk (become dull), or lost its oil to the layer underneath. The most common causes for this are an over- absorbent, cheap ground or the use of too much solvent and insufficient or no medium. When the colour is dry, Artists’ Painting Medium should be sparingly rubbed into any sunken areas with a clean cloth.

Wipe off any residue and leave to dry for a day or two. If smaller, dull areas remain, repeat the process until the painting has regained an even sheen. Varnishes should not be used for the purpose of recovering the lustre of a dead painting. For a faster drying oiling out medium, use Thickened Linseed Oil diluted with 50% white spirit (mineral spirits).

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9. What is the "fat over lean" painting rule?

Fat over lean is better understood if considered as ‘flexible over less flexible’. When painting in layers, the proportion of medium used in each layer should be increased. The higher proportion of medium makes subsequent layers more flexible and prevents the painting from cracking. This rule has traditionally been kept by adding more and more oil to the solvent used. However, as Liquin is now more commonly used, it is the Liquin content which is increased. There is no need to use oil as well.

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10. What are the three basic oil painting rules?

When painting with oil colour, artists must adhere to three conventional oil painting rules:

1. Fat over lean  - (see explanation below). When oil painting in layers, each successive layer must be more flexible than the one underneath. This rule is maintained by adding more medium to each successive layer.
2. Thick over thin - Thick layers of oil colour are best applied over thin under layers. Thin layers on impasto paintings are likely to crack.
3. Slow vs. fast drying colour - Slow drying colours should not form continuous under layers as any faster drying layers on top may crack.

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11. Without adding linseed oil to it, are Winton Oil Colours more or less viscose than Artists' Oil Colour, so easier to apply to the canvas?

The Winton range has a more uniform consistency than Artists' Oil Colour and is slightly stiffer. It offers excellent retention of brush and palette knife strokes.

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12. What are the best brushes to use with Artists' Oil colour?

There is one main benchmark for brushes that are used with thick or viscous colour; the thicker the colour, the stiffer the brush needs to be. A heavy paint like oil requires a brush with enough resilience to manipulate the colour with complete control.

However, a colour that has been thinned will need softer tuft (e.g. soft hair or filament) and a colour that has been thinned to a fluid consistency needs a brush with flow control (e.g. synthetic or natural hair brush such as sable).

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13. Why should an oil painting be varnished?

Varnish is desirable for two key reasons: one, to bring the surface to a uniform gloss level (matt or gloss or somewhere in between), and; two, for protection from dust and other atmospheric contaminants. 

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14. How should an oil painting be varnished?

Varnishes are used to protect the finished painting. Picture varnishes should be removable so that paintings can be cleaned when they have become dirty.

There are two important things to remember about varnishes:

  • Don't varnish too early, even the thinnest oil painting should be allowed to dry for 6 months. A minimum of one month is required for thin Griffin alkyd paintings.
  • Don't use varnishes as mediums, this would make the painting sensitive to solvent. An attempt to clean it in the future may remove the painting instead.                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Here are eight simple steps to varnishing success:

1) Use a 1”- 4” flat wide, soft, tightly packed, varnishing brush (such as the Winsor & Newton Monarch glazing/varnishing brush).  Keep it clean and use it only for varnishing.

2) Place the work to be varnished flat on a table - do not varnish vertically.

3) Apply the varnish in 1-3 thin coats, rather than 1 thick coat. A thick coat will take longer to dry, may dry cloudy, drip or sag during application and has a greater chance of showing brush strokes when dry.

4) Thinned varnish is more susceptible to producing bubbles. Do not be vigorous in your application.

5) Apply in long even strokes to cover the surface top to bottom while moving from one side to the other. While working, inspect the varnish layer at all angles for bubbles. Even them out immediately.

6) Once you leave an area, do not go back over areas that you have done. If you do, you risk dragging partially dry resin into wet, which will dry cloudy over dark colors. If any areas were missed, allow to dry completely and re-varnish.

7) After varnishing, it is recommended that the surface should be shielded from dust with a protective plastic film “tent”.

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15. How can I tell when my oil painting is fully dry?

Dip a lint-free rag in solvent such as Winsor & Newton Artists' White Spirit, and rub gently on the painting surface.  If colour shows, additional drying time is needed.  If not, your painting is ready to be varnished.

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16. How can an artists' varnish be removed from a painting?

If the painting is particularly valuable then it should be take to a conservator.

Otherwise, the best product to use would be our Distilled Turpentine. 

Dip a lint free cloth into the turps and gently rub the surface of the painting.  Start in a corner.  The varnish should come off onto the cloth.
If any colour can be seen on the cloth then you should stop.  Working in small squares, proceed across the entire surface of the painting.  It is best to keep using fresh pieces of cloth as this aids lifting the varnish rather than spreading it.

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