Brian Burt Tests Richeson Oils-Shiva Series | Road Test (May)

The Scoop on Shiva
Jack Richeson & Co. brings back Ramon Shiva’s original formula from the 1920s, and an artist tries Richeson Oils–Shiva Series on Richeson Gessoed Hardboard.
by Brian Burt

This article is from The Artist’s Magazine (May 2014). Subscribe, for 10 full issues of instruction per year, or read the entire issue for more great art and tips.

When starting to work with new materials, I find it best to keep it simple and work my way up. I get attached when I find something I like, whether paints, brushes, or supports—which means I approached this test drive of Jack Richeson’s new line of Shiva oil paints and gessoed hardboard with a bit of trepidation.

A (Somewhat) Scientific Method

I had to figure out a way to compare these paints to what I already knew. What was going to be my control, given the variable of new materials? In the end I went with a subject that I’ve painted dozens of times, one I’ve become intimately familiar with over the past 37 years—myself.

Painting a head study has its advantages when using new materials. First, unless the subject is wearing some unusually garish hat or makeup, your color group will be somewhat contained. Second, a head study allows you to play with subtlety of forms and edges. To me, the human face is comprised of different “bodies of color and value” swimming in and out of one another. Seeing these bodies of color and manipulating them are at the heart of what I try to do when painting a head study: letting color from one section flow into the next, allowing everything to tie together, but to what extent? That can be the tricky part.


Here’s a look at my palette during one of my painting sessions; i used only five Shiva colors: Prussian blue, naphthol red light, yellow ochre, raw umber cool, and titanium white.

Here are just a few colors that can be achieved with this four-color, plus titanium white, palette.

Here are just a few colors that can be achieved with this four-color, plus titanium white, palette.

The Essence

The Richeson Oils–Shiva Series are fairly straightforward: standard 37 ml tubes of paint with wider mouth openings (for those of you that love a ton of paint to play with on your palette). The tubes have hand-painted color labels, as opposed to simulated color swatches, to let you know what you actually are getting in the tube. Clearly labeled information (vehicle/pigment load) is on the back of the tube, with transparency and opacity denoted (transparent, semitransparent, opaque). Richeson’s gessoed hardboard has a surface similar to Ampersand’s Gessobord (which is what I have used for the past few years)—nearly smooth and white.

It may seem counterintutive, but the way that I determined how well these paints worked was to limit the amount that I used for this test painting. My self-portrait My Favorite Fleece (oil, 10×8) was done with five tubes of Shiva oil paint: titanium white, naphthol red light, yellow ochre, raw umber cool, and Prussian blue. The reason I limited my palette was to see if I could force fewer colors to do more work—in other words, to see just how far I could stretch these few colors.

Questions at the Start

How would these five colors, which, with the exception of titanium white, I’ve never had on my palette before, mix? How successful would I be without black on my palette? Could I move the blue, red, and yellow to either side of the warm/cool spectrum with ease or would the colors fight me? Would these colors’ chromatic intensity be able to hold up with repeated mixing? Would the viscosity of the paint require me to add more medium to make the paints workable, or would the paints be “fat” out of the tube and make an oily mess on the surface?

To see what happened, take a look at the demo “Richeson Oils–Shiva Series on Gessoed Hardboard” (below).

And the Verdict Is …

Richeson Oils–Shiva Series have a creamy consistency out of the tube and are very workable for the type of painting I do. The wide-mouth tubes are a bit much for me because I like to put out small bits of color on my palette, but that’s a minor concern. The hand-colored labels are a big plus, and the denotation of transparent versus opaque on the back is always nice as it saves me from opening the tube and smearing a bit on a card to tell.

The color intensity was robust and held up under multiple mixings. Though I used only four colors plus white for the demonstration, the range of colors the company sent me was quite impressive (quinacridones and phthalos, for example) with some really nice surprises: ultramarine violet and quinacridone violet.

The Richeson gessoed hardboard preformed marvelously from the initial wash of color—accepting pastel for the drawing and scraping with a palette knife—maintaining a nice surface for the subsequent layers of paint. I would have no problem using this surface as opposed to my normal Ampersand Gessobord. I would certainly recommend the surface and the paints to anyone looking for something new to try.

Richeson Oils–Shiva Series on Gessoed Hardboard

Burt Step 1

First Stage: The Pastel Sketch

I toned the the 10×8 panel with a warm gray and wiped it smooth. The Richeson gessoed hardboard took the initial layer of paint quite nicely. I did my drawing with a warm gray pastel pencil and kneaded eraser. Once I’d put down the necessary information, I sprayed the drawing with a workable fixative and allowed it to sit for 10–15 minutes.


Burt Step 2

Second Stage: Working with Five Colors

I confined my palette to colors new for me: Prussian blue, naphthol red light, yellow ochre, and raw umber cool, plus titanium white. Once the drawing had set, I started in with as direct a color as I could get, trying to hit not only the values but the right hue and temperature notes, knowing that as I moved forward, I’d have to make corrections. I hoped to have to make exponentially smaller corrections as I moved forward, from one step to the next. Out of the tube, Shiva oils have a nice consistency. If I had to, I would say they’re a bit on the wet side, rather than stiff out of the tube, but at a very acceptable level. I needed very little turpentine to get large swatches of the color layer down.

My first impression is that painting without black, which I can never remember having done before, is not the problem that I thought it would be. The Shiva Prussian blue is quite an intense and flexible color! Mixing it with the naphthol red and a touch of the raw umber cool, I could get a deep warm (or cool) note that approached black. After this lay-in stage was complete, I let the painting sit for a couple of days so that it could dry completely.


Burt Step 3

Third Stage: Hitting Color Notes

Now the painting was ready for the next layer. At this point I tried to state the color notes and their respective temperatures and intensities more accurately. This stage would tell me all I needed to know about whether or not these colors could reach the spots they needed to on both sides of the spectrum. Richeson’s gessoed hardboard stayed nice and smooth, even after a bit of scraping with my palette knife to knock down some high points in the paint surface.

The background had solidified so I could judge the color and value, as I looked from one to another. I was pleasantly surprised that not only can the three colors—Prussian blue, naphthol red light, and yellow ochre—move back and forth between warm and cool, but the raw umber is a wonderful neutralizer. (Having never used Prussian blue before, I’m truly stunned at how versatile this color is: it can create wonderfully rich darks and crisp and intense cools! I’ve added a new color to my standard palette.) At this point I formed color “pools” on the surface and pushed them back and forth into one another. Limiting the number of colors tied the piece chromatically together much more quickly than normally would happen for me.


Burt Step 4

Fourth Stage: Broken Color

I finalized the background with one last glaze of paint. Then I started more of a “broken color” approach. I mixed more intense colors (violets, greens, oranges) and scumbled (scumble: with a dry brush, lay a light, semitransparent color over a previously painted surface) them to give the piece a more luminous feel.


Burt Step 5

Stage Five: Softening Edges

I moved all around the piece, softening edges to tone down some of the harshness and defining small details around the glasses, ears, eyes, and fleece. I used Shiva paint straight from the tube without any medium for highlights and a few of the more intense colors to finish My Favorite Fleece (oil on board, 10×8).

In Comparison


I wanted to see how the color intensity of Shiva paints held up when a paint was mixed with white. Since I didn’t have an identical tube of paint on hand, I bought Prussian blue from a high-end manufacturer whose paint I already use. The blue on the farthest left is from the tube I purchased; the one next to it is Shiva Prussian blue. I’m happy to say the Shiva Prussian blue held its own. It was, as I’ve stated before, a bit more on the wet side than the other, but not to a noticeable extent. The other example is from a tube of raw umber that I usually use (next to the Shiva blue, on the near right) compared to a tube of Shiva raw umber cool (on the far right). The difference in color temperature is clear. I liked using the Shiva raw umber cool, in place of a straight raw umber, to neutralize other colors, because Shiva raw umber cool leans toward a neutral gray.

Brian Burt is a graduate of Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and the Atelier Studio in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Visit his blog,, and his website,

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