Changing Your Oil

Q. I’m having a problem with my oil paint—it refuses to dry. I’m guessing that it may have frozen. Do you have any suggestions that could save me from having to throw away all this paint? Or is getting rid of it my only alternative?

A. I can’t think of a reason why your oil paint won’t dry. It’s normally pretty stable, even after freezing a couple of times—unless you’re adding some sort of medium to it that’s inhibiting drying. Oil paints straight from the tube should be dry to the touch in a week, depending on ambient temperature and humidity, and on the color used. I think your only alternative is to get rid of this batch of colors and start over with fresh paint.

Remember: When you start adding ingredients to your oil paint, you make it much more complicated than it needs to be. Oil is a fundamentally simple paint, and works best when we limit the use of additives. In the early stages of a painting, you need only thin the paints with a bit of mineral spirits. The middle layers should be painted without a medium, and the upper, final layers should have very little added medium. The medium you use should also be simple. A mixture of stand oil and a little thinner to alter the viscosity is more than sufficient. If you add too much oil the painting may yellow sooner, or you could end up with a painting that’s too thick and cracks badly as it ages. You can also add an alkyd medium (there are several brands on the market, of various viscosities) to aid in the drying process. The alkyd medium will speed drying, but alkyds also yellow, so don’t use too much.

Lisa Wurster is an assistant editor for The Artist’s Magazine

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