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Historical Oil Painting Varnishes and Mediums

Oil-resin varnish has always been created by combining a resin with an oil, often through high temperature heats. Most common varnishes utilized down through the ages were intended to coat and protect furniture, architecture, boat-hulls and implements. Such common varnishes were composed of mostly oil --generally three parts oil to one of resin. As there is already ample oil within oil paints, special varnishes that were high in resin-content while low in oil were preferred and sought after by painters. Western Maryland Gallery offers unique historically-accurate painting varnishes and mediums primarily intended for use with both handground oil paint and today's commercial 'tube' colors. Some of these varnishes have been used as far back as the 1400's. All of these varnishes/mediums allow certain desirable effects not attainable through the use of commonly-available varnishes or by straight oil-and-pigment paint, alone. These special varnishes produce proper effects when used within either an "all-oil" (no solvents) painting technique or within those methods involving turpentine, or other solvent-use. Oil paintings made with these same historical additives have shown excellence in craftsmanship and durability down through the ages. A properly-made oil varnish will not yellow to any noticeable degree, excepting with great age. These particular varnishes and mediums appear to have truly stood the test of time.

These historical painting varnishes /mediums are made in small batches. As aging is often important to strength and painting performance, the copal and amber varnishes are allowed to 'sleep' several months before sale. These varnishes/mediums are very strong in effects and, when utilized as additions to oil-colors, a bottle of any will last through approximately 20 or more 24"x30" paintings. Our painting varnishes and mediums are contained in either 90 mil. tube-form, or attractive 60 mil. glass bottles that fit perfectly into artist's sketch boxes.

Note: true hard copal and amber varnishes are rare in the world today. The ratio of resin-to-oil quantities (and the type of oil) as well as the length and degree of actual cooking of the varnishes, allow for noticeable differences in their ultimate characteristics when used with oil paint. Our varnishes are unique to our manufacture and perform like none other. Many recipes for amber and copal varnishes found in manuscripts and other textual sources are actually unfit for applications to oil painting. Varnishes that are too dark, too high in oil-content, or varnishes that dry too quickly are rather best suited for wood applications instead. With these considerations in mind I have, through much trial-and-error, selected only those varnishes that are suitable to oil painting. [Notice: Some of the following varnishes contain slight amounts of turpentine spirit. Before purchasing please inquire if you are allergic to solvents. Be aware that care should be taken that none of the painting varnishes and mediums become ingested.]

James C. Groves

Click on each item's name for the complete historical and supporting research--includes method of use.

Historical Oil Painting Varnishes

16th Century Amber Varnish-- $44.00 60 mil. Bottle. Our most popular Amber varnish; lightest in color; this version is composed of perfectly dissolved Baltic amber in combination with aged walnut oil. A very heavy Amber-to-oil varnish (50% resin to 50% walnut oil), the highest available in the realm. Held to the light, this Amber Varnish is very pale (yellow) in color. Perfectly clear; not cloudy. Can be easily utilized for making other mediums, wherein it combines readily with oils to form clear unions ; and with no heating required. This product was not formulated with a drying substance (lead, or cobalt, or manganese driers). By slight addition to paint, it neither retards nor speeds drying. A drop of this amber varnish firmly congeals handmade oil paint and keeps it perfectly tempered all day without slumping. This varnish is used by many painters as a final thin coating upon their finished works. A short "bath" in moderate sunlight or a fluorescent light-box will allow drying overnight. Once dried, this varnish can be polished. Note: Equal amounts of amber and oil cooked together creates a semi-solid ; and so this varnish is thinned with turpentine spirit to a brushing consistency. [For more info, click on the product name.] Ordering Online

Venetian Amber Varnish-- $44.00 60 mil. Bottle. Generally-known historically as "Lutemaker's varnish". Similar to our 16th C. Amber Varnish but much darker in color as it is cooked with litharge and manganese as the drying agent. This is not intended as a final coating varnish for oil paintings; it is intended to be either mixed directly with the paints on the palette, or combined with walnut or linseed oils to form a painting medium. This varnish (and the paint or medium it is mixed-with) will typically dry indoors in one day. Many artists use/d this varnish to paint in a solvent-technique or 'tempera-like' manner; also to create marvelous fast-drying paintingmediums which enhance the paints brushability, durability, brightness, and helps guard against sinking. Allows works that have stood the test of time. Like the 16th C. Amber Varnish, this varnish contains a very heavy Amber-to-oil ratio. A drop of this VAV softly congeals handmade oil paint. Keeps the paint perfectly tempered all day without slumping. This varnish is used to create "Gentileschi's Amber Medium" (see below under "Other Mediums and Medium-Ingredients"). Due to its dark color and fast-drying, Venetian Amber Varnish is perfect as a violin varnish; it can be polished. Note: This varnish contains turps spirit.[For more info, click on the product name.] Ordering Online

Amber Oil of Venice -- $32.00 60 mil. Bottle. What is referred to in the DeMayerne Manuscript as "Huile d'Ambre de Venise". A very thick walnut-based amber varnish containing approximately 23% amber. Fast drying with excellent elasticity, this litharge-cooked and darker amber varnish is more of a medium than a varnish; it was found through a careful analysis and extensive trial-and-error formulations. Mayerne tells us this "amber oil" was well-known by the early 1600's, being commonly available "throughout Italy by all vendors of colours". Primarily utilized by oil painters of the 1600's as an all-around painting additive, a drop or more added to the rubbed-up paint on the palette engenders the recorded attributes noted by DeMayerne : it speeds drying, produces soft & easy brushing /blending and a bright and glassy optical brilliance throughout the work. Works nicely as a painting medium when thinned with unrefined walnut oil. This product should NOT be used for varnishing instruments; it cannot be polished.[For more info, click on the product name.] Ordering Online

Gentileschi Amber Medium $24.50 per 65 mil. plastic bottle with drip cap. Historically used in an all-oil-and-no-solvent manner, though it can also be used with a solvent, if desired. Created using our Venetian Amber Varnish combined with aged unrefined walnut oil-- nothing could be finer for an all-oil technique in the very same manner as Orazio Gentileschi .[Click on the product name for more info.] Ordering Online

19th Century Copal Varnish -- $24.50 per 60mil.bottle. Our most popular copal varnish. Made from semi-fossilized Agathic Borneo-mined Pontianak hard copal. Very light in color. This is a classic "oil copal" formulation utilizing the lightest, clearest, hardest copal available. No driers added. Does not affect the normal drying of the paint. Very high in copal resin-content: 50% copal to 50% heat-polymerized linseed oil. A small addition causes oil paint to become crisp in consistency, allowing effects not otherwise possible. Use to make mediums allowing the same luscious painting effects as seen in many 19th C. works. Adding 1-part of this varnish together with 1-part of gum spirits of turpentine produces John F. Carlson's favorite painting medium. Click on the blue heading for more info concerning this product as well as the following quicker-drying version of this copal varnish. Caution: Never attempt to dilute this true copal varnish with mineral spirits (MS). Instead, use only turpentine spirits, spike oil, or d-limonene. If you wish to use MS as your painting-diluent, add the pure copal varnish to the paint first; then dilute the treated paint with MS. Also, do not add a drying oil (linseed, nut, poppy, etc.) to this copal varnish before first adding-in turpentine. [For more info, click on the product name.] Ordering Online

19th Century Drying Copal Varnish $25.50 per 60 mil. bottle. The fast-drying version of our 19th C. Copal Varnish. Darker than our regular version (above) due to being cooked with litharge/manganese, DCV was favored by many greats of the 19th Century, including the Pre-Raphaelites. This type of copal varnish all but disappeared from artistic use by the early 20th Century. DCV increases the drying ability of oil paint, either commercial tube paint or studio-made and provides excellent working qualities, clever brushwork, easy painting whether alla prima or layered. A small tempering (addition) to oil paint causes all colors and whites/blacks to become crisp in consistency, allowing effects not otherwise possible. This varnish makes an amazingly useful painting medium by simply taking one part of the varnish, then adding an equal amount of turpentine (or spike), shaking the mixture well, then adding an equal amount of any prefered painting oil --such as walnut or linseed or poppy oils. It is important to always add the equal amount of solvent BEFORE adding the oil. Caution: Never attempt to dilute this varnish with mineral spirits (MS). A slow-drying copal painting medium may be made by using our regular 19th C. Copal Varnish (above) and using the same sequence in formulation. The type of solvent is important: Use only Turpentine, spike oil, or d-limonene. If using MS as your paint-diluent, add the pure copal varnish to the paint first; then dilute with the MS. And again, never add a drying oil (linseed, nut, poppy, etc.) to this copal varnish before first adding-in an equal amount of gum turpentine spirit. [For more info, click on the product name.] Ordering Online

Copal Painting Medium 65 mil. (2.2 oz) plastic bottle with drip-nozzle is $16.50. Our most popular oil painting medium. DCV Copal Painting Medium is a historically-true oil-copal painting medium made with 1-part of our 19th Century Drying Copal Varnish (DCV) combined with 1-part of gum turpentine and 1-part heat-processed linseed oil. This is the classic 19th Century recipe favored by so many European and American painters. A few drops of this copal painting medium slightly congeals handmade or commercial oil paints, allowing the thinned paint to keep its place with facility in application (it's quite similar to adding megilp). Fresh layers of paint can be superimposed during the painting session, without waiting overnight for the layer to normally dry. When Copal Painting Medium is utilized with a solvent-technique, every layer dries without sinking/dulling. Our Copal Painting Medium is now contained in a 65-mil. bottle with an easy-dripper cap. This balanced and genuine real copal medium makes oil paints behave and appear more clever in brushwork. Complete instructions for use included. Treated paints dry overnight, ready for over-painting the next day. A great improvement over modern day synthetic alkyd-based "copal/kopal" mediums. This is the genuine hard copal version; not the soft berserus-type copals other maker's offer. If using an all-oil and no-solvent technique, use this true copal medium as a final coating to sunken areas so as to even-out the surface, allowing the work to then go to the client. Caution: This copal-based medium can be thinned with turps, spike oil and D-limonene, but not mineral spirits (MS). If use of MS is desired, simply add the Copal Painting Medium to the paint first; then the treated paint can be diluted with mineral spirits thereafter and throughout the painting session.. Ordering Online

Cole's Copal Varnish $25.50 per 80-mil glass bottle. This copal varnish produces an even stronger gelling effect than our 19th Century Copal Varnish and our 19th Century Drying Copal Varnish. It is used as a direct additive to the paint daubes on the palette, as it cannot be used for making a painting medium. To match its historical-use, turps or some other preferred solvent (mineral spirits, oil of spike, etc.) is used to thin the copal-treated oil paint for its specific use (more solvent for painting tree branches; less for highlights, impasto). The treated paint may also be mixed with any desired oil instead of a solvent. Cole's Copal Varnish was an 18th Century copal varnish which became popular among Late 18th-to-early-19th C. British painters such as John Constable. Thomas Cole likely became aware of this copal varnish during his 1829-31 stay in England. Cole later comunicated the use of this varnish to Durand; henceforth, this particular varnish became popular and the basis of many second-generation American Hudson River painters. Jasper Cropsey was also aware of it. This varnish contains gum spirits of turpentine; and although it can be easily incorporated into an all-oil technique (after being mixed with the oil paints), those who are sensitive to solvent-use should avoid this product. Cole's Copal Varnish was also known as "Copal Drier" because its use greatly speeds drying of oil paints. This drying effect comes from the copal resin and not via any metal oxides, such as lead or manganese. If you are a follower of the HRS painters and practice with a solvent technique then you will love this Cole's Copal Varnish [Click on the product name for more info.] Ordering Online

15-1600's Sandarac Oil Varnish $32.00 per 80-mil glass bottle. This sandarac varnish is a 50:50 combination of North African sandarac in combination with linseed oil. Sandarac oil varnish was available well before the introduction of copal varnishes. It was a favorite for luthiers as well as painters and varnishers of wood. Sandarac is very similar in working properties to copal. Use it as a final coating varnish or as a one-or-two drops addition to your oil paints on the palette. Sandarac suspends the paint and allows easy application with any desired solvent. This varnish may also be mixed with other oils (walnut or linseed or poppy, ete.) to make a handy a painting medium. This Sandarac Oil Varnish contains a small amount of gum spirits of turpentine; and so those who are sensitive to solvent-use should best avoid this product. This varnish slightly speeds drying of most oil paints while encouraging a luscious painterly character. [] Ordering Online

Historical "Jelly" Mediums and "Gelling Varnishes" for Oil Painting

19th Century Meguilp New! Larger 5.5 oz tube is $39.75. [March, 2021: NOTICE to our clients: Due to the increasing cost of mastic gum we have had to increase our price for Meguilp] Meguilp is not an oil varnish; instead it is a once-exceedingly-popular spirit varnish & leaded oil painting medium. This "mastic jelly" medium in various forms dates back in use to at least the 1700's. Meguilp (or Megilp) was used by just about every major 19th Century oil painter. Masters such as Turner, Etty, Reynolds, Wilkie, Landseer --even J.S.Sargent -- used it; and within their very best productions. Meguilp has suffered condemnation but it is not the culprit to poor oil painting craftsmanship. That dishonor typically falls upon the miss-infomed practioner. For instance, paint passages that crack are due to overpainting upon an area that has not dried sufficiently. That is not the fault of meguilp. As for durability and supposed weakness in film-strength, though Meguilp contains a soft resin (mastic), that resin becomes polymerized to an amazing toughness due to the slight lead ingredient contained within the formula. Through many years I have sampled and tested various 19th Century formulas for this usefull and fast-drying painting medium. While similar in ingredients, some versions of Meguilp have 'stood-out', performing in my own hands in noticeably better ways than others. I am now offering true Meguilp in a 120 mil. tube using the all-around best formula uncovered. My chosen recipe contains a bit more mastic, more my own less-yellowing Heat-Processed Linseed Oil, and less solvent-- which allows a longer 'open' time for working. Make no mistake, this is the genuine article, conjured with a perfect ratio/balance of the exact traditional ingredients of litharge, linseed oil, turpentine spirit, and Greek mastic tears. Meguilp, when mixed in up-to-equal amounts with the paints on the palette, typically allows layers to 'keep their place' and dry overnight. [Click on the blue name for a revealing historical look at this ever-so-popular "painting jelly", how it compares to the current "Maroger's Medium", as well as cautionary rules for its use.] [] Ordering Online

Bombelli 60 mil. glass jar is $21.50. The exact recipe known to some Italian painters in the 1600's. Similar to meguilp but with a noticeably thinner consistency and slower drying. This painting jelly is based on mastic resin, nut oil, litharge, and olio de sasso. Bombelli is very light in color and has a pleasant smell. Best used in a solvent technique. Produces soft luscious paint that holds its place to exhibit clever brushwork.Can be used with all oil paints. Does not produce either wrinkling or noticeable yellowing, even when used in approximately equal amounts with the dabs of color on the palette. [Click on the name for more info about this product.] Ordering Online

Roberson Medium (Copal Meguilp) Now in an even larger 5.5 ounce metal tube! Price is $39.75. Popularized by the Pre-Raphaelites, this is the original formula of Roberson's famous "jelly" medium which was a 19th Century copal-and-mastic meguilp. The same easy and fluid application of traditional 18th-19th Century meguilp but with an increase in durability and brushstroke-retention and clever impasto-effects. Makes most commercially produced tubed oil paint dry overnight. Robersons Medium is typically used in amounts of 25%; even up to equal amounts with the paint without harming the colors.if used according to the rules for painting in layers, ie, the more the medium used, the thinner the application. Like tubed Meguilp, this medium is especially suited for plein air painting. Not prone to wrinkling or yellowing even when used in approximately equal amounts with the dabs of color on the palette. Excellent as an all-around painting and glazing medium. Ordering Online

Amber Gelling Varnish 80 mil. bottle is $25.50. [Note: This product is no longer available but the information is valuable to oil painters] Amber Gelling Varnish can be used in an all-oil and solvent-free manner; or used with a solvent, if desired. This gelling varnish is available in either a fast-drying or a slow-drying version. The fast-drying version contains a metallic drier and allows paint to be dry in one-to-two days; the slow-drying version contains no drier and is metal-free, its use allowing the paint to remain open for several days for extended working time. An amazingly useful and toughening glossy/glassy addition for oil painting. This oil varnish, like the copal and sandarac which follow, can be mixed with any regular painting oil (walnut, linseed, poppy, sunflower, etc.) to form a facile painting jelly with excellent mark-retention, smooth brushing qualities, and induced paint-film strength. Can also be mixed directly into the paints on the palette then using a solvent as a thinner-- a method I believe was that of the early Northern painters. Speeds drying and creates the glass-like effect of the early Dutch masters. [Click on the product name for more info.] Ordering Online

New! Copal Jelly This new medium replaces our uniquely original Gelling Copal Varnish. It comes in a large 120 mil. (4 ounces) tube @ $25.50 per tube. Added to the paints on the palette, this Copal Jelly medium greatly increases durability while retaining gloss and preventing the layers from 'sinking'. Treated paint dries overnight to allow easy layering the next day. Excellent impasto when desired. Though meant for use in a solvent-technique, copal jelly cn be used in an all-oil manner by the means of 'oiling out' before application. When coupled with the solvent technique the freshly-applied over-layers will not 'sink' into the underlayers. Wonderful saturation/color-intensity. [Click on the name for more background concerning this product] Ordering Online

ORIGIN Congealed Oil Varnish 65 mil. jar is currently $29.50. ORIGIN is a firmly-congealed resin-oil varnish similar to Fir Wax, but contains a larger percentage of oil and coniferous resin. For proper results, ORIGIN should be used with dry pigments. By that I mean the pigments are made into paint by using ORIGIN as the only binder. No added oil is required. To create paint, the dry pigments are first "wet" with solvent and rubbed-up with the knife to a paste. ORIGIN is then added to this pigment paste, the whole being quickly made into paint by again rubbing-up with the knife on the palette. Painting commences afterwards using a solvent for thinning and application. The technique closely resembles painting with tempera; however, unlike Tempera Grassa (an emulsion created with egg and varnish/oil), the applied colors and washes retain brilliance, do not noticeably yellow with age, and acquire increasing gloss as layers progress. Blending is much easier than with Tempera Grassa. I suspect this so-called "tempera method of oil painting" was first adopted by the van Eycks, and afterwards utilized by so many other early oil painters, up until the later 1600's, when the technique was dropped or lost. Rubens and Vandyke were two of the latter practitioners in this tempera-like method. [Click on the name for more info about this product.] Ordering Online

Fir Wax Congealed Resin Varnish (for regular oil paints) 65 mil. glass jar is $30.75. Similar to ORIGIN but Fir Wax is intended for use with "tube paint" or regular oil paint, handmade or commercial. Fir Wax typically allows oil paints to be utilized in a pseudo tempera-like manner; and by the use of a prefered solvent, such as turpentine spirit, mineral spirits, limonene, oil of spike, etc. [Click on the name for more info about ORIGIN and Fir Wax.] Ordering Online

Other Mediums and Medium and Paint-Ingredients

Asphaltum ($19.50 for 37 mil. tube) This is the genuine oil paint that was used safely during the 1600's. This is not bitumen or made using bitumen! This is not an artificial mixture of pigments; nor is it one of those inferior pseudo-asphaltums such as Cologne earth, Cassel earth, or the so-called Vandyke or Rubens' browns, all of which contain vegetable humus which causes the resulting brown to remain soft and never harden. Real asphaltum does harden as it is conjured from the solid glass-y rock commonly known throughout the world today as Gilsonite. This original asphaltum is made using the crushed rock combined with a heat-processed and very drying linseed oil, which is according to the usual 1600's recipe. The brushed-on paint typically dries in a day. Contrary to what has been written through the intervening centuries, true asphaltum oil paint is not harmful to oil paintings, either when utilized in the under or the over-paintng. True asphaltum does have its own 'personality' -- it should be used very thinly applied; and never opaquely or thickly applied unless combined with a harder resinous gel-type medium. Ordering Online

Heat Polymerized Walnut Oil or Linseed Oil ($16.50 for 60 mil. bottle) Heating (boiling, fuming) painting oils to burn-off their oxidative elements, concentrating adhesive power and toughening them, has been a practice for centuries. Dangerous to create, what I offer are the actual and truly heat-bodied oils as are found within the historical writings. The use of a heat-bodied oil typically promotes a leveling or melting condition to oil paint-- especially that fresh oil-and-pigment sort rubbed-up by the artist before use. Commercial tube paint containing Aluminum Stearate is not as much affected by stand oil and so many artists swear by its use, as it gives their paint a smoother more enamel-like appearance and tougher binding-power. That noted, instead of commercial standoil, I recommend actual heat-bodied walnut and linseed oils for the very same purposes. Each of these processed oils has a thiiner consistency than standoil while yellowing only faintly when compared to common linseed oil. [Note: "sunning" oils to pre-polymerize and thicken them will not produce the detection earmarks of a true heat-bodied oil.] Ordering Online

1-Set of Eight Permanent Dry Pigments in 1-to-2-oz plastic containers $48.50 per set. These 8-pigments/colors represent a perfect traditional palette for use with either landscape, portrait, or Marine paintings These artist's pigments are finely-ground (true pigments) and require no further grinding with the muller. It's simple to create your own oil paint! All you need is a preferred binder, a palette knife, and a sheet of scrap glass. At this time we only offer these pigments as a set; not sold individually. [Click on the product name for more info.] Ordering Online

Drying Walnut Heat-Bodied Oil ($30.00) This product is no longer available. According to the many paint-analysis studies done by modern researchers, a heat-bodied oil can be detected often in the old master's works. Curiously, many of these works exhibit up-standing paint texture that, instead, visibly reflect the typical effects of resin-oil-varnish-use within the paint. Thus, this up-standing quality is not in accordance with the melting effect truly garnered with the use of common HB-Oils-- like standoil and my own historical version of Heat-Polymerized Walnut Oil. However, through a long and complex cooking procedure, linseed oil and walnut oil can be transformed into a fluid oil that does indeed produce upstanding texture to fresh oil paint. I no longer make this heat-bodied oil -- it is too complex to imagine any olden painter making and using it. [ Note: There is another heat-bodied oil --the so-called "burnt plate oil" --made by greatly heating an oil until it catches fire and assumes the consistency of liquid rubber. This much-thickened oil found use in lithography during Rembrandt's day. Some painters today believe this type of oil was used by that master to create his expressive pastose paint; and this thinking again being based on modern-day chemical analysis of the master's paint-chips. Having myself made many trials with this "fired oil", using it with handmade paints, I must respectfully disagree. The character this highly-heated oil evokes with lead white does not typically match Rembrandt's clever craftsmanship; rather, its use creates nothing more than an extreme slumpy-sluggish-ness. The reader should bear in mind that according to latest research, high temperature resin oil varnishes --like Amber Varnish or copal varnish, which are resins dissolved at extremely high temperatures into oils-- produce signatures of only heat-bodied oil. There is no signature of the resin. Apparently, the highly-cooked resins lose their basic "fingerprints" due to high-temperature heat-destruction. Again, this is according to the latest research and analysis. Thus, recent proclamations maintaining the old masters used only simple pigment-and-oil plus additions of heat-bodied oil are not truly supported. Again, the commonly-available oil varnishes of the day --which nearly every household had at ready for ever-day use --give-off the very same finding of HB-oil. My own best-guess is the old masters utilized slight additions of highly-heated resin-in-oil varnishes to obtain the durability and application character of their wonderous paint -- and not simple heat-bodied oil. I encourage all to perform their own extensive trials in order to best decide the issue for themselves.

Though I no longer offer it, my own Walnut Drying HB-Oil was utilized in creating the following :

Rembrandt: An Attempt to Copy his Self Portrait using Resin varnishes and heat-bodied oil. Click here

19th Century Siccatif de Courtrai 60 mil. bottle is $20.00 Made specifically for oil painting-use, this is the genuine article ; this is not the modern-day lead napthenate nor cobalt/manganese carboxylate driers available elsewhere. Unlike lead napthenate, our Siccatif de Courtrai will not dull oil paint ; and, instead, it leaves a proper fresh look to the paint. Normal use will not discolor whites/colors ; one partial drop can dry oil paint in as little as 8-12 hours. Favored by many 19th C. masters, including William Bouguereau. [Click on the blue heading for more info.] Ordering Online

Walnut 'Black Oil' $15.50 per 60 mil. bottle. Labeled as 17th Century Light Drying Oil to differentiate it from common black oil. Can be used in an all-oil-and-no-solvent manner; or used with a solvent, if desired. This oil is made from unrefined walnut oil cooked with lead. Known historically as "drying oil" until Jacques Maroger miss-named it, our "black oil" is anything but. It is a transparent golden-colored oil that will dry fast, increase lubricity; and, when combined with an equal amount of mastic spirit varnish, produces a fast and firm megilp jelly that has none of the faults of the linseed-based version. Ordering Online

Raw Walnut Oil 120 Mil. (4 -ounce) plastic bottle is $8.50. This pure nut oil contains no antioxidants. This lightly-colored oil provides excellent wettability and much faster drying than the commonly-available purified and refined walnut oil. Excellent for hand rubbing of pigments into paint. Ordering Online

Information for Modern Day Commercial 'Tube Paint' Enthusiasts

I have often been asked if the specialized varnishes we provide can be used with tube paints. Certainly, they can. In fact, as we have noticed over the years, most buyers of our varnishes and mediums are tube paint-users who have need for strengthening their " tube colors" so that a thinning with solvent (such as turps) can be effectively performed.

Painting by way of essential oils or spirits is a tried-and-true and very old manner of oil painting. Raw oil is used to rub up the basic paint, then a bit of varnish --usually a drop or two-- is added to stiffen or congeal the paint. This firm paint is then thinned for application using the chosen spirit, such as turpentine, paint thinner, or oil of spike. The paint is applied in thin translucent layers until the desired effect of realism is attained. The results are quite effective as, once given a slight dose of varnish, modern day tube paint will withstand much greater use of spirits, resulting in an almost egg-tempera-like manner of painting and building-up of layers ; promoting a quality of realism not nearly attainable without the varnish-addition. No other oil is incorporated with this manner.

The principle underlying the effective use of this technique derives from the exceptional binding-strength and congealing capabilities allowable through use of the varnish-addition. This is to say, basic oil and pigment paint (either "tube" or home-made), by itself, cannot be thinned much with a solvent without becoming poorly bound (underbound) or running, trickling, down the support. However, as early painters eventually found, by simply adding a drop or two of varnish, the binding-strength of the paint is much increased, resulting in a much firmer resistance against solvent-delivered overpainting, even when the underlying paint is wet ; additionally, the applied paint gains in translucency, delivering a final highly-keyed brightness not available to an all-fixed oil technique. BTW, of great benefit, the step known as "oiling out" ( which is so important to the all-fixed oil technique) is not required when using the spirit-use manner of oil painting. This combined spirit-with-oil technique was that of Rubens and other Northern painters (as well as many Italian painters at least dating back to some of Leonardo's works).

As for those tube paint-users today who prefer an all-fixed oil technique (no solvents such as turps, paint thinner, etc.), our unique Amber Gelling Oil works well with tube paints. So does the "Gentileschi's Amber Medium" made from the Venetian Amber Varnish and unrefined walnut oil. Ditto our Walnut Polymerized Oil, replacing standoil to good advantage.

However, the remarkable congealing (stiffening) abilities engendered by use of our amber, copal, and other varnishes were developed with hand-made oil paint in mind --like the stuff used by the olden painters. With handmade paint, these type high-in-resin oil varnishes provide character and interesting brushwork not found with modern day tube colors ; and this character is in addition to their lasting and optical qualities supplied to basic rubbed-up oil-and-pigment paint. By comparison, most tube paint today comes off the store-shelf already in a too-short condition. Adding our amber and copal varnishes will certainly toughen it--even optically brighten it-- but the consistency by that addition with some paint-brands may likely resemble window putty. All fine an proper if the painter wishes to then use spirit vehicles to subsequently apply the paint. But, excepting means of impasto, this stiff condition of the paint is not effective using all-oil, as the amounts of oil then added to make the paint easy of brushing would become excessive and troublesome. 'Oiling out' the ground before new paint-applications will help defray the problem. But, there is another way to incorporate these particular oil varnishes with tube paint in an all-oil manner.

First, realize, regarding an all-oil technique, modern day 'tube paint' behaves differently than the freshly rubbed-up oil paint made by the artist. Many believe what they are buying is a very pure form of basic pigment-and-oil in a tube, ready and waiting for their whim to create. Not so. Tube paint has a gelling substance added in to promote a short 'buttery' consistency and maintain shelf-life (meaning little-to-no separation and resultant slumping in the tube). Usually, this substance is an addition of extremely lightweight aluminum stearate ; and even 2% of AS will mean a substantiat amount has been incorporated into the paint. This gelled effect-- very much similar to adding wax to oil paint-- makes the paint seem ultra heavy in pigment-to-oil ratio and causes a 'short' and crisp brushstroke that bears essentially no appearance to what the old masters used in their day. Of course, some paints do perform better than others in this regard. But, overall, the store bought tube paint provides little resemblance to the freshly made oil paint ( or what was created 'yarns ago' on canvas or wood panel with the same).

Aluminum Stearate seems to date back to the 1930's but other tallow-type stabilizers very similar to it first came onto the scene in the late 1800's. In the 1940's, oil painters such as Frederick Taubes discovered that adding another 20th century product called "standoil" to tube paints overcame or balanced-out the aluminum stearate, easing or eliminating its short effect, allowing a "tall" or "long" (slightly more or complete enamel-like) effect -- quite similar to true basic all around handground paint. Taubes later created a copal varnish that relied heavily on standoil, and small additions of his copal varnish (called Copal Concentrate) would allow tube paint to behave much more like the old master-type paint. His product was marketed by the Permanent Pigments company and became quite popular.

I supply this information to those who wish to obtain the older-type copal and amber varnishes displayed herein, but who desire to incorporate them with modern day tube paint in an all-oil technique. Essentially, the secret is this: to create mediums that allow tube paint to resemble the older paint, a certain part of that medium should contain standoil--or other polymerized, or sun-thickened oil--in the mix ; and this is to overcome the too-short gel-effect of aluminum stearate. For simple example, the "Copal Concentrate" of Taube's make was said to be a 25% copal-to-75% standoil combination. I have since copied it nicely by taking two parts standoil and one part of our 19th C. Copal Varnish and heating the two together. Thus, a 50% copal resin-to-oil varnish (like our 19th Century Copal Varnishes) would require a good bit of standoil to garner the "copal concentrate" effect on tube paint. [In other words, you find a small medicine bottle and put therein one part of the copal varnish and then slowly add two parts stand oil or sun-thickened oil.] Such a mixed 'copal & standoil' varnish is VERY light in color and can then be added in slight amounts to tube paints, giving them a certain long-ish clever character (Taubes called this 'conditioning' the paint) that stays put and doesn't run down the canvas or support with gravity -- as would be the case with standoil alone. Various other and useful painting mediums for tube paints can also be made using this concocted copal-with-standoil varnish by adding in amounts of a preferred raw oil, turpentine, siccative drier, and/or other agents.

To satisfy some tube paint users who wish a true fossil copal varnish-made painting medium, please note that we do offer our DCV Copal Painting Medium (see above) which will produce excellent and lasting results.

What I write here notwithstanding, I understand there are some few paint-makers today who do make simple oil and pigment paint. Since there is no aluminum stearate or other gelling agent involved, these paints are perfectly suited to our straight varnishes for use in either a "spirit-technique" or an "all-oil" technique. Of course, for those painters who make their own paint, our varnishes--either alone or added to mediums --will provide all the tough and lasting optical qualities deemed desirable and necessary -- plus provide a shortening, chrispening character that is wanting to the basic handmade oil-and-pigment paint.

We offer artist's permanent pigments in a convenient 8-color set. $48.50 per set (Note: Pigments not sold individually). More info click here

For further information or to place an order, please use our onlne shopping page or call (301)689-3389 8:30 am-4 pm EST Tuesday through Saturday. Shipping costs are calculated according to number of items ordered. We ship only by USPS Domestic and International Shipping. There are some world countries (such as Nigeria) we cannot ship to. If in doubt, please call or email us ( before ordering.

Or send your own ordered items list with personal check/money order to:

Western Maryland Gallery
11425 Upper George's Creek Road SW
Frostburg, MD 21532

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