Oil Paint Brand Reviews
Edited 19 April 2018 – Updated info on Williamsburg Oils and a move for them to my #2 spot.
Over the years I’ve collected quite a few tubes of paint from several different manufacturers. I haven’t tried them all, just those that I thought would work with my style of painting. I am not paid by any of these paint makers and have no stock in any of their products. This is just my opinion as an artist. If you are less-than-expertly knowledgeable about how oil paints are made and what they consist of I would suggest that you start by looking at Tony Johansen’s webiste: www.paintmaking.com
First, I’ll list the attributes that I look for in a good oil paint:
Oil used: There are only two oils that I would consider using as the base for the creation of a durable painting: Linseed oil and Walnut oil. Linseed oil is the industry standard and for good reason. It creates the strongest film and drys relatively fast when compared to other drying oils. Walnut oil is a good alternative to linseed oil. It does not form quite as strong of a film as linseed, however it will yellow less over time and gives paint a juicy, brushable quality. Walnut oil, although slower drying than linseed, is still faster than other oils. Ideally the best paint would be made from a mix of the two in an attempt to get the best of both and reduce each others negative qualities. Some manufacturers use poppy and safflower oils in their paints, particularily in the lighter colours and whites. They do this because poppy and safflower oils yellow less than linseed oil in the short term. However they are much slower drying, and do not form as strong of a film and so I don’t typically use paints made with these oils except in the final layers with the addition of some sort of alkyd medium to improve strength. I should note here that eventually all oil paint films are going to crack, it’s just a matter of when.
Pigment info: Most professional quality paint manufacturers are good about listing the pigments in the tube. They do this either on the tube itself which is ideal, or on their webpage. If a manufacturer doesn’t state the pigments used in the paint anywhere then beware! Each pigment has it’s own special characteristics that include drying time, transparency, tinting strength, and hue bias. Knowing the properties allows you to come to informed decisions about the pigments that make up your palette. Some pigments cost more than others, so it is good to know what you are paying for. Taking a gamble on a paint manufacturer that doesn’t list pigments is likely to end in disappointment. For detailed information on specific pigments beyond what is listed on paintmaking.com there are a couple of terrific sites:
Brushability: In what I consider the ideal paint the mixture that comes out of a tube should be soft and workable. Not soupy and runny, and not stiff and dry. Different artists will have a preference for different qualities in this regard and most of that is determined by how thickly you like to apply paint to the canvas.
Transparency: I am not talking about the characteristics of the pigments here, I am talking about the information given out by the manufacturer and how open they are to honest discussion should you have questions. Although there are standards put in place like ASTM D4302 these are entirely voluntary and there is no enforcement of these standards. This means that artists are left to try and figure out whose information and product they trust the most. First off, people would not be selling paint if they didn’t want to make money at it. That should be a given so there should always be some skepticism when dealing with manufacturer statements. You need to be wary of the marketing romance and stick to the facts and scientific evidence. So where do you start here? Well, I look for the company to be led by an artist. If they don’t have any experience painting there is no way they will be able to put the kind of passion and time into the creation of a paint that is required to make something a real artist will love.
Lightfastness: Almost all paint manufacturers still produce Alizarin Crimson (PR83:1). This is because there is still a high demand from artists in general. If you look at any “how-to-paint” book they will most likely recommend Alizarin Crimson for a basic palette. Because of this I can forgive novice painters for buying it and manufacturers for making it. It is indeed a beautiful and useful colour right out of the tube. However, it is what is called a “fugitive” colour in terms of how it stands up to the test of time with regards to it’s colour strength. There are many other pigments that can easily fill the role of Alizarin Crimson and I will talk about those in an upcoming post on what pigments should be on your palette. So, as I said I can forgive manufacturers for still producing Alizarin Crimson. What I can’t forgive however, is when they produce a line of paints full of pigments with poor lightfastness ratings. If they have lots of paints with an ASTM lightfastness rating of 2 or worse that should be a sure sign that the company isn’t overly concerned about the longevity of your work. This can also be said about a company that puts out the majority of it’s colours as mixes of 2 or more pigments. Although some mixes can be really convenient and useful, having an entire line of mixes smells of marketing B.S. more than it smells of linseed oil.
Price: You are going to pay more for a quality paint than for a student grade paint. More pigment in a tube costs more money to make than less pigment. That is certain. However, beyond a certain point you will be paying only for the name and for the marketing romance. This can be seen in many industries, but is probably most obvious in the clothing and accessory world. Many people will pay more money for the same product if it has a certain brand stamped on it. Watch for this because it exists in the world of paints as well. Extremely good paint can be found for a decent price.
Tube quality: I hate it when caps split or tubes break open and paint oozes all over my other tubes. This can be messy and costly and so I prefer to buy paint that comes in decent packages.
The following list is what I consider great paint. I won’t include certain lines that make the tops on many peoples lists because they don’t meet the criteria above (Blockx for example uses poppy oil and so I’ve never used it cause it would dry way too slow for me)
Blue Ridge Artist Colors: In my opinion this is tops. Made in North Carolina by a guy named Eric Silver, Blue Ridge paint meets almost every aspect of what I consider a terrific paint. Eric uses a blend of linseed and walnut oil to mix almost all of his colours (except for his whites which are walnut/safflower). They are blended to a smooth, brushable consistency. Pigment and paint information is readily available on the website. The vast majority of colours that Eric has chosen for his line are lightfastness I. The tubes he uses have not given me any trouble what-so-ever. I really enjoy the wider mouth on them as well. You can’t buy these paints in store, only online through their website. This is not really that inconvenient however as the service is extremely fast and Eric takes such good care at packaging the paint that it has arrived in perfect condition. In fact the tubes I have received were each individually wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in a box just big enough to keep them snug so they didn’t rattle against each other in transit. I am a paint geek. I love every little nuance about paint and using quality materials really affects how I feel about creating. So when paint shows up in pristine condition along with a colour chart and a little thank you note like it does from Blue Ridge I just know that he “gets it”. I’ve ordered a few times now and each time my order was acknowledged, filled and shipped within two days. I have to pay for international shipping as I am Canadian but the quality and price of the paints is more than reasonable enough to make it worth it. The colours are very highly pigmented and the pigments chosen are very beautiful. The majority of my palette is made up of Blue Ridge oil paint. There is a great video of Eric making paint in his workshop that can be viewed here.
Williamsburg Handmade Oil Paint: Williamsburg is a great brand of oil paint. They are a pricier paint which is a detractor, though I don’t think they are necessarily excessively expensive (unlike Old Holland and Vasari). They do have a great selection of earth colours if you are an earth colour junkie and a couple of different Terre Vertes (PG23) which happens to be my favourite oil colour. One thing that used to bother me, that they have recently addressed, has to do with Zinc White. They used to use Zinc in a lot of their mixtures but recently removed it from their lineup. A very smart move in my opinion and that goes a long way to showing me that they are really trying to make a quality product for artists to use. They are also concerned with lightfastness ratings and have made changes in the past to address any issues they have found. Overall I rate Williamsburg as an excellent paint, only falling to #2 on my list due to the price point.
Gamblin: Gamblin is a solid brand. I have written to them before and they were very quick to respond and answered my questions clearly and fully. Gamblin paint is widely available and this makes it a great choice for those looking for ease of purchase or hunting for the best price. Gamblin paints are slightly softer than Blue Ridge. This could be a big problem however if you want to create thick sticky impasto passages. Of all the paint brands I’ve tried I would say on the whole Gamblin has chosen the most beautiful pigments out there. For this reason I buy Gamblin paints for many of my transparent colours. I have never had any issues with Gamblin tubes. If you were only going to use a single brand of paint to fill out your entire palette then in my opinion the Gamblin lineup has a few flaws. The use of Napthol Reds instead of the more lightfast Pyrrol reds leaves a gap in the spectrum for me and the same with the use of Hansa yellows instead of the superior Benzimidazalone yellows. Overall though I think Gamblin paint is a great brand which is good enough for professional use but affordable enough for student use. Robert Gamblin’s vision for paintmaking can be seen in this video.
Rembrandt Oil Colours: Rembrandt is a good brand of paint overall. Their paints are all have excellent lightfastness. The paint is very soft and brushable right out of the tube. If you love natural earth colours then this is not the brand for you. Their earth colours are actually made up of mixes of synthetic iron oxide pigments and ivory black. My guess for doing this is that they are concerned about mining practices or a tendency for umbers to darken over time but I haven’t actually seen this written anywhere. The biggest negative about these paints is the tubes. They seem to be much too thin and I have several that have burst open on me. You can usually get a good deal at dickblick.com for these paints and so I would highly recommend them to budget concious artists and students. If you are looking for a good selection of colours around the colour wheel and yellows and reds in transparent versions Rembrandt has you covered.
Winsor & Newton Artist Oil Colors: Winsor Newton is a good brand. You can find these paints pretty much anywhere. If there is only one brand of artist oil paint in an art store you can bet it is probably Winsor Newton. They have a good range of colours, are nice to work with out of the tube, and are generally very nice hues. The only negative for me about Winsor Newton is that the company is too big. The paint is made on a production line and machines do much of the work. Although this gives them lots of opportunity for reproducible quality control it also puts a distance between the maker and the product. I just don’t feel as though as much love and thought has gone into this product. I’m going to admit that this seems like a silly thing to say, but it does affect how I feel about working with the paint. Rationally speaking I think the paint is fine and so if this kind of touchy feely thing doesn’t bother you I think you will find that this paint makes for a solid choice you could use with confidence.
Michael Harding Handmade Artist Oil Paint: In the recent past Michael Harding has had an issue with the caps splitting on their tubes, but they will send you replacement caps should you require them. There are a few paints that I love from Michael Harding. Their Terra Verte is the most beautful of the ones I’ve tried and is my staple transparent earth green paint. Harding’s Permanent Orange (PO73) is a lovely brilliant colour that is very strong and very useful. As well, they make a Lead White/Titanium White blend ground in linseed oil which is great. Michael Harding makes a few unique colours that you can’t find anywhere else. Their Genuine Naples Yellow Light is a fast drying light primary yellow I use which is worth the price in my opinion. It is a rarer pigment and also most yellow pigments are very slow drying. I haven’t had a chance to try their Genuine Vermillion or Genuine Lapis Lazuli but from the colour swatches on their website I would say both are easily mixed with much less expensive colours and are not special enough to justify spending $100 on a 40ml tube of paint. I am perplexed by some of the choices of pigments in this range of paints as well as the rationale behind chosing them. For instance if you read the description of his Alizarin Crimson he talks about uptight Americans poo-pooing the pigment because of it’s lightfastness and how they should relax yet for his Crimson Lake paint (PR149) he says he is looking into a new pigment to replace it due to it’s lightfastness even though it is lightfastness 1 in mass tone and 2 in tints. Overall I pick and choose from this line of paints as he does make a few good ones.
Old Holland: There is only one colour from Old Holland that I think is better than other brands and that is their Manganese Blue (PB33). This is only because they are one of the only ones to still produce any since the pigment is no longer manufactured. I saw a comment online from someone stating that they had bought a large enough quantity that they should be good for 100 years of production but when I emailed the company months ago asking to verify this I got no reply. The price of the paints is much too high for what you get. Don’t get me wrong, the paint is good, and if you like a really really stiff paint then you will love the texture, but in my opinion they are not worth the price you have to pay for them. If you want to try them out start out with a few of the A series colours to get an idea as they are reasonably priced. I have a couple of the cadmiums and cobalts and I have to say that they are no better than Blue Ridge paints which happen to be half the price. Another thing I don’t like about Old Holland paints is that they give a blanket lightfastness to their line (they say 7 or 8 on a 1-8 scale where 8 is best) that does not fall in line with ASTM testing (or any other manufacturers testing for that matter) of the pigments. They also make way too many mixtures and useless colours. It seems to me they are just catering to those with a fetish for collecting every tube of paint they make. If you like a really stiff paint then these are for you but overall you can get more beautiful hues, the same amount of pigment, and more honesty for less money elsewhere.
Vasari Classic Artist Oil Colors: I haven’t used any of Vasari’s colours. This is because I find their prices are astronomical, and their information and customer service is severely lacking. On their website you will notice that as you look at each colour you will only find the pigment information for a few. This information it appears is only for the single pigment paints. I wrote them an email to ask if I could see a chart or get information on their pigments in all of their paints. They didn’t respond to that email, but I know they got it because they added me to their distribution list for their mass emails. I sent another email about 3 months after the first one thinking maybe they just forgot to respond but yet again no response. I know that David Kassan swears by these paints, but I just can’t help but think that no matter how good they are these must be the most over priced paints out there. For instance you will pay $68.25 US dollars for a 40ml tube of their Cerulean Blue. The kicker is that it isn’t even a PB35, they use the cheaper PB36 and still charge the big bucks for it. A 40ml tube of their ivory black will run you almost 21 dollars. Insanity. Vasari is the Gucci of the paint world.
Thanks for your paint notes. I typically use M. Graham oils myself, and was hoping to see how you think they compare (particularly to Blue Ridge paint, which I’ve just found out about). Are they not included because you haven’t used them, or because you feel they’re interior to the rest?
I have a tube of M Graham Pthalo Green and Raw Umber but I haven’t used them much yet, only because I don’t seem to use those pigments very often anymore. I do use their Titanium White however which I mix about 50:50 with Michael Harding’s Titanium/Lead White. I find it is nice and soft and loosens up the Titanium/Lead paint. I also wroteM Graham asking how much zinc white was in it, and they said only about 3% so that should be a safe bet. Overall, I couldn’t see myself using their colours exclusively as I would like at least some linseed oil in there to increase the toughness of the paint layer a bit. I don’t think that their paints would be a reckless choice by any stretch of the imagination though, especially if used with some alkyd medium.
great write-up on paints!
just thought i’d post and let you know when i ordered up some manganese blue from old holland recently. i too happened to be curious how long they expected to be able to offer pb33. when asked they stated only a year or two depending on demand…
Awesome, thanks for the info.
hi, just wanted to plug davinci oils. reasonably priced and great consistency. any opinions on them?
cheers! and thanks for doing this.
No I haven’t tried Da Vinci before. I’ve never seen them in Canadian stores but it might be worth giving them a tryout next time I order from Dick Blick.
Re Vasari, Here in the UK they are on a par price wise with the Williamsburg (which I haven’t tried yet)
As to quality, Compared to W&N and one other locally produced Professional grade paint, I find them to be top class. Price for equivalent coverage (Pigment density) they work out much cheaper than W&N.
In my experience they do not deserve the Gucci tag.
Well their Ivory Black is $21 USD and a Cad Red will run you $60 USD. If that ain’t Gucci, I don’t know what is.
I would like your opinion on Lukas 1862 oils? I am looking for a brand that is buttery similar to Golden’s acrylics & in consistency. I am switching back to oils from acrylics after a long hiatus. Thanks!
Hi Liz, Sorry it’s taken me so long to answer your inquiry. I’ve
never used Lukas 1862 so I can’t comment from experience. I think
whether or not they will work for you depends on what you want from
your paint. They add beeswax to the paint, which can be used as a
stabilizer for some pigments like ultramarine, but for others is
unecessary. My guess is that they use it in all the paints to make
them more economical, and it shows in the price. That means that you
won’t be getting as much pigment as in other brands, but that isn’t
necessarily the end of the world depending on how you paint and the
effects you are looking for. The wax shouldn’t be problematic at all
from an archival standpoint.
Hi, I recently bought a few tubes of Kama paints- a hand ground paint with walnut oil made in Montreal. Have you had any experience using this brand, and if so how you would rate them? I tend to mix my brands, right now using Williamsburg, Old Holland, W&N, M. Harding, and thought I’d give this Canadian paint a try- certainly their cadmiums are quite good anyway.
I like Kama as I prefer a walnut oil based paint, and the price is very reasonable.
Reblogged this on starrpoint and commented:
This is an excellent article on what goes into the paint we spend so much money and effort with, and a must read for any artists.
I enjoyed your input my friend and it gave me a lot of insight, I have learned
where to close the borders on some companies. Somewhat like your self,
it looks like Blue Ridge is the over all winner in a lot of classes, and a person
must determine on special colors that may spark their interest according
to their paint style. I’m trying find out which color red that Sennelier has
that has this bright reddish/orange luminous hue to it ? I’ts very different.
Could it be the Chinese orange ? But thanks a lot
Sennelier has a few colours in that range. Chinese Lake (PO61) Chinese Orange (PY13/PY83) and Orient Lake (PY83/PV19). I would personally go for the Orient Lake myself of those three. The other two are not rated for lightfastness. PY13 is likely fugitive. You could also mix your own red orange or depending on your preference for transparency go for a Cadmium orange deep, or pyrol orange.
Thank you for your VALUABLE content but even more for your technical writing skills. You are artistically talented beyond my reach, but also admirable for your intellect and writing skills to bring your point of view across in such a well-substantiated manner. The internet has seemingly given everyone the right to spew their opinions as self-appointed experts without necessarily credited data to back up their viewpoints. Thank you for all of your written entries, your thoughtfulness to word is very much appreciated.
Have you used Georgian Oils? How are they?
I haven’t used Georgian because they are student grade. In my mind buying student grade paints is not worth it. I would rather have a very small selection of artist grade oils than a bigger selection of student grade oils. Georgian will have much less pigment and more filler than higher priced paints. If you like to use transparent colours and paint in washes you could get away with them, but at the expense of having a lot of filler in your paint which may or may not be durable in the long haul. However, if you want some opacity and to enjoy the unique properties of pure unadulterated cadmiums and cobalts then you’ll have to shell out a few more bucks.
They are rubbish. I have a set from years ago ( I mean 10 or so), small tubes, and I can not finish them, because I really don’t like them, even for underpinting. Most are hues as well, and kind of dry- matt consistency.when mixing some together, mostly get dirt.
I’m a student who unfortunatelly had her paints stolen. Luckily my dad gave me a good amount of money to replace my kit. Could you send me a picture of all the paints you use? and tell me which ones to buy if I’m thiking of buying like 30 tubes or so.
Thanks a lot
Defne, It is hard to give you a list of paints you should buy because that really depends on what and how you paint. For instance if you are a landscape painter it might be worth having a few more greens at your disposal, whereas if you do portraits one or two greens will most likely suffice, if you need any at all. Do you use glazes? If so you’ll want more transparent colours. I could give you a picture of all my paints but it probably wouldn’t be much help because I have a lot of paint. Easily over 100 tubes, but I only select a few at a time (usually between 6 and 20) for each painting. As a student I would recommend you get less colours and a better brand with your money. You can see some of the colours I like to use and why on my other post, “My Palette” which you can find here: https://jeffchester.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/35/ If I had to make a small list of must have paints that a student needs though it would be this: Titanium White, Ivory Black, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Indian Yellow, Pyrol Red, Quinacridone Magenta, Cobalt Blue, Pthalo Blue (Green Shade). Those 10 colours will allow you more than enough mixing room to do pretty much anything you want. As a student it is usually better to use less colours and learn how to mix those you do have. Let me know if you have any other questions. ~Jeff
Thank you so much Jeff. I wouldn’t call myself beginner though, as I have been painting for more than 6 years now. I like to think that I’m good at mixing and definitely agree with you on that but id like you to recommend about 10-15 miscellaneous paints that will spice up my palette. I paint mostly landscape but with a focus on European architecture.
Okay, well if I was going to recommend some extras other than those in the standard palette then I would say give some of these a try: Nickel Titanium yellow, Hansa Yellow Deep, Pyrol Orange, Pyrol Red, Quinacridone Red, Quinacridone Violet, Cobalt Violet, Cobalt Teal, Cobalt Turquoise, Cobalt Green Deep, Terre Verte (PG23 from Old Holland or Michael Harding), Transparent Red Oxide, Transparent Yellow Oxide, Naples Yellow Hue (PBr24). I would recommend Blue Ridge for most of those but you will have to wait because their shop burned down and so there won’t be anything available until after Christmas. Otherwise Williamsburg and Gamblin are great choices. I hope this is helpful.
What do you think of Sennelier and Charvin?
Another point about Old Holland…their 40 ml tube is not 40 ml…more like 35ml…compare it with a known 35 ml tube as in Blockx or Mussini.
If you want real colour strength have a look at Langridge oils from Australia,
mainly single pigment colours as well .Strong as all fuck and a lot cheaper than OH
If you like real earth colours, try Rublev’s selection, they have a gorgeous french burnt sienna that lives up to being a true firey red–orange brown.
W/burg also have a selection of nice gritty earths in their Italian series.
Great article. I didn’t know about white zinc, I have just bought two tubes. I like Michael Harding, but I also use Maimeri Puro.
I love using maimeri puro. It’s soft and a lot like Rembrandt, but I think better pigment load and they have great earth colors.
I started to paint a week ago, but did my research for about a month before I started. The part where you say this is the Gucci of paints, or something like that, but boy, all of the paints you named are really expensive. I can never understand how two ounces of paint with a tiny, tiny amount of pigment cost anywhere from $10. to $25.00. People may want a hobby, but it may turn into something more, which means their old work is relatively useless (if they use inferior paints). I don’t know many other hobbies where the quality of your equipment means so much, maybe golf. These 2oz paints should be all pretty much two types, 1)children and kids party and schools and 2) adults at art classes or hobbies or people that want a career. It looks like I am going to have to pay, most likely, $25.00 to $40.00 a month on paints and things to paint on, and that is the sheer minimum.
Question: Is there anyway to have quality things (I always like to have quality when I work) without spending $200.00 a month on painting???
And don’t say the obvious Joke (give up painting) lol.
Thanks for reading
Hi James, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. There are quite a few options for keeping costs down. For obvious starters you can paint smaller pictures. Less square inches equals less paint. You can also paint thinly. I paint super thinly such that when the painting is done you can still see the texture of the canvas. It actually takes me a long time to go through a 2oz tube (I buy 5 oz tubes of white however since I use white more than anything). Some colours that I use infrequently can last me a couple of years even. You can use a few drops of a simple medium like 50:50 linseed oil:mineral spirits (which is probably the cheapest medium you can make too) to help spread the paint thinly. If you like to really knife the paint on thick then of course this isn’t going to help you. In this instance though you could add a medium like Gamblin’s Cold Wax Medium to add more body to the paint. If you live in the US you can wait for a sale at Dick Blick or Utrecht and buy their house brand artist paints. They are probably your best bang for the buck, especially if you can get 25% off and free shipping (they have these sales at least every month it seems). If you are just beginning then I wouldn’t worry about the longevity of your works all that much. No one is born a painting genius. You’ll probably make a ton of bad paintings for the first couple years so if they eventually fall apart it isn’t a big deal. In fact a lot of artists throw out or disavow early work they don’t like to try and make it seem like they were born geniuses (Gerhard Richter is an example here). If you really wanted to use a student grade paint to save money then I would recommend Gamblin’s 1980 paint. They use about half the amount of pigment compared to their artists colour and then extend the rest with marble dust. So you’ll get less tinting power and opacity, but you will save on price. You don’t need to buy a ton of different colours. You could get by totally fine with a limited palette of 5-7 colours. Finally, don’t be wasteful with your materials. I’m sure you’ve seen in videos how artists lay out piles of all their different colours on their palettes. That is certainly one way to do it but I’ve never done this. I only squeeze out what I need. If you need more, then squeeze out more. I hope this helps. -Jeff
If Ralph Mayer did reviews of specific oils, it probably would not have been any more insightful than your excellent critiques. Thank you for posting them..
Thanks Andrew! I’m glad you liked it.
I like very much the way you are not pedantic, as so many art “teachers” are. Everyone else is wrong but them!
Oil paints I am using so far: Wintons…not great, but not bad. Winsor and Newton Professional. I like their choices and well rounded types of colors. I am getting some LeFranc and Bourgeois as well. I like the consistency of both. I paint very thinly. I’m getting some M.Grahams. And some alkyds. I always use a medium. I like smoothness and ease of handling…any paints too stiff, they get medium added. And I will be getting some Williamsburg samples. I’ll let you know how the new additions work…
Cool, ya let me know what you think!
You did not mention Holbein. Any comments? I love the softer texture of M. Graham, but you’ve scared me a little about the less durable film of walnut oil.
I’ve only ever used one tube of Holbein so I can’t say too much about them. You can gain some valuable insight from their website however. For instance if you look at the MSDS sheets you’ll notice that they add driers to some of their colours. They try to get a uniform drying time and grind across the line of paints. I guess this would be valuable for certain people who don’t want to have to learn about each different colour but I think there are more advantages to just learning about the individual natures of pigments so you can exploit each of their unique properties. A small addition of drier wouldn’t be the end of the world, though I certainly wouldn’t call it “best practice” either. A large addition of drier is really not a good thing however.
I wouldn’t get too hung up about the less durable film of walnut oil. Yes, it is a little bit less durable than linseed oil, but in the end all oil paintings are going to age, crack and fall apart, no matter how carefully they are put together. You need to decide what is most important to you. Walnut oil has certain advantages, such as a juicier feel under the brush and slightly less tendency to yellow. Maybe those things are worth the trade off for you. This is one of the reasons I really like Blue Ridge. They use a blend of linseed and walnut so you get a bit of benefit of both. Think about what is going to work for your paintings. Perhaps using safflower oil in a pale blue sky might be the right option when thinking long term because the colour is more important to retain (rather than turning greenish from yellowing oil) than having it not crack.
Using M Graham paints is certainly not a reckless choice. The most important thing you can do if you care about longevity is just paint on a rigid support. Golden Paints has a ton of great articles in their “Just Paint” section that can give you more info on that. Hope this helps! Jeff
I use the oils of Leroux and I am very satisfied with their quality
What do you think about the technique of doing an underpainting in acrylic? It has the benefit of having 1st layer dry quickly, plus gives depth (not thickness) to painting if you let some of the acrylic come through. I let acrylic dry and cover it with thin coat of walnut oil, then finish the painting with oils.
Winton paint is definitely student grade. Would not recommend! Winsor & Newton is much better. I’ve also had good results with Sennilier – all colors. I’ve also used Gamblin, M. Graham, and Grumbacher with good results. I’ve only painting a few years, so I can’t speak as to the longevity of these brands. I also have several tubes of Holbein. Those are fine too.
What do you think about Richeson (Shiva series)? They’re new at local art store.
For folks who live in North Carolina, check out Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff. Despite the name, they have everything from student grade to “Gucci” grade – paint over $100 per tube – plus the folks who work there are all artist who can help novices. They also have a website.
For new artists, Michael’s and A.C. Moore frequently have sales on canvasses, including 2″ gallery wrapped. They are not portrait smooth, but tooth is fine to work with. Recently, Michael’s had 70% off all sizes, and some folks (teachers, veterans, etc.) can get another 15%. Both also send coupons ($10, 20, 30 off) for spending certain amounts. They can be used as cash on future purchases.
Hi Sally, thanks for the comment. I’ve done quite a few paintings using an acrylic underpainting. The only things you need to watch out for are to make sure you aren’t painting too thickly, and if possible the surface should be fairly matte. You can achieve the matteness by adding a bit of water to the paint or by using a matte medium. I wouldn’t bother with the coat of walnut oil afterwards. At best it is unnecessary, at worst it could cause problems. I haven’t tried the Richeson oils so I can’t really comment on them. Thanks for the recommendations! J
I have sometimes used more than 1 coat of acrylic, but I sand it down between coats and before the oil layer. What problems can the walnut oil cause? I got that from one of the PBS artists. I’m still a beginner, so I’m taking tips from everyone.
That should be fine if you are sanding the acrylic. As long as you don’t build up impasto you’ll be good to go. The problem with using straight up walnut oil is that you are breaking the fat-over-lean rule. If you haven’t heard of this basically it is that in order to avoid cracking and delimitation you should try to have more oil in each successive layer you apply. By applying straight walnut oil first you are putting the most oily layer possible first. Subsequent layers will not have as much tooth to grip on to due to the oils slickness and also it will dry slower than the layers you put on above leading to cracking down the line. This is something you won’t notice right away. Oil paint continues to oxidize (dry) long after it is dry to the touch. Here is a great article from the Golden Paints magazine called Just Paint. It is on using acrylics and oils together: http://www.justpaint.org/using-oils-with-acrylics/
They have tons of great articles that I would suggest reading. Also I would recommend this site that is chock full of amazing information: https://www.artcons.udel.edu/mitra/resources
Read their FAQ and myths section. So good. Cheers, J
Wow! There is a lot of information over there! I am so glad that I just happened on your webpage. Thank you very much!
Did you do a review on Grumbacher? Just FYI – Michael’s seems to be doing a close-out on the line, and they’re all 40% off. Teachers & vets get another 15%. I’ve had good results with Grumbacher.
Like you, I have a variety of brands. Just counted 97 tubes – and that’s just the oil paint. One of your readers wanted to know how to start inexpensively. I’d say to get a basic palette of paints, a good easel, some good brushes, linseed oil and Gamsol, and a couple of canvasses. You can buy additional paint one or two tubes at a time. You can also look for sales. Remember that the hobby stores offer 40% or 50% off coupons just about every week. They have the student quality paint (Winton), but also the better quality (under lock and key). Can get rather expensive… but think of what you’re not spending money on if you’re painting. 🙂
Also… here’s a video for cleaning brushes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCz4nh2Nb_8
I went through a lot of brushes before I found this method. i’m sure there are other methods that work but this one works for me. You can find the silicoil jars on Amazon. https://smile.amazon.com/Winsor-Newton-Silicoil-Brush-Cleaning/dp/B0027ACEI2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1489961965&sr=8-1&keywords=silicoil (Don’t get the Mona Lisa one.) I found the large metal one at Michael’s. Again, buy just one thing at a time at Michael’s or A.C. Moore to get it 1/2 price. Hobby stores frequently have 1/2 price canvasses.
Thanks for the tips Sally. I tend to buy almost all of my art supplies online since most places have free shipping and the prices are way better than I can get locally. The Michaels we have here is so overpriced that getting 40% off only makes the price on par with what I can get ordering from somewhere in Toronto. No, I haven’t used any Grumbacher paint so I can’t comment on their product. J
One other hint (this does save $$$)
This has a good seal and will keep paint wet for a few days (more or less depending on paint itself).
Fits these sheets perfectly!
[…] Here is another good source of information about different paints. I hope Jeff doesn’t mind the link… https://jeffchester.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/24/ […]
I’ve noticed no one has mentioned Bob Ross oil colors; those are what I try to stay with, tried Windsor n Newton; didn’t much care for them.
Any thoughts on Bob Ross oils?
Sorry, I haven’t tried them so I can’t really say.
Could one use student grade white paint ? Im on a budget and use a limited palette mostly Michael Harding paints from lower series but getting a big tube of white is costly from most artist grade manufacturers so could i get a way with using student grade white ?
Like most things when it comes to choosing paint: It depends. Depends on how you paint, the effects you are trying to create, how much you care about the longevity of your work etc etc. Personally, having a quality white is way too important for me to skimp on. Student grade whites will yellow more over time and won’t have the opacity of an artist grade colour. Titanium White is one of the cheapest colours you can buy. At Dick Blick a 150 ml tube of Gamblin Titanium White is only 16 bucks, much less than a night out at the movies or a few beers at the bar. You can also get a 32oz can for $75. You have to put the money up front but that is equal to getting 6 x 150mL tubes for $75 or only $12.50 each. How important are your paintings to you? If they are important and you want to be the best artist you can be and want your work to stand the test of time then you just have to buy artist grade whites. Work an extra shift, scrimp on other non-art indulgences, whatever, just find a way to make the money available. If it is a hobby you only do sometimes and you don’t really care too much then sure use a student grade paint.
Wondering; I’ve switched to acrylic for safety and fume factor after being ill ten years ago. I miss the ‘juicy oils’ though. Your thoughts on this? I’d be interested in finding out about ranges, mediums and brands. In relation to safety factors.
Oil paint itself is not dangerous, it is just the solvents that pose a problem. You can certainly paint and clean up without them. Gamblin has two solvent free mediums for the actual painting process and you can clean your brushes with paper towel, some oil and soap and water afterwards. It is possible. Check out Gamblin’s website for more details on that.
Hi Chess,thank you very much for your excellent article and your sharing.Painting and drawing is my passion,from very early age.I started painting in oil about 6 years ago. I have been using student grade colors,Winton Newton,because of habit and because they are easily availible locally. But they are frustrating in many ways of course..I decided to invest in good quality artist colors. After I read your article I understand that this is possible without jumping to the most expensive. I live in Israel and I intend to order online either from the UK or US.or from any other supplier that ship internationally,maybe Germany. Art materials is very expensive here.I would like a brand that comes easily from the tube,ready to use.So that the mixing with the medium doesnt interfere with the creative process:)Sometimes I paint in layers,sometimes impasto,very quickly and expressively.I also draw a lot with a round brush. I love the earth colors and vibrant vibrant colors as well.Two more questions:Today I dilute with a mixture of linsed oil and wood terp,1\3. What is your recommendation concerning good work habit and health issue as well?Second,why do you mix titanium lead with titanium? The titanium leadis safe to use?Thanks a lot in advance.Marianne
Hi Marianne, Thanks for checking out my blog! Anytime you use paint thinners (turpentine, or mineral spirits, odorless mineral spirits, eco-solvents etc) you will need to make sure you have adequate ventilation. Ideally you should use the least harmful spirits you can afford (Gamsol by Gamblin is very good) but even then you need air exchange in the room you are working in. Having an exhaust fan or opening windows is always a good idea.
As for Lead White, I have stopped using it recently. What I like about it is that it makes a tough paint film that will hold up well over time. What I don’t like about it is that if you want to use it you need to take safety precautions. This means you should never sand paint layers that contain lead as the dust will be toxic. As well you should wear gloves when painting and avoid contact with your body and wash up carefully afterwards. I found this was hard for me to follow all the time so I stopped using it and just use straight Titanium White now. You can use Lead safely, you just have to be careful so that you are ingesting any of it by accident.
Hi there – I know that this is a quite old blog – but wondered if you might be able to help with a query. My partner has always used Winsor and Newton Transparent White in his work, but has recently run out, and found that it’s been discontinued. I don’t suppose you’d be able to suggest a reliable alternative? He tried a Royal Talens Rembrandt Transparent White oil colour, but it had a completely different effect. He’s now thinking of trying the Gamblin 1980 transparent white, but is concerned he’s in danger of throwing good money after bad with all the different brands…
If you’re able to give any tips, we’d be so grateful!
With many thanks
I don’t have any experience with transparent whites so my advice would only be a guess. I think a lot has to do with what he is trying to accomplish with the transparent white. Does he just want a low powered white for mixing or is this being used for scumbling? I think Gamblin 1980 would be a decent choice as they list it as being made with only PW6 and marble dust. Both those ingredients are stable and long lasting.