Naturally Cleaned Oils: An Important History

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“The best painters seem to have left nothing undone
to render oils as colorless as possible before they were used”
– Sir Charles Eastlake (1793-1865), President of the Royal Academy

IMPORTANCE OF CLEANING OIL

Since the Renaissance, artists have sought superior, pale oils that will dry fast and not yellow.

Most oils sold to artists today are either uncleaned containing a large amount of fat, mucilage and unnecessary discoloration; or are cleaned using chemicals and heat.

HOW OILS WERE CLEANED HISTORICALLY

Historically cleaning oils for the use of painting had several steps.

First, a pure cold-pressed oil was used rather than one extracted by heat or chemicals ensuring better acidity and less impurities. Less oil is extracted when it is cold pressed, but it is a superior oil.

Second, the oil was washed with water, separating out the mucilage and fat which would normally make the oil less transparent and impede the drying.

Third, the oil was filtered with various natural minerals removing impurities which cause the oil, particularly linseed oil, to appear yellow.

 Oil is sensitive to sun light and will darken when not exposed.  The same is true for dried oil paintings which is why historically it was reported that some painters and owners would bring their paintings out in the sun to “brighten”. Some of the yellowing is caused by impurities in the oil that can be removed by cleaning and purifying the oil.

Overall the cleaning of the oil can take approximately 2 months, and result in 1/3 of the oil being lost during the process.

Lavender Spike Oil: Safer Natural Historic Alternative to Turpentine

Lavender Spike Oil: Safer Natural Historic Alternative to Turpentine

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WHAT IS LAVENDER SPIKE OIL ESSENCE?

Lavender Spike Oil Essence is a historically documented essential oil distilled from a special variety of lavender, often referred to as Oil of Spike Lavender or Essence d’Aspic.

Used as an oil painting solvent, it evaporates and is strong enough to fully dissolve resins, mix with paints, and be used in mediums.

Its distinctive lavender scent is non-toxic to breathe, and it does not cause chronic health effects such as those associated with the inhalation of fumes from Turpentine or Petroleum Mineral Spirits.

Besides its use in oil painting, it is also used for perfumes, soaps, aromatherapy and other holistic medicinal practices.

HOW IS IT USED?

Lavender Spike Oil Essence is used in the same way as Turpentine. Both are oil painting solvents that can thin oil paints and mediums, and make varnishes like damar.

WHAT IS THE ADVANTAGE OF USING IT?

Lavender Spike Oil Essence works as well or better than Turpentine and Odorless Mineral Spirits in oil painting, providing great control, adhesion and ability to thin the paint without destroying its body.

It is not overly abrasive or streaky, and evaporates at a similar rate as turpentine.

Unlike other oil painting solvents our Lavender solvent is non toxic to breathe.


REFERENCES

Medical News Today
Organic Facts.Net
Aliikula Lavender
Netherfield
AromaWeb
Art Tree House (.pdf)
Art Tree House on Spike Oil
Art Tree House References


HISTORY OF LAVENDER SPIKE OIL

Art Tree House History of Spike Oil

Fat Over Lean Explained

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“Fat Over Lean” means to apply a paint layer rich in oil (a fat) over a layer with less oil (a lean) layer on a painting. It does NOT refer to paint thickness.

This simple principle is fundamental to controlling the paint adhesion, drying time and glossiness.

HOW DO YOU PAINT FAT OVER LEAN?

To paint Fat over Lean, use less oil to begin with, and more oil and/or varnish on successive painting days.

1. Lean means non-oily, matte, porous.

2. Fat means oily, sticky, shiny, non-porous.

3. To make a medium or paint leaner, dilute it with a solvent like Lavender Spike Oil Essence.

4. To make a medium or paint fatter, add more Linseed Oil to give it more oil content, or a varnish/balsam like Damar varnish (which will also make it stickier, shinier and dry faster)

WHAT PROBLEMS OCCUR IF YOU DO NOT PAINT FAT OVER LEAN?

Serious archival issues can be caused by not painting Fat over Lean.

When Artists wonder why one layer of paint won’t stick to another, why a fresh layer of paint is ripping off the layer below, why the paint did not dry, dried too matte or too glossy: these are all Fat over Lean issues.

The “Fat over Lean” principle is so fundamental to oil painting that its importance cannot be overstated; yet a basic practical understanding of it by painters is very rare nowadays.

OTHER FACTORS TO CONSIDER

The quality, absorbency and texture of the painting surface is probably the most important element in painting materials as far as determining drying time, adhesion, archival quality and cracking. It has a lot to do with how Fat over Lean will work, as the first layer of paint needs to be fatter than the surface ground in order to adhere properly.

An artist’s understanding of the materials is another important element of the craft of painting. Having better materials is more archival, makes for more options and possibilities, and a greater understanding overall of what one is doing.

A (Very) Short History of Oil Painting

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In the Renaissance, oil painting developed as an evolution of tempera painting, the dominant form of painting for previous centuries.

Tempera paint is made from egg (or egg yolk) mixed with pigment and diluted with water.  While incredibly lasting, Tempera has many drawbacks.  It is very absorbent and has a porous surface which is easily stained.  Its matte appearance does not show a large range of dark and rich values.  When applied to a surface it dries almost immediately, preventing the blending of colors.  And, it dries to a hard brittle surface that is not flexible, so therefore must be painted on stiff solid wood panels. Painting large works required joining multiple panels together that were very heavy and difficult to transport.

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During the Renaissance, painters started applying oil over tempera paintings to protect the porous surfaces. The addition of this top coat created a shinier surface with darker and richer effects that offered more depth and atmosphere. The effect was so positive that painters started to experiment with oils, eventually leading to the creation of oil paints.

Oil paint is a paste made from pigment mixed with a drying oil, which when exposed to air, dries to form a flexible solid film. Historically, the drying oils used were Linseed (Flaxseed), Walnut and later Poppy. Further experimentation with oil paint lead to additives to control drying times, texture, and other effects.

One of the chief advantages of oil paints is the flexible film, allowing painters to use lightweight flexible stretched canvas. Linen was traditionally the fabric used to make canvas (made from the same plant who’s seeds are pressed to make Linseed oil). Stretched canvas became preferable to wood panels which were: hard to make, warped easily, and were heavy to transport.

As a result oil painting became the dominant painting art medium we know today.