Friday, July 29, 2016

Learning the Hard Way pt.2

This is not good. 30 minutes into the painting session, I had to stop and vacate the area. I should have known, well, I knew it was a big trouble from the moment I opened the cap of my new paint thinner. But somehow I ignored all the signs for the purpose of experiment.

I could feel my throat swelling and starting to block the airway, and I could hear my braincells dying. (not really). The windows on my left were open and a fan was blowing air towards the windows about 6 feet away. My easel, palette, and the solvent cup was situated between the fan and the windows as usual.

Below is the updated list of solvents that I have used so far to thin oil paint, from harsh to mild:
artist-grade turpentine
Xtra-Mild Citrus Thinner
tie: Gamsol & Neutral Thin
(*this list is not based on any scientific data, and I have nothing to do with any of the manufacturers.)

The Citrus Thinner was the one I tried earlier today, and I still can't feel my throat when swallowing food or drinks. Have you painted with solvent when you have a bad cold with sore throat? It kinda feels like that. But again, it's not the thinner's fault, I'm just the unlucky one.

this smells like turpentine mixed with citrus oil.
not great for upper-respiratory ailment sufferers.

I love orange. I love citrus oil. But we were just not meant to be together, Xtra-Mild.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Learning the Hard Way pt.1

It's been a while since I last painted with traditional oil paint with solvent.

About 10 months ago I was given a nice studio space, and took a leap into studio painting. Almost immediately I started having horrendous headaches accompanied by sore throat, stuffy nose, and eye irritation that lasted for 4-5 months, and eventually, I even developed a mild depression. I thought I was having a bad sinus infection the whole time. It turned out that I was having a severe reaction to the solvent, although (I thought) the studio was well-ventilated. It was a total surprise because I had been using the same solvent (Gamsol) for more than 5 years at that point, and yeah, I've had headaches and sore throats in the past when I painted indoors for 8 straight hours in well-ventilated room dozens of times. But the symptoms used to go away the next day. This time around, I was in the very, very dark place for a long time.

I stopped using oil paint all together in the studio because it was the first semester of my MFA program where I didn't have time or energy to explore the alternatives. Plus I was painting monochromatic landscapes in black anyway, so I switched to sumi ink for the rest of the year.

But the funny thing is that the residual effect lasted about 2 months after I stopped using the damn thing. Serious health hazard.

Don't get me wrong though: I'm not advocating for a total solvent industry overhaul. Some painters have no problem whatsoever inhaling damar-linseed-turp cocktail everyday with just an open window. I happen to be the unfortunate one. I remember wondering why I couldn't stop crying in my beginning oil classes 8 years ago, which was my first encounter with paint thinner.

Now the school is off for the summer, and I've been experimenting with water soluble oil paints, as well as regular oil paints with various mediums such as walnut oil, safflower oil, and Gamblin's Galkyd Gel and Solvent-Free Gel / Fluid.

First, the water soluble oil paints:
You can clean your brushes with soap and water after you're done painting. That's a plus. But to thin the paint, water should be avoided or you'd end up with paint mixtures a couple of shades lighter on your palette. It's kinda like acrylics: they dry darker on your painting surface.  And like acrylics, the paint gets sticky pretty quickly on your palette and on your canvas, but unlike acrylics, not dry enough for the next layer.
W&N Artisan is the most stiff paint out of the tube, I think. Thinned with water, it turns extremely tacky and difficult to manipulate. I heard that they are meant to be used with their own painting mediums and not with water. All water mixable oils seem to be that way, too.
Cobra may be the most fluid - like buttah. So Cobra could be used straight out of the tube without thinning. They also sell Cobra Painting Medium in a tube which is basically Cobra paint without pigment, and Glazing Medium which is basically an oil medium with honey-like consistency. The problem with those mediums is that they slow down the already slow-drying Cobra paints. Sure, with Painting Medium the paint becomes a bit transparent, and with the Glazing Medium, a lot transparent and runny: but the paint doesn't become "thin" as I'd like my first layer to be. And there is no way I'm using Glazing Medium on my first layer because - remember 'fat over lean'? And since I paint in layers in alla prima pretty much, I can't sit for a week to watch the first layer to dry.

Cobra Painting Medium and Glazing Medium

Second, the painting medium black hole:
I had been avoiding any mediums because I was (and still am to a certain degree) a plein air painter, and there is a limited space in my backpack. But I went wild in a local art store the other day and got everything I was interested in using, both with water soluble and traditional oil paints.
Galkyd Gel works really well with Cobra, since the alkyd resin speeds up drying time. The gel makes oil colors a bit transparent & spreadable, therefore great for first layer, but not so great for respiratory system. It is too fast-drying for me to use with regular oil paints.
Walnut/safflower oils don't smell, affect my throat or give me headaches. But they are oils with consistency of Cobra Glazing Medium, and slooooow drying: definitely not for the first layer or alla prima painting.
Solvent-Free Gel and Fluid are great in that they are made, you guessed it, without any solvents, and speeds up drying time a tiny bit. Solvent-Free Gel is similar to Galkyd Gel, but not as fast drying as Galkyd Gel. The synthetic alkyd doesn't give me any headaches and I can paint all day with this stuff with windows closed. Same with the Fluid, and they are clearly the winners - although they make your painting glossy. Oh and they don't "thin" the paint at all, so I ended up with glossy impasto everywhere.   You could add Cold Wax Medium to counter that glossiness, but that will slow down the drying... A black hole. Can't win. Still, you could coat the finished painting with matte varnish so the glossiness may not be a big deal.

Gamblin Galkyd Gel

Gamblin Solvent-Free Gel

Gamblin Solvent-Free Fluid

I think that Solvent-Free Gel / Fluid with either water soluble oils or traditional oils would be the healthiest choice, and they don't change the original drying time of oil paints too much.
Except, they still don't thin the paint!!!!!

Here's a list of solvents that I have used in chronological order (from harsh to mild):

artist-grade turpentine
Gamsol (a.k.a. Odorless Mineral Spirits)
Neutral Thin

I gave Neutral Thin a try for a week recently. I was hoping that Neutral Thin would be my savior, since it was reviewed as a teeny bit milder than Gamsol (like, 0.002%). Neutral Thin worked well for thinning paint and cleaning the brushes, exactly like Gamsol. And exactly like Gamsol, I developed a headache and sore throat halfway into the 3-hour painting session. Yes I had a huge open window on the left side of me, and a fan on the right, blowing air towards the window across myself and the solvent.

Somebody help me...

underpainting with thinned oil paint

additional layers using less thinner

After the Rain in Black Pearl, New Orleans
oil on canvas, 24"x18"

Eco-House, the manufacturer of Neutral Thin, also sells a citrus-based thinner called Extra Mild Citrus Thinner. It's a mineral-oil based thinner with citrus peel oil, and according to their website it is 100% volatile, meaning it doesn't leave any residues after it's dry. Most citrus-based thinners are known to leave residues on your painting surfaces, so that's a plus. I just bought a small bottle of it and can't wait to try it. The window still has to be open to use this stuff, though.