How to make Oil Paint

Here's a guide (and product list) on how to make oil paint. Making oil paint is relatively easy, once you know the tricks. But the consistency is very important (paint should be lean, then you can add medium later). It takes some time and a small investment to buy a glass muller, but in the end, it's cheaper than other paints, especially when you favor single-pigmented paints (with good pigments in it). And more authentic - factory paints contain all kinds of fillers, equalizing the pigment character, while home-made oil paint is unequivaled in color strength. On the bottom you'll find info on how to get paint in a tube.

If you'd still rather skip the work: Check here for an economy-quality pick of ready-made oil paint colors

Ingredients: oils

For making oil paint, you need alkali-refined linseed oil and/or poppy oil.

  • Gamblin has an economy Refined Linseed Oil. But the Winsor and newton 's linseed oil ( find it here on this page)is priced almost the same. W&N sells bigger packages (up to 1 liter), which is cheaper in the end.
  • For white and blue colors, best take Gamblin Poppy Oil, eventually mixed with some linseed oil. Poppy oil doesn't yellow, but linseed oil really has the best adhering and drying capacities, but the . A mixture of everything might be best.

Don't take polymerized oil, it's too fat, only use it in painting mediums. The yellowing of linseed oil isn't so bad - it only happens in the dark. Linseed-oil paint goes clear again in the sun all by itself, also when the paint is already dry (so, there's little use in buying bleached linseed oil). The only trouble with light is, that pigments are not too fond of it (it makes them fade), so poppy oil might be a good addition.

Pigments for making oil paint

Gamblin Artist's Colors Dry Pigments, Whiting

Check here to find Gamblin pigments

Here are some tips for suitable pigments (for a good price). Gamblin is cheaper, Sennelier is more refined.

These I'd pick from the Gamblin pigments - selected on authenticity of material (no 'hue' or imitation):

  • Titanium white - the best hiding white
  • Mars black - Iron oxyde is the most stable black.
  • yellow ochre - earth yellow, medium hide
  • burnt umber - warm dark brown, good hide
  • raw umber - cool dark brown, good hide
  • burnt siena - warm chestnut, a bit transparent
  • chrome oxyde green - earthy leaf-grean. Stable and well-hiding.
  • ultramarine blue - a strong, stable and warm blue
  • manganese violet - stable and quick-drying
  • cadmium red - medium red with a strong hide

Ochre, umber and siena all are earth pigments - simple and stable like kitchen salt. For these, Gamblin does fine.

Additional and more refined pigments

The basic above list can be completed with some Sennelier pigments. I'll recommend:

  • real green earth - semi-transparent and slow drying, but unmissable for hazy far away fantasy landscapes. I couldn't do without it!
  • cadmium lemon - utterly strong hide and color, cold yellow.
  • alizarine scarlet lake - deep, deep dark carmine red, semi-transparent. Classic.
  • cerulean blue - the real stuff is expensive, so we might - only this time - take the 'hue' (imitation). This shade is very handy for skies.
  • Prussian blue - very stable as well. Strange color - it's very dark, but colder than ultramarine. Mixed with ultramarine it's good for skies as well.

All cadmiums can be expected to have a very strong hide. The pigments not mentioned above, I haven't tried yet, but Cobalt is known for its strong hide (and good drying capacities) as well. All pigments can be ground in water as well, to use in egg tempera or caseine underpaintings.

How to make oil paint - in short.

You need the right kind of oil, pigments, and above all: denatured alcohol, to help the oil envelop every pigment particle. And you need time. You mix an appropriate amount of pigment and oil (better too much pigment, than too much oil), add alcohol, and grind for twenty minutes or longer. Your paint should be as thick as toothpaste. After grinding, you wrap the paste in plastic household foil, and let it rest for a night. The next day, the consistency might have changed. If the paint got thinner, add pigments and grind again (I haven't seen paint going thicker - but if it does, it needs more oil). And if it's still toothpaste, it can be put in a tube.

The right thickness is important - the paint should be lean (as little oil as possible) so you can add medium later. But too little oil makes a brittle paint film.
If you dab the paint with a palette knife, you should be able to pull up a long tip that keeps standing firm. Only the thinnest part of the tip may bend over, but when the 'mountain' of paint itself bends or falls over, the paint is too fat (add pigment).

Tools you need for making oil paint

First of all, you need a slate of marble. A sheet of glass will do too (minimum 10 x 10 inch), try to get matte sanded glass and use the matte side. But marble works best (for me, at least). You may find some in the better kitchen stores (I found one on an online second hand store). Then, two palette knives and a glass muller (click on the image, I'd recommend the medium one). Further, lots of cleaning cloths, protective gloves and a dust-mask.

Getting started

Make a little heap of dry pigment, make a hole in the middle, and pour in a little oil. Also give in some denatured alcohol, and work everything together with a palette knife (two palette knives are handy). You'll get a seemingly good paste, but on a microscopical level, there are still dry cluttered particles. To really get the oil around every particle, you need to grind with a glass muller (on a marble slate, available in some kitchen stores). Take about half an hour for that. While grinding, the alcohol evaporates (and in time you see the true thickness of your paint). It should be fairly stiff, like toothpaste (scroll up).

The oil crawls around the particles by itself too, if you let the project rest overnight. Coming back the next day, you'll see the true thickness of your paint. If you let it rest: cover it up well with plastic foil, put the foil directly on the paint itself without inclucing air bubbles. Oil paint dries in contact with oxygen).

How to make oil paint - some extra tips and tricks

Funny things can happen - when the pigment is ground too fine, it will refuse to go into the oils (or water). Denatured alcohol will help like magic, also when when you grind pigments in water. You also might want to do the cleaning with alcohol (and disposable tissues). Cloths soaked in linseed oil can develop much heat when put in a bin - up to a point where it starts burning. Best hang them outside.

About safety: better wear a dustmask - dust shouldn't be inhaled. Most pigments are non-toxic, only mangane, cadmium and cobalt can sometimes cause skin irritation (some develop a sensitivity to it).

Getting the paint in a tube

Empty paint tubes can be ordered here at Blick's, but you also might want to check your local pharmacy. Here you also get denatured alcohol. Although sometimes, pharmacy tubes have a coating inside, and I'm not sure if the paint might react to that (probably not, but you never know).

The best way is, to first shape the paint into a cilinder, and roll it in a sheet of disposable palette paper (check here - Blick Disposable Palette Pads). I've used baking paper, but it tears easily. The cilinder should be just a little thinner than the tube itself. Important: make sure there's no air bubbles in the paint, it will make the oil come out of the paint.

Shove the paint cilinder in the tube, dab the tube on the table (upside down), and check if it reaches the front (mouth opening). Don't forget to close it again. After that, knead the paint further to the front, and slowly pull out the paper. Repeat this, and bit by bit you'll take out the paper and leave the paint in the tube. Close the back of the tube by folding it, pinch it with some pliers, and you're done.

It's a lot of work and maybe not so suitable for bulk-use, but making your own oil paint really gives you a clue of what real paint should look like. You really get to know the nature of the pigment, because every pigment is different in its texture, it's opaqueness and hue. And for some pigments it's actually cheaper to make the paint yourself - real green earth is only available in the expensive brands.

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