Learn how-to make oil paint with H.Blyth & Co
With all the fantastic ranges of oil paint ready in tubes, learning to make paint by hand may seem like an unnecessary use of time and effort. However with the right ingredients and some basic equipment, making good quality oil paint is actually a much easier process than most people imagine.
There is a satisfaction that comes from making something from scratch - like growing your own vegetables or baking a cake - but this is not the only reason why paint making can be rewarding. Oil paint in its basic form is just pigment ground into oil, some manufacturers put fillers and additives into their paint to make each colour in the range act in a uniform way. These additives can change the consistency, drying time and handling qualities of the paint and as a side effect the vibrancy and individual character of the pigments can become subdued. Experimenting with paint making gives you control over the ingredients in your paint, it is also the best way to learn about the history of pigments and their unique qualities.
Making paint by hand gives you access to the huge number of fantastic pigments available today, it is relatively simple, takes little time to learn and it can save you money!
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To start making oil colour you will need some basic equipment, some of which you may already have:
Here at H.Blyth&Co. we stock Cornelissen artist’s quality pigments. They supply a great range including colours used since ancient Egypt up to more modern synthetic pigments developed in the 1950’s. I would recommend starting with natural earth pigments, they are economical, easy to handle and essential in most painting palettes.
The most common oil used in paint making today is linseed. There are different grades of linseed oil available, for paint making it is recommended to use ‘cold pressed’ as it is the most stable and has the best handling qualities. Artists refined linseed oil is the most commonly available and can be made into great paint. Other oils such as walnut, safflower and poppy can also be used and they have specific properties that can be taken advantage of if your interest in paint making becomes more advanced!
Straight Palette Knife
Palette knives are used to mix the pigment and oil into a paste. It is best to use a straight palette knife, the type like a flexible rounded blade.
The muller is used to grind the paint paste to a beautifully even consistency. It is a rounded blob of glass with a comfortable handle and a flat, slightly abrasive bottom.
The best surface to make your paint on is a heavy glass slab with a slightly abrasive texture but any clean flat surface can be used to begin with. Make sure it is not porous, it can be easily cleaned and it is stable and well supported. I make my paint on a glass table top that I also use as my painting palette.
Empty paint tubes
Before the invention of the metal tube, artists had to make their paint before each session. Today empty tubes are supplied so you can make your paint in batches and keep it stored, how very convenient!
Oil painting is a gloriously messy business, when making oil paint it is easy to get carried away and let it get it out of control. Some pigments and materials used in oil paint can be toxic so it is best practice to keep yourself and your working area as clean as possible. Invest in an appropriate dust mask and some disposable gloves to keep yourself protected. Keep cloth rags or paper towels near to hand and you will also need some solvent to clean your equipment once finished. White spirit will do the job but I would recommend getting an odourless spirit or a something more pleasant to use like Zest-it.
Once you have your working space ready and all your equipment and materials to hand the first step is to combine the pigment and oil into a paste. To do this make a small mound of pigment onto your work surface and form a crater in the middle with the tip of your palette knife. Into this pour a little pool of oil and begin to fold the dry pigment into the oil with your palette knife. The aim is to use just enough oil to bring the mixture together into a stiff paste. Different pigments require different amounts of oil so add it in small amounts so you don’t get a runny, uncontrollable puddle!
Once you have a stiff paste it is ready to mill with the glass muller. This process makes the paint smooth and buttery, making sure each pigment particle is coated in oil. It is best to mill the paint a little at a time to stop the process getting too messy. Put a lump of the paint paste into the middle of your work surface and start to work it with the muller using a circular motion, it is not necessary to use a lot of force. Once the paint is spread across the surface use your palette knife to collect the paint together off the slab and the sides of the muller, repeating the process until the paint is smooth and free of clumps of pigment. If the paint becomes too runny add a little more dry pigment and continue to mill it until you have paint with a good thick consistency.
The finished paint can be used straight away or transferred to a paint tube using your palette knife. Push the paint into the open end of the tube down towards the screw cap, squeeze and tap the paint down to make sure there are no air gaps. Once the tube is three quarters full the open end can be flattened and folded shut using a palette knife to make a crease.
Some experience with the basics of paint making will introduce you to a world of possibilities and ways to develop your method. With a little research and experimentation the subtleties of each pigment and the appropriate uses of different oils and additives can be uncovered. Far from being a laborious distraction, paint making can be a fantastic creative tool and offer a more significant engagement with your materials.