Walnut Oil Painting Without the Danger of Solvents

Garden Party was done entirely without solvents.  This is oil paint at it's best.
Garden Party was done entirely without solvents. This is oil paint at it's best. | Source

Must Oil Painting Be Difficult?

Oil painting is a wonderful medium which has been made more difficult than it needs to be. It really simply is pure pigments mixed with oil. With most paints (watercolor, acrylic, gouache, etc), the paint can be thinned with the medium it is based with. Acrylics are also thinned or extended with a variety of mediums all made with the base of acrylic polymer emulsion. The world of oil painting can be simplified and brought back to it's non toxic roots. Let me explain.

Today, many oil painters are using turpentine or mineral spirits to thin their paints. I'd be willing to bet you didn't know that oil paints can be thinned with oil. In fact, this was the only way Renaissance Artists used to work. Walnut oil goes back as far as the use of linseed oil in painting and that's at least 1000 years..

Artists still use turpentine and mineral spirits to thin their oil paints. They also mix their paint with a glaze (made up of damar varnish and turpentine). The varnish works beautifully as a top coat, and also works perfectly well as a glaze. However, the smell is really rough on some people. Ask anybody who has painted in oils, odorless mineral spirits are not odorless. The smell of turpentine is enjoyable to some painters and noxious to others. The reason for my switching to walnut oil based paints is simple; I don't like to be bothered with cleaning my brushes with spirits, just one extra unpleasant step and one more thing to do. I simply wipe the excess paint onto a rag and dip the brush into a little walnut oil, work into the brush and wipe clean. At the end of my painting session, I wash my paintbrushes with a mild bar soap, rinse very thoroughly, then dip them in a little more (clean) walnut oil and blot the excess. That's it, it takes about ten minutes and I am ready to go for the next painting session. Any oil is flammable along with turpentine and mineral spirits. If your rag has pure oil paint on it, you can rinse thoroughly and hang to dry. Anything with solvents (turpentine, mineral spirits) on it needs rinsed thoroughly, then put in a metal container.

The painting above is almost seven years old and still looks as bright and vibrant as the day I finished it. This is actually the way an oil painting should look. Not one drop of turpentine or mineral spirits has been used on this painting. Paintings should not have a tinge of yellow on them unless this is what the artist originally intended. Granted, it does take many years for a painting to yellow, but why take the chance?

Glazes are easy with walnut oil based paints. Simply add a little extra walnut oil to the paint and this will naturally thin down the paint to a sheer color. Walnut oil is lighter and is easier to work with than linseed oil, which is much thicker.

Walnut oils do not oxidize anywhere near as quickly as linseed oils. With oxidation comes a slight darkening of the paint film. Over time, this film becomes even darker. What is the point of finding those bright beautiful colors in your painting if they are only going to darken? Why not stack the odds in your favor and use walnut oil based paints? You never know if you are going to be known as the next Monet!

Walnut Oils vs. Traditional Oils

If it is your desire to work simply and cleanly, walnut oil painting may be for you. If you prefer to continue to work in oils with solvents, by all means do so. During the Renaissance, artists did not go around extracting turpentine from pine trees (which is where turpentine comes from). They were simply left with their imagination and their colors. When they combined them with different oils, the two they found worked well were walnut and linseed oils. These Renaissance artists found that they preferred the walnut oils. What they didn't know was that many years later, the paintings made with linseed oil darkened and cracked. To be fair, though the paintings might have cracked because the fat over lean rule was not followed: simply put, this means always keep the leaner layers underneath the thicker layers of paint.

If you are used to making a glaze with a combination of damar and turpentine, this can be used interchangeably with the walnut oils paints. I have tried glazes with just walnut oil and they work beautifully. So, I forgo the turpentine in favor of the walnut oil for thinning. It's not that I think damar crystals and turpentine are a bad thing; they're not in and of themselves. After all, damar and turpentine both are extracted from trees but, the powder residue from the damar crystals can be hard on people with sensitivities or allergies. A note of caution here, turpentine and the less harsh mineral spirits fumes are dangerous without proper ventilation. Make sure your windows are open while working, or do what I prefer, work with walnut oils. You won't regret it!

****** Eco House makes a thinner from food grade ingredients which is not toxic. People seem to be quite happy with this and there are a couple of different grades of this thinner which can be used. The stronger version will dissolve damar varnish. This is another great alternative for the oil painting artist.

This painting was also done with walnut oil paints, but the wood panel was first textured with acrylic gel medium to mimic rain.  Then I painted the picture.
This painting was also done with walnut oil paints, but the wood panel was first textured with acrylic gel medium to mimic rain. Then I painted the picture. | Source

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Comments 28 comments

thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

thoughtfulgirl2 14 months ago from East Coast Author

Hi there, I can't say I have ever tried this. As with anything that has to do with heat and chemicals, takes fire precautions. A way to avoid any potential fire hazards is to dissolve the damar crystals in spike lavender oil which has natural camphor and the lavender will dissolve the crystals in about five days. You can buy it directly from Blick's Art Supplies. Keep me posted on whichever method you choose.

ARTCHEMICAL 14 months ago

I have some damar crystals left over from my encaustic work. I was wondering if I can make a heated glaze medium with just walnut oil and damar crystals. No Turpentine. Just low heat to dissolve the crystals into the oil. I am going to experiment with it but was wondering if anyone had tried it first. My hesitation is that it will be too thick and tacky and hard to manipulate. But the trade off might be a nice thick, clear, luminous coat with no need for gum spirits.

thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

thoughtfulgirl2 15 months ago from East Coast Author

Hello there, k chiappini - yes you can mix alkyds with the walnut oil, alkyds simply speed the drying time enormously which will allow you to work on the painting more often. As a bonus, if you are using the M. Graham alkyd medium it is a non-toxic medium. Happy painting to you and keep me posted on how your paintings turn out!

kchiappini 15 months ago

Just wondering, can I use walnut oil and walnut alkyd in the same painting?

Gloria 2 years ago

So glad to be able to see your paintings and read your thogthus in your new format, which I now have on my bookmark bar. Hope to return to your class when my life is more balanced; soon, I pray. In the meantime, thank you for the gifts you share in your blog. You are appreciated.

thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

thoughtfulgirl2 3 years ago from East Coast Author

I am so glad, art should bring happiness among other emotions. If you do try this technique, good luck to you!

KittHill 3 years ago

The colors are so vibrant. It cheers me up just looking at it.

thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

thoughtfulgirl2 3 years ago from East Coast Author

Why thank-you for pinning this and if you have any other questions, feel free to email me. Good luck with your painting:)

2uesday profile image

2uesday 3 years ago from - on the web, I am 2uesday.

Pinned this so that I can find it again, I was put off oil painting by the lingering smell of the turps. as it made me feel ill. This information for painters who use oils is worth knowing about.

thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

thoughtfulgirl2 3 years ago from East Coast Author

Hi there,

Yes I do sell my work on etsy: http://www.etsy.com/people/CatLeafCreations?ref=si... and I also sell my work on fine art america and redbubble. Links: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/claudia-smaletz... and http://www.redbubble.com/people/creativegirl2

AMFredenburg profile image

AMFredenburg 3 years ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

Do you sell your art on Etsy or someplace else online?

thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

thoughtfulgirl2 3 years ago from East Coast Author

Ah, no reason to give up, try this method (actually the original oil painting method) and let me know how it works out. Thanks, and happy painting to you!

Claudia (thoughtfulgirl2)

AMFredenburg profile image

AMFredenburg 4 years ago from Southwestern New Hampshire

This is wonderful! I gave up on the notion of oil painting years ago because I had an adverse reaction to the solvents. The painting itself is beautiful.

thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

thoughtfulgirl2 4 years ago from East Coast Author

Thank-you for commenting, it is a lovely paint to use and good luck in your painting.

Deltachord profile image

Deltachord 4 years ago from United States

Very informative article. I had not heard of walnut oil based paint. I use water based oil paint and thus got away from the turpentine etc.

I might try the walnut oil based paint. Thanks for sharing the information.

manthy profile image

manthy 4 years ago from Alabama,USA

Love your painting & hub Thanks for sharing it, Voted Up & Awesome

I am gonna buy me some walnut oil ASAP.

carol7777 profile image

carol7777 4 years ago from Arizona

Loved the hub and learning new things. Thanks for sharing.

thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

thoughtfulgirl2 4 years ago from East Coast Author

Hi there cokelley,

These paints are a pleasure to use and are of very high quality. I think you'll really enjoy them:) Thank-you for checking out my hub!

cokelley profile image

cokelley 4 years ago from Fredericksburg, VA

I bought some walnut oil today and am going to dive right in! Thanks for the tips!

thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

thoughtfulgirl2 4 years ago from East Coast Author

You're welcome, and good luck with your painting:)

Keli 4 years ago

Thank you for that, I will give that ago, I use zest-it but it takes my painting longer to dry.

thoughtfulgirl2 profile image

thoughtfulgirl2 4 years ago from East Coast Author

Thanks, and I appreciate your thoughts. I'll be sure to check out your hubs.:)

Faithful Daughter profile image

Faithful Daughter 4 years ago from Sunny Florida

Thanks for the tip on the walnut oil; I have used it in the past but I mostly stick to linseed oil diluted with Damar varnish and artist's turpentine. I will have to experiment more with walnut oil.

It's true that many of the old painter's did not use the fat over lean technique causing their paintings to crack over time. Another reason was because some of the old painters would not prepare their painting surfaces appropriately, one example was Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Super."

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and beautiful painting.

Art Girl 27 profile image

Art Girl 27 5 years ago from East Coast USA

Nice painting! Informative article.

rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

No time to paint lately but I love trying, Voted up, awesome and book marked

natures47friend profile image

natures47friend 5 years ago from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand.

Very interesting...you are a good artist too.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Your painting is beautiful. Question...when you say walnut oil, is this the same walnut oil that is edible? We have walnut oil in our pantry that is often used for salad dressings, etc. Or is it a different grade? Up, useful and interesting votes!

Little Light profile image

Little Light 5 years ago from Australia

That is a beautiful piece of art. I've always been interested in oils but too scared to try them. Thanks for sharing all these great tips. I might give it a go one day!

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