Contemplating A Solvent Free Studio?

Bronchitis really sucks. The coughing is irritating and tiring. Did I say tiring? That's the worst part. Fatigue is what finally gets me to the doctor where she says," You can't paint for two weeks. You can't inhale any fumes. Oh, and use this inhaler."  Wow. Two weeks (I've already been away from the studio for all of the Christmas Holidays), I am NOT a happy painter.

I love oil paint. I have a relationship with it. The buttery texture, the rich colors, and even the smell has entranced me from a young age. But I have to admit that I also love the qualities of the medium called Liquin (not the smell so much), and I was in denial that it was bothering my lungs for quite some time. Bronchitis bordering on pneumonia made me look at my working "habits."


I am a crusader for Oil Paint. I try to convert every artist I meet to delve into the medium of the Masters.  Thanks to some modern technology this is becoming possible for more and more artists. Let's look at the possibilities for a "Solvent Free" studio....


Most oil paint is not particularly toxic. This doesn't mean it's edible, just not toxic to use. Of course there are the traditional Cadmiums and Cobalts that are definitely more toxic. And Lead White (which I have never used) should be handled with a lot of care, but most modern oil paint is made from relatively safe pigments mixed with some kind of non-toxic oil such as safflower or linseed. Generally the paint isn't the problem.

The product that aggravates our breathing and also can cause headaches in some people is typically the solvent. (I'm sure there are some people who may be allergic to the paints as well, but more frequently the solvent and certain mediums are the culprits.)

Solvents (for our purposes) are what is known as Turpentine and Mineral Spirits. Regular Old fashioned Turpentine and Mineral spirits have a VERY HIGH EVAPORATION rate along with other toxic and dangerous properties, so you never want to use these. Modern Odorless Mineral Spirits or OMS has a much reduced evaporation rate and does not bother may people. There are several mediums that have solvent in them as well: Liquin (by Winsor Newton) and the Galkyd Series (by Gamblin) all contain "solvent" (petroleum distillates). Even with much reduced evaporation rates, solvents still do evaporate into the air of our studios and therefore, to some extent, we breathe them. These fumes are what generally cause people problems.


Well, we timed this just right in the history of oil painting because we have some GREAT OPTIONS currently. Most importantly Gamblin's new Solvent-Free products.

For the best information on these products go straight to Gamblin's website HERE.  Suffice to say, they are Solvent-Free, work really well and should not aggravate your respiratory system.

There are other products as well such as Walnut Oil (which slows down drying time) and Walnut Alkyd Oil (which speeds up drying time) These are also two great products, however they can be combustable so just be aware of this fact and be sure to water down your "rags." Find Walnut Oils at Dick Blick HERE


The next product that I will mention here is Cold Wax medium. IT DOES have some solvent in it, however, it is very minimal. I now use cold wax in most of my work as it speeds up drying time and just basically has really cool effects! (That's a different blog post!) Again, I prefer Gamblin's cold wax to Dorland's (I know, big surprise) as I prefer the consistency.


I can't really find facts to back this up but it is my FEELING that Gamblin's OMS is better than other products. I believe that they have really worked on this product to make it as non-toxic as possible. I feel better using it than when I buy less expensive OMS options which seem to still have a slight odor to me, especially over time as I pour them off of older pigment when I save the used OMS in jars. With the new Solvent-Free Mediums and brush cleaners you can actually be completely solvent free if you choose to do so!


And lastly, you are probably wondering how in the heck do you clean your brushes without OMS? I have used Turpenoid Natural for years. It smells like citrus (which I don't love) and it cleans brushes WAY BETTER than OMS. OF course Gamblin has come up with a new Safflower Oil to clean brushes as well. I SWEAR I am NOT on their payroll!! It's up there in the same link above. I have friends who use just regular Safflower cooking oil too. I haven't tried that yet. Just make sure to wipe or rinse the oil off well before you begin painting.


This is obviously going to be a number one question here. I don't personally like water soluble oils. I find their viscosity very different than regular oil paints. It is slippery and slimy for want of better words (actually those are pretty good). Far from buttery. Personally I would recommend that you use traditional oil paints and choose the alternative methods described here as opposed to choosing the water soluble paints.