Road Test of Alkyd Oil Paints – Moyra Le Blanc Smith Art

Road Testing Griffin Alkyd Oil Paints on a Trip Around Australia By Moyra Le Blanc Smith


I am lucky enough to have travelled around Australia on a few road trips over the years. Somehow I never get tired of the amazing ever changing scenery which has me longing to get out the paintbox. I especially love gum trees and all the places where they are. I love to bush walk and dream of what colours I’ll use when I paint the scenes.

My first and only love is (and has always been) oil paints. There’s just something about the gooey feel of them and the smell that I love, and then there’s all the lovely vibrant colours…

In the beginning, on my first few trips, I didn’t know how to manage the oil paint out doors let alone how to juggle wet paintings in between all the camping gear.

There was, at first, a miniature water-colour set which I never quite got to manage, then a try of acrylics which just dried far too quickly in the wind and sun outdoors.

Gouache had a go too but they dried just as quickly.

So there had to be a way to travel with my beloved oil paints. Having a time limit when working outdoors would sometimes mean that I wouldn’t wait long enough for the first wash to get tacky before working over it. Then I’d end up with a lot of muddy colours.

46-04 Rainbow Gorge- Idalia NP- Plein Air

Enter the Alkyds

Earlier this year I discovered Griffin Alkyd Oil paints and wondered if their faster drying time than normal oil paints meant they would be good to use outdoors. We had an outback trip coming up so I bought a basic set of colours and did a bit of experimenting at home.

Quite a lot of e mail exchanges with Winsor and Newton technical advice department followed with regard to the correct way to use the paints. Also a lot of internet research to see what other artists thought about them.

  • Alkyds are pigment mixed in a fast drying resin instead of linseed oil like normal oil paints.
  • They can be mixed with normal oil paints but this will then slow down their drying rate. (Or alternatively speed up the drying rate of the normal oil paints)
  • All the usual oil painting mediums are used and clean up is the same as for oil paints.
  • Alkyds are more transparent and glossier than normal oil paints.

Because alkyds are more flexible than oils, and following the principle of painting more flexible layers over less flexible layers it would seem that the correct use would be to use them on top of normal oil. However this goes against the rule of painting fast drying layers under slow drying layers. I ended up very confused.

Eventually, I worked out a plan of how I would use them.

The goal – to learn how to paint en-plein-air and to develop a looser style.

46-10 Emily Gap- Plein Air


  • A slatted box was made for me which could carry the wet paintings. This solved the problem of travelling with wet paintings.
  • MDF boards which had been primed with gesso, canvas boards and small squares of canvas taped to boards which would fit into the slatted box.
  • A half French box easel.
  • Brushes- hogs hair for the first layer, taklon and sable for the second layer and fine details.
  • Gum turps to use for the wash-in.
  • Paints – Winsor and Newton Griffin Alkyds. Colours used were :- French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue Hue, Cadmium Red Medium, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Orange, Purple Lake, Burnt Sienna, Viridian, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Titanium White.
  • Sketch book and pencil.
  • Tissues, rubbish bag, baby oil and container for cleaning up.
  • Water bottle, hat, Bushmans repellant, apron.

The Process

So off we went, camping equipment, painting gear and an itinerary with painting time factored in. It was with much excitement that I got out the paintbox at the first location, determined to master the plein air painting process at last.

Over the next few weeks I managed to complete 14 paintings. Some were executed under quite extreme conditions such as strong wind laden with dust or sand, flies and hot sun. However once started, I was soon absorbed in the process and forgot about the conditions. I hung the heavy bag underneath the easel to weigh it down but sometimes still had to hold on to it to stop it from blowing over. I was reasonably pleased with most of the paintings. They were all completed alla prima some in around 2 hours, others taking an afternoon.

I developed a method which became standard for all the paintings.

  • A quick, small sketch to work out the composition and tonal values.
  • A fast wash in to cover the canvas/board using hogs hair brushes.
  • Layer of thick paint using the taklon/sable brushes.
  • Fine details.
  • 46-14 Stubbs Waterhole- Arkaroola-Plein Air

The Analysis

I found that the alkyds were great to use en-plein air in the Australian Outback. The first layer of became tacky very quickly in the wind and sun and I was able to work over it immediately with the thicker paint. This meant that I was able to complete the paintings in a few hours. I liked having the ability to blend the paint the way I do with normal oils. There was a sense of urgency that helped me to develop a looser, freer style which was one of my goals.

I found that I really enjoyed the experience of plein air painting in a variety of gorgeous locations. On returning home I got the paintings out of their box and found that they had survived the rough roads, dirt, dust and heat of the journey home. As I looked at each one I re-lived the peaceful feeling of being in those lovely places creating them. I remembered the warm breezes (or strong wind), birdsongs, rippling rivers, rustling leaves, pelicans doing belly landings, music of people nearby and in one case being watched by 2 yellow footed rock wallabies.