Road Test of Archival Oil Paints – Part 1

Img 3 Barwon River Ripples Red Size

‘Barwon River Ripples’

Road Test Archival Oil Paints on a trip around Australia 2014

Archival Oil paints are very interesting new technology of paint chemistry. I became interested in Archival Oil paints after coming across them whilst researching on the internet. With my science background, the more I read about them, the more intrigued I became.

I’ve always really enjoyed camping and being outdoors and have been interested in plein air painting for some time. Years ago when my husband and I started travelling on long road trips around Australia I longed to take paints and create paintings along the way. I love oil paint but couldn’t cope with the idea of wet oil paintings squashed in between the camping gear. Instead, at first, I took watercolours with me but never really liked them. Then I tried acrylics but found that they dried far too quickly outdoors in the sun and wind. Next there was gouache which had the same problem.

It had to be oil paint, so how to do it? At home, I usually use the method of traditional oil painting, blocking in with a thin gum turpentine wash, then working over this when the surface has dried to a tacky consistency. Alternatively I scrub in an underpainting and work over it with thicker paint. Both these methods, whilst satisfactory in the studio were time consuming in the bush when often I just had a short window of time to paint my ‘masterpiece’.

I started looking for alternatives. Last year I came across the Griffin Alkyds which are fast drying oil paints. I took these on a long road test last year. (See my road test article in Australian Artist Magazine No 356 February 2013) I liked the alkyds as they dried to tacky fairly quickly in the wind and sun allowing me to work over them. However they are very transparent compared to normal oil paint and don’t have much covering power. They are also very glossy and dry to a very shiny enamel like surface. Sometimes they became sticky whilst I was working with them and tended to dry on the palette.

Archival Oils
I corresponded with Chroma with questions about the Archival Oils and had lots of informative exchanges with paint maker Jim Cobb.
The Archival Oils are fast drying and all the colours are evenly flexible. All the paint layers will dry at the same rate without cracking, making the paintings archival.
Earlier this year Jim sent me a set of Archival Oils to try out at home before taking on a road test later in the year.

First Impressions
On the first try of these paints I was aware that they were very different to anything I’d used before. How to describe them?
They looked and felt like regular oil paint but as I painted they dried to tacky quite quickly on the painting.
I tried a variety of surfaces, gesso primed mdf boards, oil primed mdf boards and acrylic primed canvas.
I tried a variety of paint application methods attempting to simulate outdoor conditions, working quickly over newly applied paint.
Archival Oils have a variety of mediums available for different effects that people may want to achieve.
I started with Odourless Solvent and Lean Medium as I was aiming to stick with traditional methods. Later I added Smooth Gel Medium for impasto work.
Although the mediums are almost odourless, the paints do have a smell.
I found the colours were slightly different to those that I was used to so I would need to adjust the palette a little to compensate.
After a few studio paintings, I took the paints outdoors for some plein air practise.

Initial Findings (Cool Winter Conditions)
When using the Odourless Solvent as a block in, it seemed to dry more slowly than the gum turpentine I was accustomed to using. The solvent would perhaps not work for an outdoor painting with limited time available.
The Lean Medium likewise dried too slowly for this method to work. (It dried in 24 hours)
Then I noticed that the Archival Oil paint was drying so quickly by itself that I was able to work mostly without medium only using Lean Medium when I needed a little more flow.

When working impasto style, Archival Oils are quite different to normal oil paint, some medium must be added because, without it, the paint will never dry properly and just becomes like thick toffee. I used Smooth Gel Medium to mix into the paint for thicker, impasto strokes.

I’d start on one area of the painting and then go back to it later and was able to keep working over the painting. In other words I dispensed with the turpentine block in step. I realised that I was changing my method of painting and getting better with each subsequent painting that I did.

When working plein air, the method was so much more efficient as the painting looked quite acceptable with the first layer of paint (i.e. good covering power). The paint was covering the board/canvas very well and the second application was adding details and refining. A more efficient method of working was developing.

Continued in Part 2 (the next blog)…..

Img 16 My Paint Box Red Size