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3 Recommended Oil Painting Vehicles

August 23, 2010

A vehicle for paint is the diluent; water dilutes acrylic paints but oil paints require solvents capable of separating the oil molecules from one another, thus thinning the paint.  Here are three recommended products:  

  • Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits by Gamblin: Not cheap, but it comes in very big cans.  This is a preferred brand by many professionals to thin oils, clean brushes and preserve valuable brain cells.  Top shelf performance.
  • Daler-Rowney Low Odor Thinner: Even the manufacturer’s website and the bottle does not clarify what this stuff is, so it has to be a mineral spirit derivative or petrochemical derivative of some kind; barring chemical analysis, it is clear and handles like mineral spirits.  It serves the same function as any mineral spirit I have used.  No fumes and very little smell to it, usually the smell is eclipsed by the oil paints themselves.
  • Grumbacher Oil Painting Medium II: This diluent is not useful to clean brushes but have found it a wonderful blend to use to thin oil paints for better flow.  It makes them a bit glossier and a little goes a long way.  I generally find the product in small 2 1/2 ounce (74 L) glass bottles with a screw cap that are good for outdoor painting portability.

A note on mineral spirits: they do not have to be treated as a consumable to be used up and discarded.  I need to track a person down when the school semester starts again, but there is someone who has been using the same bottle of mineral spirits for something like twenty years.  You will know her secret as soon as I do.  She does 3-D and sculptural pieces, so it may be that she does not use this as a paint vehicle per se; I will try to find out.

Chemically speaking, if left alone the “dirty” mineral spirits will clarify, the pigments and binder of the oil paints will settle to the bottom.  This is beneficial.

If my mineral spirits get really murky, and the vehicle starts to transfer the murky colors to my painting, I would pour them into a nice, clean spaghetti sauce jar, put a lid on it and set it aside for a week or two, using a second jar of spirits in the mean time.  After there is a layer of oil paint sediment on the bottom of the jar and the rest was clear, I would carefully pour or siphon the clean stuff off into yet another clean spaghetti sauce jar and continue using it.  I would dredge the sludge out of the bottom of the dirty jar with a rag, wipe it clean with a dab of mineral spirits, wash it with dish liquid and put that jar back into circulation.  (Some really funky rags went into the secure, metal FLAMMABLE material disposal can in art school.  Research how you can dispose of this stuff at home and please do not dump this sludge down a drain.)  A couple of clean jars with lids kept this process going.  With minimal attrition from the sludge removal process, I have been using the same medium sized can of Gamsol for about two years now.

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