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Question asked 2018-01-27 21:42:19 ...
Most recent comment 2018-01-29 20:48:11
Solvents and Thinners
Referring to your article about paint mediums and additives.
[quote]"Consider painting without using solvents. If you are using solvents, use smaller and smaller additions of solvent as you continue to paint subsequent layers to follow the “fat over lean” rule of thumb."[/quote]
I define the fattness of a paint film as the oil to pigment ratio, as does George O'Hanlon I believe. (PVC, Pigment Volume Concentration.)
In this respect, adding solvent to oil paint won't make it any leaner as the paint film with end up with the same PVC as it had originally before the solvent was added.
Granted, it does allow one to paint more thinly and therefore dry more quickly, but I can easily demonstrate that one can spread neat paint very thinnly and solvent added paint thickly.
So with this in mind, I question the premise that adding less and less solvent is adhering to the fat over lean rule.
I mention this because the text above is being quoted as proof that adding solvent makes paint leaner.
Is there any other rational that would give the argument more credibility?
Answers and Comments
While I wasn't involved in composing the linked document, it may help to consider the effect of solvent on viscosity of the vehicle, and how reducing viscosity impacts the envelopment of pigment by the vehicle. Oil paint isn't just a simple mixture and proportion, it's a homogeneous dispersion with each pigment particle enveloped in oil. Naturally, paint that has been thinned excessively would lose the orderly distribution of pigment gained through milling. Excessively thinning oil colors results in paint with a powdery appearance due to unbound pigment. It also occurs to me that a thinned vehicle could be taken up more readily by an absorbent ground, and I imagine some is even wicked away by a semi-permeable palette.
I'm sure our scientist Moderators will correct where I am in error, but as I understand it, fresh, pure gum spirits of turpentine that has not been exposed to the air will take up oxygen more readily than old stock from an open bottle. Because of this, fresh turpentine mixed with oil paint will increase available oxygen in the paint film and support through-drying (though not as a catalytic siccative). Old turpentine that has already oxidized will not impart this effect, but will still thin paint. Stale turpentine containing oxidation products has been shown to be more irritating to the skin, as well.
Sorry for the late reply. As to the original comment.
Honestly, you are right. That document was written when I was still using the
fat over lean terminology on a regular basis and that section was certainly overstated.
I have since come over to the PVC school of thought. I will need to edit that
section to essentially say the same thing but remove the fat over lean
reference, which you rightly criticize. There are other realistic reasons to
thin lower layers and add less solvent to upper layers in multiple layered
However, I do sort of question the idea that heavily diluted
paint has the same binding properties (different than fat or lean). The concept
makes sense in theory, but it does not work exactly the same in practice. If it
did, you could take a given amount of oil paint, thin it with a very large
amount of solvent (let’s say OMS here to avoid the turpentine issues mentioned
above) and apply it as a toning layer on a ground. In theory, this should be as
well bound as neat oil paint physically distributed by the brush to a very thin
layer (to the degree that is likely in practice and not a theoretical, unlikely
In practice, though, it is very easy to add enough solvent
to oil paint and create a film that can be easily rubbed off on your finger. We
see this all of the time in modern and contemporary paintings. Sometimes they
cannot even be cleaned in any manner because any physical manipulation
dislodges original pigment. Yes, an absorbent ground would exacerbate this
making it more likely that the binder would be drawn into the ground leaving
the paint underbound. This may be a major cause of the apparent discrepancy. I
have, however, seen the same effect on relatively nonabsorbent grounds but have
not preformed any real scientific tests. So while I completely with your take
on all theoretical grounds, there is still seems to be a difference in the
bonding strength between neat oil paint and oil paint thinned with solvent.
However, I still do need to remove that phrase, as it is
If the paint is exactly at its optimal PVC what you are saying probably is
technically true. It does assume that there is not even a bit of a
surplus of oil, which is probably not the case. However, I would guess that the
effect is not linear and that dilution has little or no deliterious effect at
relatively lower radios and rather strong effects at higher. As I said,
judicious dilution is probably beneficial in multiple layered systems. This may
be more of a function of maintaining tooth in the lower layers and not so much
an issue of fat and lean.
There was a lot of really in-depth work done of drying oil paints in the
early 20th century before synthetic materials gradually supplanted them. The
positive notion of controlled dilution is somewhat reinforced by early
industrial recommendations for the proportions to create a basic lead white
primer and house paint. I don’t have a specific volume in front of me but they
almost always listed so many pounds of lead white pigment, so much linseed oil,
and so much turpentine and not simply pigment and oil. Mayer has similar
suggestions for an oil ground consisting of so much Dutch boy lead paste
diluted with so much turp to a workable consistency.
Relating to the subject here, I have found it preferably to dilute lead
white to a heavy cream consistency when using it as an oil primer as opposed to
simply using the priming knife to create a smooth priming layer out of neat
paint. The results of dilution were always slightly drier feeling and more
appropriate as a ground layer than my early experiments applied by physical
manipulation alone. That is not to say that those early grounds were not
useful, they could be very smooth and pristine, they just did not take paint as
well as those thinned to a degree and applied with the priming knife.
It does seem to me that the amount of solvent that is used to create the
"initial wash" is often extreme. It would be far better to dilute the
paint to to a small degree and then physically spread the paint with a brush
(or even better a rag as long as it is disposed of appropriately to avoid
spontaneous combustion) I think that some painters believe that their later
applications of more robust paint will consolidate the initial powdery layer. There
may be a germ of truth in that, but for the most part, this practice is
flirting with possible paint delamination. If one creates a wash and then
paints on it while it is still wet, the problems you mention would be avoided.
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