Monday, January 21, 2013

The Solvent Free Studio

For the last 5 months my studio has been completely solvent free! I didn't know how easy it would be to make the switch! For anyone that paints alla prima I recommend this method 100%.  If you like to paint in a glazing or layering method this might not work for you.  I pretty much only used the solvent (Gamsol) for thinning the wash to tone the surface at the very beginning of the painting, and to clean my brushes, both while I was working and for clean up.  As for thinning the paints, that's never really something I do, I always just use a touch of walnut oil to loosen them up a bit.  

Well apparently you can also use walnut oil to clean your brushes! (I didn't believe it was true until I tried it).  Did you know they sell walnut oil in giant containers like this? 

It was kind of expensive ($28 I got mine at blick) and I was expecting to have to use a LOT of it to get the brushes clean. But that wasn't true at all. Turns out I could fill my solvent container with only about 1/4 cup of oil, and that quarter cup has lasted me 5 months so far.  Turns out $28 wasn't a bad price at all! (update: that first quarter cup of oil lasted me for 7 months! Finally just broke down and changed it.)

To clean my brushes I just wipe the excess paint on a paper towel or rag, and then swish in the oil the same way that I would the solvent.  It totally works! And as an added bonus the condition of my brushes has improved immensely since I started working this way. I haven't even been using soap and water afterwards like I usually did when cleaning with solvents. 

I also went through all of my oil colors (and there were a lot of them) and removed the colors that have potential toxicity (cadmiums, cobalts, ones with lead etc).  I felt like I was in a chemistry class again, there was some very dense paperwork to go through.  

But after hours and hours of research  I'm confident that the pigment in my chosen paints are safe.  But just in case I've also been wearing gloves while painting :) 

And now all my paints (mostly M. Graham) fit in my sweet little carrier.  I like the M. Graham brand since they use walnut oil as the binder. 

So why this sudden-ish concern for health? Well one reason is because my new studio isn't as easily ventilated as my last one, and the other (more important) reason is that we're expecting a little one in June! :) and guess what? 

it's a girl!!!


  1. I started to wonder right around the toxicity list photo... Congratulations!!! Excited to see how this journey unfolds in paint. ♥

  2. Congrats on expecting! I also work in a Solvent Free Studio (for reasons of sensitivity to all chemicals) and thought I'd share a couple of other things that have worked for me. I also use the Walnut oil as a medium but not too much - another few things that have worked for me as a medium:

    Art grade Linseed oil with a little bit of Lefranc & Bourgeois Oil of Spike Lavender
    For washing brushes I will just buy a large bottle of Safflower Oil at the supermarket for about $7 and fill up both of my brush washers.
    Dropping all cadmiums & colbalts
    Gamblin paints & Lefranc & Bourgeois are really great just on their own and don't need much to get them working. Lefranc & Bourgeois' titanium white is so buttery it's the best white out there.

    Hope that helps.

  3. This is some great information and great news!
    Congratulations !! and all the best :)

  4. I have a question on dropping the paints with cadmiums and other metals. What are the good substitutes for these paints/colors? as I have read that the 'Hue' versions of the colors, are low in tinting strength and don't perform well in color mixtures.
    I live and paint in my apartment itself, and would like to adapt non-toxic oil painting methods sooner than later.

  5. Congratulations! Thanks for posting what you have learned about painting solvent-free-- very helpful.

  6. Thanks everyone!

    @Sowmya, a great substitute for cadmium red is naphthol red, I substitute cadmium yellow pale with winsor or hansa yellow, I use hansa yellow deep as a replacement for cadmium yellow. I haven't really found a replacement for cobalt blue, but I also haven't missed it much. But using paints with heavy metals isn't any more toxic in an apartment than it is anywhere else. The danger lies when possibly absorbing the paint through the skin (though it's debated, but I'm not going to risk it!) or if you were for some reason sanding your painting and inhaling the dust. Still the risk wasn't worth the colors (at least for me!) I dropped most of them about a year ago and haven't missed them at all. With the exception of cadmium green pale, I will miss that one forever ;)

  7. I have been a silent admirer drawn to your style...well until now. That's what happens when babies are mentioned. Who can keep silent for such wonderful news. I was just in Santa Barbara and waved as we drove past Carpinteria.

    Thank you so much for the info on solvents. I have avoided oils for years for that reason, but just recently took up oils and love them but have been concerned, so appreciate the info.

  8. Wow, Congratulations Sharon!!! Welcome to the world of being an artist and a mother:-) I was so glad to check in on your blog again and read this great news about the baby - and walnut oil. I've been really bothered by the gamsol after forgetting to put on my fan one day and have been researching what else I could use since then. Thank you so much for sharing your findings! I even think I have some Walnut oil sitting around in my studio.