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Painting Safely Using Oil Colors – Part 1

I am writing down how to ‘paint safely using oil colors’ to invite new artists to try using oil colors instead of other alternatives in the market. There is much to learn, so I will publish related content in several, bite-size, posts.

Painting with oil colors comes with a heavy cost to some artists. Some oil colors contain toxic chemicals—such mercury, cadmiums, cobalt, lead–and oil color mediums to change oil colors or to clean your brushes can be extremely harmful. Despite the dangers of these chemicals—let me assure you—that oil painting is a safe sport.

The dangers from the toxic materials weren’t well known until recent decades, so it’s not surprising that some of the best known ‘dead’ artists had been careless: Carravaggio often used his painting palette as a plate, Van Gogh apparently drank paint thinners, and many artists painted with bare hands, exposing them to chemical poisoning. Perhaps it was the result of chemical poisoning that made Carravaggio go off killing people, and changed how Van Gogh see colors with higher shades of yellow.  

So why use oil colors? Well, because many oil colors are “organic” and safer than newer, heavily advertised artist painting materials. What do you think will be more dangerous: eating oil colors made from earthly materials vs. ingesting Acrylic paint?  But the major reason to paint with oil colors is the quality of the end product that is more vibrant and closer to living things.

Here are 3 main practices that I have experimented to paint safely: 

  • Make use of non-toxic colors
  • Stop or Limit the use of paint thinners
  • Make use of Acrylic Paints for underpainting

I will discuss above practices in upcoming posts. Let me end today’s posts by inviting you to read a post from August 2020 and recommending you additional two colors to start your oil painting journey. Once you have read my two posts, you will be armed with four colors for portrait painting: Ivory Black, Scarlet Lake, Yellow Ochre, and Titanium White–This is a safer alternative to Zorn Palette, named after Anders Zorn.

Order Scarlet Lake from Amazon.com (This is an alternative to Vermilion, a famous red color, considered super toxic due to its mercury content)

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Anthony Van Dyke

In all my years of studying art, I never paid much attention to Anthony Van Dyke. For years, I thought he was a cousin or a brother of Jan van Eyke who died in 1441. Anthony van Dyke was born on 22 March 1599 and he wasn’t Jan van Eyke’s cousin.  I grew a whole new appreciation for Anthony’s works when I visited The Frick Collection, located in New York City, in 2019.  

Artists will begin to see more than what we used to see after some months of training to become a draftsman. Perhaps, that’s what had happened to me on that fateful day. I remember that it was early Spring. It must have been late March or early April because I remember that people were still wearing winter clothes and the museum was a safe escape from the cold. I had gone to the museum to see a special painting exhibition of Giovanni Battista Moroni

There are many great paintings in museums around the world, and there are a number of famous paintings because of their historical value and all, but then there are some paintings that stand out to each artist. I have grown to admire a few artists and their paintings. And, I thought I would share them with you starting with this story.

New York City hosts a few paintings by Anthony Van Dyke. Here are 3 of my favorites. Click on the links to read more about them.  

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What is Figurative Art?

At the moment, if I may categorize my paintings, I would categorize my paintings as “Figurative Art”.  Although this sounds interesting, I think there has to be a better combination of words.

Contemporary Realism Painting by Je
New York, NY — A portrait painting, executed from life in September 2020.

So, any modern art that has strong ties to the real world, especially to the human figure, is considered Figurative Art. Did you know that the beginning of Figurative Art dates back to the 1920’s? That’s one hundred years ago! I guess one confusing fact about the term Figurative Art is that it does not equal to “figure drawing” or “figure painting”. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I think that the term might have outlived its use.

Another aspect that interests me is why the term was introduced in the first place. Perhaps Abstract Art has brought so much change to the art world in the last one hundred years that there had to be a new way to describe works by those that are passionate about painting representational art works. 

I suppose Classical Realism, Modern Realism, and Mannerism can also be used to compartmentalize my works, too.  And, there are actually many more outdated terms! So I am not one hundred percent sold that my work should be categorized as Figurative Art or any of these new and old terms just yet, but I will continue to explore my options. 

At the end, it really matters little to me how I categorize my artwork, but I find it interesting how art has evolved in the past few hundred years.  For the majority of documented human history, it’s pretty clear that people had no idea how to paint people.  It’s only in the past five to six hundred years that we, humans, have begun to execute drawing and paintings that correctly resemble ourselves. 

More importantly than what is called, I am taking a part to revive, revolutionize, showcase, and capture our times and pass what we have learned onto the next generation of painters.

Thanks for reading my first Saturday Morning Post.

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

A quote from T. S. Eliot who was born on this day, 26 September, 1888.

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Painting with Oil Colors

In the spirit of educating a new generation of figurative painters, I will post a few easy to follow instructional content. If you are serious about learning, you should visit the nearest Ateliers, which have been springing up all over the world. In my mind, there should be more of these places.

If you are starting to paint human portraits or figure, you can purchase almost unreasonable number of oil paint. Well, you can, but I suggest starting with 2 basic colors: Ivory Black and Titanium White. With these two basic colors, your focus should be experimenting with the oil colors, thinner, and linseed oil. All these materials are listed below for your convenience.

Note: Instead of the Ivory Black, you can also use earth colors such as Burnt Umber or Burnt Sienna. The following is a sample underpainting.

Ivory Black

Order Ivory Black from Amazon

Titanium White

Order Titanium While from Amazon (I suggest getting a big tube of white)

Demo

One you have the basic material and a few brushes, you want to try drawing a face. Here is a quick oil painting demo on my Instagram Page. If you have questions, feel free to post your question as a comment.

Linseed Oil

Buy Linseed Oil from Amazon

Gamsol

Buy Gamsol from Amazon

What is Gamsol? It’s almost an orderless solvent that replaced its hazardous cousins such as Turpentine. When starting to paint, you will use Gamsol to thin the oil paint, similar to how you would use water to think watercolors. This solvent, while it doesn’t smell as bad and advertised as being safer, you should take all the safety measures when using Gamsol. I personally use rubber gloves when painting with solvents.

Happy Painting!

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Resources for Artists

Learning to paint for me started gradually when I arrived in New York City. The toughest part, I remember, was knowing where to go. Here are some good places that I know.

NYC Figurative Painting Academy, clubs, and Schools

The Art Students League of New York – Founded by Artists and Supporting Artists Since 1875: The League educates students in the language and process of making art in an environment where anyone who wishes to pursue an art education can realize his or her full potential. 

New York Academy of Art – The New York Academy of Art is a graduate school of fine art focused on progressive representational and figurative art

Spring Studio – Considered by many artists to be the best place to draw in New York City, Spring Studio is a professional art studio offering ongoing life drawing sessions 7 days a week.

The Society of Illustrators – Founded in 1901, the Society of Illustrators is the oldest nonprofit organization dedicated to the art of illustration in America. Notable Society members have been N.C. Wyeth, Rube Goldberg, and Norman Rockwell, among many others.

Salmagundi Art Club – Founded in 1871, the Salmagundi Club is one of the oldest art organizations in the United States. The Club offers programs including art classes, exhibitions, painting demonstrations, and art auctions throughout the year for members and the general public.

Notable Art Links

The Armory ShowIndependent