How are paints made for various painting mediums?

Paints are made by adding pigment (color) to something that will help it stick to the surface of a canvas (or anything else it can be painted on).

Color, also referred to as pigment, is a powder with a specific color. For artist grade and premium grade paints this is ground up metal in most cases. Cobalt blue is made with Cobalt powder mixed into a medium.

For Student grade paints, the pigment is usually obtained by using a colored die and mixing it with chalk (the one you write on a black board with) or marble dust. This helps manufacturers reduce the cost of the paint.

Oil Paints
Oil paints are generally made by grinding the pigment powder with linseed oil. The grinding can be done by manually (with grinding stone, etc) or using a machine that can do it much faster.

Linseed oil has forms the most flexible film when it dries compared to other drying oils. The disadvantage of linseed oil is that it tends to yellow more than other oils over time. The other oil used for making oil paints is walnut oil, which doesn’t yellow as much but is forms a less flexible film than linseed oil does. It is, sometimes, mixed with linseed oil so the resultant paint will have a strong film and yellow less.

Cheaper oil paints tend to have less pigment and oil and more filler (marble dust, chalk or any other filler). Artists grade paints have less filler but they do contain some. Premium grade paints have no filler. They may, however, have stabilizers for certain pigments.

Acrylic paints
Acrylic paints are made by mixing pigment into acrylic emulsions (plastic). Like oil paints, artist grade acrylic paints have more pigment and than student grade paints.

Watercolor paints
The medium for watercolor paints is not water. It is gum arabic. Pigment added to gum arabic to make watercolors. Gum arabic is soluble in water which is why water can be used with watercolors as medium (to move the paint around, etc)

Egg Tempera
This is not as popular as the other 3 mediums but this has been around for a while. Egg tempera paints are made by mixing pigment into the egg yolk (not the egg white).

Encaustic paints
Encaustic paints are wax sticks that heated and the wax is used for painting while it is hot. When the wax dries it cannot be manipulated. Encausing paints are made by adding pigment to heated beeswax


Clean your oil painting brushes the non-toxic way

Oxyclean stain remover is your friend. Wipe your brushes with a paper tower, then spray some Oxyclean into the bristles, leave it for a few seconds and wash them. You may need to use more than once on a brush but it will clean the brush and leave no color stains ( at least not as much as Gamsol + soap and water ).

I have heard some artists like to use baby oil to clean their brushes and they say you need a lot of it. I haven’t tried this method

Another cleaner that works great is Fast Orange hand cleaner. It is a bit thick and has pumice in it so I don’t use it for brushes as much. You have to make sure you get all the pumice out after you are done cleaning. Also I have had to use quite a bit of it on brushes.

Fast Orange cleaner is amazing for your hands. It will clean them better than regular soap and water. Also, you can use it as a facial or body scrub.

Notice how new brushes need to be broken in before painting. The bristles are stuck together and you need to brush them lightly on you hand to get them to part. You can get that with milk. After cleaning the brushes, take a few drops of milk and shape the brush. Next time you reach for it to paint, it will feel like you are painting with a new brush.


Oil paints with fast drying time (but not too fast)

As some of you know, I mostly used acrylic paints because they don’t take ages to dry (unlike some of my initial oil paintings which took almost a month to dry). Who wants to wait a month to varnish their painting? Or worse, some artists wait 6 months to a year.

As annoying as the dry time of oil paints can be, you get the best gradients with them. Getting the same quality of gradients in acrylics is very hard. Sometimes acrylic paints dry a few seconds after you lay them down on canvas. Can you imagine doing a sky on a big (36×48 inches) piece? It can get a bit annoying.

Oil paints take too long to dry and acrylic paints dry in a few seconds to a few minutes. I found a solution to this problem by some reading and some experimentation. Oil paints have synthetic mediums which will speed up the dry time like no tomorrow. Some of these mediums can cause the paint layer to dry in 24 hours or less. This, for me, is very ideal. I can do a sky in 6 hours if I need to and then have it be dried the next day for another layer of paint.

Here are some mediums I have experimented with and liked:

Liquin – Made by Windsor and Newton. It is a great medium which will dry your paint in 24 hours depending on how much of it you use in your paint. It is a modern version of the maroger medium. If you do use it, make sure you have proper ventilation or wear a mask that purifies air. It smells horrible and its smell will give you headaches.

Neo-Megilp – Made by Gamblin. This is Gamblin’s version of maroger medium. It usually dries in 3-4 days. However, on some of my paintings it dries in 24 hours or less. I bought it because I wanted it to dry in at least 4 days but most I got from neo-megilp was 2-3 days.

I love Gamblin and everything they make. Their goal is to make high quality painting materials without harming the artist. They have their own version of flake white which is harmless to the artist (vs the original flake white which is full of lead).

Non-toxic gel medium – Made by Gamblin. This contains no solvents for oil paints so it is completely safe to touch, etc. And, it is advertised to dry in 3-4 days as well but in my experience it dries in 2-3 days.

Both liquin and neo-megilp are not completely safe. They should be used be used with proper ventilation ( an open window is enough or a big room with the door open ). Non-toxic gel doesn’t have these limitations.

Now I can paint to my heart’s content, and only wait a day for the paint before putting on another layer of paint. Although these days, I have been painting alla prima (wet into wet) quite a bit so my paint drying in 24 hours has become a bit of an inconvenience. However, I know I can extend the drying time of the paints by mixing some stand oil or linseed oil along with the synthetic mediums so its not too much of a problem.


My latest painting

Lately, I have been painting a lot of 8×10 paintings on canvas panels. They don’t take much time and you can keep the panel on your lap, or wherever you feel comfortable.

Another advantage of doing an 8×10 inch painting is that you can experiment different with different techniques and see the result fairly quickly.

Anyway, here is my latest painting done for a study on rocks. I call it Sticks and Stones.

Sticks and stones


Beware of the pouring medium

Beware of the pouring medium mixed with water as it can destroy your painting. I had a painting I had been meaning to varnish for a few months and finally decided to do it 3 days ago. For isolation coat, I figured I would use the pouring medium sold by Liquitex. It levels itself and doesn’t leave brush marks making it perfect for an isolation coat. What could go wrong? Right?

Wrong. I mixed the pouring medium with quite a bit of water to get it to flow easily (which was a mistake). It did flow very easily and had the same consistency as water. However, the medium was taking too long to dry so after waiting 2-3 minutes, I started to brush off the excess medium (which was another mistake). After the painting dried, I noticed that sections of it had gone white. The medium dissolved the acrylic paint and probably took the paint with it while I was trying to get excess medium off the canvas.

Needless to say, I redid parts of the painting that had gone white and varnished it again. This time I was very careful and the painting came out looking better than it did before.

Another thing I noticed while painting on top of pouring medium layer is that my paint stayed wet for longer than usual. Not as long as as oil paints do, but long enough that I could blend very easily. I am going to experiment with this new knowledge and see what it goes.

Lessons learned:
– Don’t mix too much water into the pouring medium when using it as an isolation coat for varnish.

– Don’t be impatient after you have varnished or put on an isolation coat. Give it as much time as it needs to dry off. The painting probably would have been ok if I had not tried to brush off excess medium after waiting a few minutes.

– Acrylic mediums can liquify acrylic paint even after it has dried completely.

– High gloss finish looks very good on some paintings.

Here is the painting that almost got destroyed by the pouring medium on the wall of the person who asked me to paint it.


Oil vs Acrylic – What’s easier to clean?

Acrylics are much easier to clean than oils (and cheaper).


With acrylics, you can get away with using just water to clean your brushes (depending on how thick you laid your paint). Most of the times, this is true even for impasto techniques. For oils, you have to use turpentine (as oil paints don’t dissolve in water). It is, however, not enough to just use turpentine to clean your brushes.

With oils, you have to first, soak your brushes in turpentine, get most of the paint out, then use soap and water to make sure there is no oil reside in the brush. If you just use turpentine to clean the brush (especially your liners) then the brush will get stiff over time and you won’t be able to paint with it anymore. I learned this lesson the hard way.

Stephan Baumann, an artist who videos I watched on Youtube, recommends using turpentine, then soak brushes in “Awesome” cleaning liquid, then use soap and water. Apparently, turpentine will damage your pipes (even I didn’t know that).


Acrylics dry fast. So fast that it is sometimes annoying while painting. This, however, is very good for cleaning up. You can dry your hands with soap and water, scrape the paint off your hands, etc.

Oil paints take a while to dry out but they are not that much harder to get off your hands. You should be okay with soap and water, just make sure you do a thorough job of cleaning your hands. You don’t want to get cancer or any such diseases.


If you use glass palettes, then both of them are easy to clean. Just use a glass scraper and you are good to go. Although I have found acrylics to take less effort when removing paint off pallettes.

One issue I have had when painting smaller paintings (with less paint) is acrylics drying on the palette before I am done painting. So, I have had to use a make-shift stay-wet palette, which is use-and-throw. This means no cleaning at all. You could use the same sheets for oil painting too. So overall there is little to no difference between them.

I haven’t used wooden palettes so I can’t talk about them but removing acrylic paint from acrylic palettes is a nightmare. I have heard it is much easier to remove oil paints from it. So, in the end the ease of cleaning depends on the type of palette you use.


An unconventional painting

Unconventional for me, anyway. This was the first time I painted on a wood plank. I think it came out alright. Here it is:


Hyper-realistic beaky beans

While going through my books, I came across this painting/drawing/whatever-it’s-called I did quite some time ago. I was trying to paint a can of beans but I got the name wrong and a new type of beans were invented – the beaky beans. Here is the painting:


My misadventures with paint brushes and pig hair

When I started painting about a year ago, I knew that I was not allowed to use any brush made of human hair (Islam forbids it to the best of my knowledge). Human hair was very common for soft brushes a few years ago so I took extra pre-cautions and made sure I didn’t buy anything that contained human hair.

Until recently, what I did not know was that brushes made of pig hair are just as common and sought after by professional artists. Whenever an artist referred to a “hog bristle brush” I thought hedgehog hair was used in making that brush (don’t ask me why). You can imagine how disturbed I was when I realized hog bristle actually made of pig hair. “Hog” actually referred to pig.

Anything that says “bristle brush”, “natural bristle brush”, “hog bristle brush”, “china bristle”, “chungking”, etc is made from pig hair

After having learned this, I began to wonder what else is made of pig hair. My investigation surprised me even more. All cheap brushes that claim to be made of “natural bristles” are made from pig hair. Same goes for “bristle” brush. Even more shocking to me was that food brushes are also made of (you guessed it) pig hair. We don’t use brushes to glaze anything in my home but I wonder if there are other Muslims who do (and if they know what their brush is made out of).

I will leave it up to you to figure out if Islam allows using brushes made of pig hair for painting (or to brush your head).

Even if using brushes made of pig hair is allowed for external purposes (painting, combing hair, etc) I would not want to use a food brush made made of “natural bristles” to glaze my food. I have learned how to identify if a brush is made of natural bristles so I can avoid them (maybe I will make another post with details) but for the masses that don’t – be careful :). Use synthetic brushes as much as you can.

Hog bristle food brush
(Natural bristle food brush)


Synthetic alternative to hog bristle brushes

I will add more brushes as I come across them but here is a line of brushes I have fallen in love with :

I bought a few of these brushes and had a chance to try the fan brush. It has become my favorite. Their fan brush is almost as stiff as a hog bristle brush and retains its shape well. I, mostly, paint sceneries with a lot of grass and this brush covered a lot of area in a very short time.

One thing to keep in mind when using their fan brush (like all synthetic fan brushes) is to make sure the paint is not very thick. The brush bristles tend to clump up (more than natural bristle brushes) when there is not enough water in the paint.

The next line of brushes I am going to try (specifically fan and round brushes) are these: The Princeton 6300 series of brushes is supposed to be as stiff as the natural hog bristle brushes.