Saturday, April 18, 2015

Question: Drying Time in Oil Paint

Pedram F., an artist who works in Sweden, asks: "Heya James! Big fan and silent watcher of your posts and blog here! I'm going to break the silence tho' this time around because I have been watching your latest video on the Rise of Tyrannosaurus that I bought recently. It's a really simple question that wasn't really touched on, except maybe only hinted at in the video, but I wonder how long it takes for your painting to dry in between the stages/layers. Do you always wait for touch dry before moving on? Since you are using different dryers or mediums that shorten the drying time, it would be interesting to know how long you wait in between sessions. That is, from the moment you put down the paint brush to finishing it."

Hi, Pedram,
Great question! Thanks for asking. When I'm painting on a deadline assignment, I usually want the section that I'm working on to stay workable for a couple of hours. A few hours is usually plenty of time to accomplish any kind of blending or gradation. I typically want it to be dry to the touch by the next morning.

When there's time for slow drying
If I really need more than one day for a given passage—such as a big cloudy sky or a portrait with a lot of edge work—I might use a more normal painting medium (such as damar varnish + stand oil + gum turpentine), or no medium at all. In that case, I make sure to paint that passage early enough in the deadline cycle so that it will have time to dry to the touch in a natural way before I need to deliver the painting.

I have to be careful about thick impastos of titanium white or the cadmium colors, because they dry slowly. The last parts to dry are often the highlights. Those might take days or even weeks to dry.

This particular assignment allowed six weeks from first call to delivery. More than half of that time was taken with research, sketches, and approvals—which is typical for a scientific or historical illustration. As a result, the final paintings had to be done in the last two weeks. Most magazine deadlines allow a few weeks to a month start to finish, but I am sometimes called in on much shorter deadlines.

Eight strategies to speed up drying

1. Working thinly is a third way to get oil paint to dry quickly. I use Winsor and Newton's Alkyd mediumor Gamblin's Galkyd medium if I need medium at all. If the paint is reasonably thin, it will be set up by the next day.

2. Pre-texturing is the method I show in the video to achieve thick paint with impastos, while still getting the paint to dry quickly. The thin oil paint is applied over the surface of the dried acrylic underpainting textures. The oil layer dries overnight, but because of the underpainting textures, it looks like a thick impasto.

3. Another method is a heated drying box used at night between painting sessions. A drying box is an enclosed fireproof volume built to contain the painting, together with some heating element, such as an incandescent bulb.

4. If you don't want to build a box, you can use a light bulb in a reflector clamp lamp to speed the drying. If the heat is coming just from one side, there's a danger of warping the board or damaging the surface of the painting.

5. One solution for such thick paint is the use of chemical accelerators. If I think I might use thick passages of white or cadmiums, I might use just a drop or two of cobalt drier mixed with a palette knife into the blob of white on the palette. As I'm sure you know, these driers should be used sparingly, as they can weaken the paint emulsion and change the color if one uses too much of them. I rarely resort to them, but if I need them, they can be a lifesaver.

6. Another tip that you'll recall from the video is that I can save a day by doing a casein underpainting. Casein is a well established underpainting medium for oils, and the painting can be taken to any stage in that medium with the oil used only where necessary.

7. Sometimes the oil paint just isn't dry the night before shipment or hand-delivery. In that case, I build a gapped box, with cardboard shims around the outer edges, so that the cardboard of the container is not touching paint surface. I also would then put a note in the box to let the art director know that there might be some wet paint.

8. A final expedient is for the artist to photograph the wet painting instead of shipping it to the client. As long as the copy work is done to a standard acceptable to the client, this can save everyone a lot of effort, expense, and time, and then it doesn't matter if the painting is wet. If the lighting set-up is good, the new cameras such as the Canon Digital Rebel can shoot excellent high resolution files that rival what a lab could deliver. Here's a blog post explaining how I typically photograph paintings, and here are two other blog posts by Dan Dos Santos and David Palumbo explaining how they do it.

Hope that answers your question, Pedram. And in case anyone else wonders: I haven't experimented much with water-soluble oils, tubed alkyd paints, or acrylics, mainly because I've got my hands full with oil, casein, gouache, and watercolor. I'm sure they have wonderful properties, but I just haven't had a chance to try them out.


Katarina Öberg said...

As a new oil painter, which mediums to use when, and for what reasons, is quite perplexing, so this is very useful topic. Thank you for explaining and for the links to the products.

Gail Hayton said...

I too purchased your video. I found it quite informative and well done. I was curious about your use of mediums as well. When you are doing washes in the very beginning stages are you using any medium or just mineral spirits? Thanks

Tom Hart said...

What a great and extremely useful post for future reference. Which leads me to this note: I hadn't realized (or knew and forgot) that your blog can be searched by term. I haven't tried this extensively yet, but, for example, I just searched "galkyd" (using the hourglass box next to the Blogger logo at the top of the screen). That first took me to just this current article, but provided the option to see all posts with that word, sorted by relevance, with the option to change to sort by date.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

I've used a regular oven to dry my oil paintings: turn the oven to 350 deg. F., let it heat, then TURN OFF THE OVEN, slip in the painting and close the door. It's important to remember to turn off the oven before putting the painting in! This method, of course, should only be used in dire circumstances. :)

James Gurney said...

Michael, My wife won't let me put paintings in the oven—she says it makes the food taste funny. So in the winter I prop up the painting in front of the wood stove. That does the trick. If the painting sucks, I put it IN the wood stove. Winter is a good time for letting paint dry slowly, too. At the end of the day, just stick the painting out on the porch, and it will dry much slower out there. Same for the paint on the palette.

Tom, thanks for the reminder about the search box. I use that too to check if I've already posted about something.

Gail, first oil washes are mostly turps, not much medium.

Katarina, glad you found it helpful. When I was a student, I was probably overly concerned with medium formulas, but after talking to working painters, I found they often used little or no medium.

Jacob Walsh said...

Im always amazed at your videos and how informative you are. Im always bookmarking certain posts of your blog for future reference and help.
Thanks for sharing all of this information with us.
Looking forward to seeing your art in person next month in Connecticut.

Abigail Platter said...

Hi James,

I'm excited to purchase your video soon! As I was watching the trailer, a question came to my mind.
As a young artist, training one's hand and eye is hugely important in the process of learning (and of course continues to be so), and it takes up a majority of the first few years of training. However, when it comes to painting imaginatively, there is much work that is not "training" that has to be done such as shooting ref, sculpting, researching, etc,. Would you say that until one has a very firm training in the fundamentals, they should not venture into imaginative realism, or do you think it is a good to train early to do so, and improve in both areas as you train? Do you think it is worth a young artists time to paint imaginatively early on, or should they only focus on fundamentals until they "earn" their way to progressing?
Thank you for all your amazing content- always keeps me moving forward!

James Gurney said...

Jacob, thanks. That's one of the reasons I like putting stuff out there on the blog -- It stays archived and transparent to search, so people can find info long after it was first posted.

Abigail, I would definitely recommend developing your imagination along with your fundamentals of observational drawing. It's a different set of skills, but the two sides of your artistic self will reinforce each other. You can practice imaginative realism by copying comics, fantasy art, or classic painting, by drawing out of your head, and by learning to draw the simplified "mannikin" figure, animal anatomy, and perspective.

James Gurney said...

Hey, did anyone get a visual matching captcha? I've seen number and word identification before, but this one was to identify all the cupcakes from an array of other cakes. I have a feeling Google images is using the captcha process to help them develop robot vision.

Rich said...

"Robot Vision"?
Must be some light years ahead...:
Ahead of what?

I mean ahead of Speed's chapter three called "Vision"

Glenn said...

James, I had the cake captcha recently. I've noticed the session times for verification seem to be getting shorter as well.

Abigail, a good exercise for developing observational and imaginative skills is to do an observational drawing and then within a day or two redraw it completely from memory. This is something I learned from Darren Rousar, who has written a number of excellent books on both observational and memory training.

Some GJ postings/links about Darren:

Darren's Books:

thedailypainter said...

In terms of mediums, I've been using M. Graham's Alkyd Walnut medium and I'm quite happy with the way it works. My paintings are usually dry to the touch within 12-18 hours.

Chase B. said...

Hello Mr. Gurney! I just read the article and i must say that these paintings look amazing! I am glad that snowstorm in March didn't affect your schedule schedule much, and even if it did, these paintings are still incredible.

Warren JB said...

"Hey, did anyone get a visual matching captcha? I've seen number and word identification before, but this one was to identify all the cupcakes from an array of other cakes."

I've seen the wine bottle one. Currently sticking masking tape over my webcam.

Great followup to the video, too. Thank you!

Les Dorscheid said...

James, I have used a drop or 2 of cobalt drier in white paint for years. Yet I have read that doing so will cause oil paint to crack eventually. I do try to paint thin to thick, but sometimes because of tight deadlines I've broken that rule. What are your thoughts on dryers and cracking paint?

James Gurney said...

Les, I've never had any problem using a drop or two of cobalt drier mixed into the white. My impastos are not too high and I'm working on panel, so there isn't a lot of flexing. As with any art materials, it's a good idea to try out methods on scraps and put them through the paces.

Marc Is My Hero! said...

Ive thankfully been busy lately, so i have a little catching up to do on the blog. posts like this are why i will always come back. Thanks for all the knowledge you share James. I paint mostly with acrylics, gouache and watercolor, but i am anxious to start with oils. i think the open drying times are going to make it way easier for me to achieve some of the blending that I labor over with acrylics.