Saturday, May 28, 2011

Are Alkyd paints like real oil paints?

The challenge I've set myself is to learn how to paint in oils while in Provence in June.  The results will be documented on Four Go Painting in Provence (see Learning how to paint with oils in Provence).

I've spent today finding out more about Alkyd Paint.  The reason for this is I'd prefer to be using a medium which dries more quickly. This is a summary of what I've found out - and some links to some useful sites.

Are Alkyds like real oil paints?  The answer is Yes - they just dry faster.

Manufacturers of Alkyd Paint
Read on to find out more about how these paints behave.

Characteristics of Alkyd Paint

Here's a summary of the characteristics and performance of alkyd paint.
  • takes less time to dry - if you compare alkyds to conventional oil paint the principle difference lies in the drying time.  They dry much faster than oils and much slower than acrylics.  Paintings can be completed in one session.  Glazing and impasto techniques take much less time.  Thin layers are dry within 24 hours.
All colours in the range remain workable on the palette for 4 to 8 hours, and are touch dry on the canvas in 18 to 24 hours. The drying time will be affected by the thickness of the paint and the temperature of the environment, however. (Winsor & Newton)
  • dry at a consistent rate across the range - different colours of conventional oil paints dry at different rates - depending on a colour and its constituents.  Alkyds dry at a consistent rate across the whole range of colours.  It's possible to build up glazes during the course of a day
  • less time to work - the corollary of drying faster is naturally that artists have less time to work with the paint than if they were using conventional oil paint.  However they have much more time than they would have if using acrylics
  • alkyds combine well with conventional oil paints - alkyd resin and linseed oil bind well together hence you can combine alkyd paint with conventional oil paints with very acceptable results.  If not used as a main paint, they can make an excellent base for oil paint
    • However although oils can be layered over alkyds
    • it's not recommended that alkyds are layered over oils
Oil painting with Griffin Alkyd Fast Drying Oil Colour requires
attention to three conventional oil painting rules:
• Fat over lean (flexible over less flexible). When oil painting in layers, each successive layer must be more flexible than the one underneath. This rule is maintained by adding more  medium (e.g. Liquin) to each successive layer.
• Thick over thin. Thick layers of oil colour are best applied over thin underlayers.
• Due to differences in flexibility, never use Griffin Alkyd Colour on top of conventional oil colours unless the oil colour is completely dry (6-12 months). Conventional oils may, however, be used over Griffin Alkyd Colour.
  • the consistency in some colours is different - but I guess this depends on which colours you use and compared to what
On a scale of 1 to 10 — where 1 is pure plastic and 10 is oil — I would say that acrylics are about a 3 and alkyds are an 8. Some painters describe some of the alkyd colors as sticky
>Mitchell Albala
  • similar life spans - lightfastness and archival qualities depend on the performance of the pigments and chemical used.  For those most part, these are identical to artist grade oil colours and are good quality paints.
  • more transparent - alkyds are less opaque and more transparent than conventional oil paints
  • less likely to sink -  According to W&N.....
the alkyd molecule is larger than that of linseed oil so it maintains a film on surfaces which may tend to be more absorbent.
  • matte surface - Gamblin states that its alkyd paint dries matte.  Winsor & Newton put it slightly differently - but it might mean the same thing!
Alkyd colours dry to a more even reflective surface than traditional oils.
  • harder paint surface when dry - which makes it very durable
  • squeeze out only as much as you need - the quick drying time means they won't be available to use the next day
  • alkyd paintings should not be varnished for three months - despite being touch dry the next day
The main issue for artists in general appears to be whether you can achieve the same effect with normal oil paints and Liquin.  The answer appears to be Yes.

The issue for me is with two cats at home who like to sit up close and get involved with the artwork plus the need to transport wet paintings in my car when painting plein air, I'd rather focus on using paint which has got the drying agent already mixed in!  I'm also more used to producing lots of sketches and fewer formal pieces and it seems to me alkyds are admirably well suited to those who like to sketch.
The fast drying rate of the colors makes them well suited for plein air painters, especially while traveling and transporting freshly painted work.


  1. your trip sounds wonderful. It's understandable to desire the rapid drying on a trip like this. Why not acrylics for that purpose?. Or Consider using alkyd white and regular oils - perhaps a limited palette of red,blue and yellow. Even with alkyd white the paint gets to a "tacky" unpleasant stage rapidly that causes a struggle trying to learn oils(especially outdoors). Different pigment ingredients have different drying rates and the alkyd base cancels this behavior. Except for white, several colors in oil dry as quickly as other mediums. Hair in the paint is only texture.! Cant wait to see your views of the area.

  2. I will be intrigued to hear how you get on with the alkyd paints. I read Vivien's post with interest. I have taken to using watersoluble oils because I love the ease of cleaning up with them. What I need now is an alkyd watersoluble oil paint - any paint manufacturer out there listening to my plea?

  3. Hi Katherine
    I won't be at all offended if you don't post this on your blog, I just wanted to say something to YOU! I am reading with great interest and sympathy of your venture into oils. I too did some research and asked lots of questions before I ventured in. If I can say anything to help based on my learning, it is to remember how incredibly tactile this art thing is, that no matter how much research and theory, with oil in particular, the learning is only in the Doing. It'll work for you when you are Feeeeeeling it. Also, only listen with half an ear to anything you are told, for your own instincts will tell you more, once you get started. Its not, no matter what we think, a theory subject. And, finally, don't worry about trying to make oils dry more quickly - often often it is when they aren't dry that the fun is happening. Its just not like any other medium! In fact, don't worry about any of it at all. Enjoy the ride. Without thinking about the outcome.
    And if you don't like it, hey - it doesn't matter! And if you love it, hey - that's yummy!

    In the words of a good friend of mine, Over Prepare, Then Go With The Flow!

    Warmest wishes. x

  4. I'm the original tactile person Julie when it comes to art - and thanks for the reminder!

    One of the reasons I love dry media is that the contact between me and the media and the support is down to the bare essentials. I actually can't use some pastels or pencils because they don't give me the type of feedback I like or the control I want. It's a bit like driving a car and the feel for the car you get from the driving pedals etc.

    I look at it a bit like this. If I don't like the alkyds then
    * the worst thing is that I've spent some money on a mistake. That's not the end of the world.
    * Sarah (who loves them) is going to have a very big present to take home with her from France!
    I'll then go and buy some alternative paints while I'm there.

    For me the balance is between the speed (I'm a very fast sketcher - and I like the convenience of not having to find space for lots of wet paintings) and the feel (it definitely matters to me) and whether or not I can cope with brushes again.

    This is very much a tryout for me. I'm taking all my pastels with me as well and if it doesn't work out then I'll be back to playing at oils via pastels again!

    I did actually give oil sticks a serious thought for a few minutes.

    I'm happy to move onto "proper" oils later and learn about different drying times once I've got back into actually using an implement between me and the support. That's going to be major for me. I just don't use brushes at all normally.

    After all I can paint in oils using my finger on my iPad!

    It's probably worth noting that I've been enjoying painting in oils on the iPad and that's one of the reasons I'm 'going for it'.

  5. You think, since you’re new to oils, you want something that dries fast; I thought I wanted a water soluble oil (as I feared the solvents) but once you get started you’ll want to try ‘normal’ oils and you’ll find out how amazing they are. Some people are really happy with their alkyds and water soluble ones, but for me, the real fun only started once I moved on to ‘normal’ oils....
    Enjoy your trip, and....DO try out some normal oils. You’ll get hooked, like I did, and end up trying loads of brands and types.......its a great oily world out there....

  6. I use both W&N alkyds and artist oils in my paintings, and love them both! Tend to use the fast drying alkyds for my underpaintings and base layers and then move on to the artist oils on top when I need richer/more transparent colours not offered by the alkyd range. They suit my way of working very well :-)

  7. As we've discussed, I've used these plein air for years now.

    They give you hours of time to push the paint around and work wet in wet before it dries - but the next day you can glaze, scumble paint over becuase it's dry and do all the things you'd wait days or weeks to be able to do with conventional oils.

    Do put the caps on carefully though so they don't dry out.

    I like conventional oils - but in the studio.

    On holiday it would be a nightmare trying to transport lots of wet oil paintings home. With alkyds you know they will be dry and the paint won't get onto your car or belongings.

    In actual fact if you close the sheets of the disposable palette on paint left over, thin areas will dry out but a lot of thicker blobs will still be useable the next day. Working plein air, it's better to start with a clean sheet though really.

    Over prepare then go with the flow sums it up perfectly. :>)

    I've never really liked oil sticks as the marks are crude unless you are working on a really large scale. Then they can be interesting if you are working loosely,

  8. One day, maybe, I'll try working with conventional oils, however, being rather impulsive and impatient, alkyds provide the best compromise and have done for the past 15 years. Workable, even when sticky - after a night's sleep the paint surface is usually dry to the touch, can be handled and painted over - which is very rewarding. I use acrylics and acrylic texture media for underpainting, but they cannot touch alkyds in range and flexibility.

  9. I just ran into your blog and I am a professional artist. you are correct that alkyds are oil paint. They are modified with the alkyd resin. for those of you who don't like the tacky qualities that you get you can use Liquin to modify normal oil paints to decrease the drying time of oils and control how fast as well. To the person who wanted water soluble alkyd paint. they do carry the alkyd modified medium which you just mix with your paint sands get the results you want. Personally I'd rather modify quality oil paints than use alkyd paints out of the tube. Yout get nice colors, better coverage and more control over everything.


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.