Solvent-free Oil Painting

Salt Marsh
Oil on canvas board
©2012 Lucinda Howe

This summer I’ve been experimenting with different styles of painting using a variety of media.  I usually use water-based media because they dry quickly and are easy to clean up with soap and water.  I’ve painted with oils in the past, but the turpentine and mineral spirits used with oils are toxic and make me dizzy, so I didn’t like to use them.

But I recently attended a HIGH NOON at City Art talk by Mary Gilkerson. She mentioned that solvents are a a recent invention and were not used in early oil painting.  Many oil painters practice solvent-free painting by using thin layers of paint straight from the tube or mixing with walnut oil or alkyd medium.  Brushes can be cleaned with vegetable oil, then washed with soap and water.  So I decided to get out my old oil paints and experiment.

This small piece is based on a the salt marshes south of Savannah, GA.  I painted over a previously toned board using just a little walnut alkyd medium mixed with the paint.  Now I’ll be interested to see how long it takes to dry.

I’d like to hear from the oil painters.  Do you practice solvent-free painting?  What do I need to think about as I learn how this works?

This entry was posted in Oil Painting and tagged , .


  1. Peggy Martinez July 19, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Hi Lucinda,
    I have been painting with watercolors for 10 years, I also had my issues in the past with odors from turpentine, this limited my painting experience with oils. I started painting with oils again in the last year, I use walnut oil and walnut medium and have enjoyed painting again with oils. Don’t use too much medium or it will take long to dry, if using thin layers or glazing it should dry overnight. Even Liquin would give me headaches for several days. I just had my opening reception last week for “Gift of the Rose”, 19 oil piecs on Ampersand Gessobords and Artists Panels and 9 watercolors mounted on Claybords. Here is the link I hope you enjoy it!

    • lucindahowe July 19, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

      Hi Peggy,
      Thanks for sharing your expertise. I’ll try your suggestions about walnut oil and medium. Good luck with your show!

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