Monday, May 23, 2011

AMIEN, a painters resource

Childe Hassam, Church at Old Lyme

I am returned from the weekends teaching at Old Lyme. As usual I had a great group. I always wish I knew these folks better, but I teach em for a few days and off they go. Something about a workshop must preselect for a certain kind of people. I get such good groups. Years ago that was not the case. In the eighties when I taught a few workshops I had a lot of very mean old ladies. Often they complained incessantly and didn't want to hear anything other than encouraging praise for their paintings. Those folks are now either to old or too inert to take workshops and teaching has become a lot of fun. I am willing to teach about twenty or twenty five days a year, after that I have my own art to make.

Thomas Kitts provided a link to a site called which is a conservators advice forum for artists. I looked at that and it seems to be a good reference. Here is a link to that. I read a good deal of it and learned a few things. They seem to strike a reasonable balance between caution and the artists need to create in the real world. I am not about to start grinding my own marble to make gesso, or breeding the rabbits for the glue either .

I did extract from my readings there some more information on mineral spirits vs. turpentine. They are definitely in the odorless mineral spirits camp.They do not use damar or recommend it, but if you use that, turpentine is a must. But from a safety standpoint they strongly advise against turpentine. I generally use the hardware store kind, but the really cautious among you may want to use the Gamsol. They didn't specifically endorse it, or any other product, but it has had most of the volatile (easily evaporated) evils removed from it.

Amien also seems to be very opposed to Zinc white for longevity reasons. They say it forms a brittle paint film. I never use it anyway, but some folks do. If you are using Zinc you may have some soul searching to do.

In their discussions of canvasses they surprised me a little. I have often used a good quality heavy cotton canvas and been happy with it. They don't argue against that and feel that cotton is an acceptable material for canvas. I am currently using the Centurion oil primed so right now I am using linen but I have no idea what I will be using a year from now.

I must unpack my kit and get back to work in my studio.


Johan Derycke said...

The problem with odorless turpenoid or mineral spirits is... you don't smell them.
This does NOT mean they are harmless. You inhale just as much vapors from odorless products. You're just not aware that you do.
In fact, my teacher at the academy once told me that to make these products oderless, they have to add more benzene and other dangerous stuff.
This is something worth thinking of...

Diane said...

I know that Gamsol was created to be much more "people usable" than the other types of OMS. So, I am quite happy that I can't smell it and feel good after painting all day instead of battling headaches, etc. I love the Centurion linen also and use it in panels and stretched. I feel that it is much better than cotton, not so much wasted paint soaking into the cotton in order to look like good painted strokes. If I have to use a cotton canvas I feel like I've gone back to a Model T.

Thomas Kitts said...

Well welcome home, Stapleton and thank you for the link to

You'll find that the information offered on AMIEN's site is as objective as it gets in this nutty business and if any one of us moderators present a particular manufacturer's product we will try to also offer other options as well. (Even further disclosure, I am a long-time friend of Robert Gamblin, founder of Gamblin Oil Colors, and paint folks who run his company. You will find many references to Gamblin products on my own blog. While I believe GOC makes great stuff for us artists they are only one option for sound materials, so I use a lot of different suppliers for my work.

AMIEN (Always capitalized for some reason) was founded and is largely run by Mark Gottsegen, the latest author of the "The Painter's Handbook", a well-respected source of information on materials and methods. I would not recommend Ralph Mayer or Max Doerner anymore, given the way conservation science has progressed in the past 20 years. AMIEN sets a tone of objectivity, and like you, generally believes that for a painter to go to overboard too much focus on the precious nature of their materials means painting less. And I would agree. I'd rather be known as a painter than an alchemist. Besides, in the end, for the most part, we can now buy better stuff than we have time to make, and that is what I teach my student as well. But it is still important to understand the limits of our materials, and that is what I think is good to emphasize -- not whether or not someone is painting with real lapis lazuli, or the synthetic ultramarine blue 99.9999% of us are using today. (Metaphor!)

Re: Turpentine vs Odorless Mineral Spirits (such as Gamsol)...

The only time I become concerned about turps myself is when I am in the studio, when exposure can become significant. (Even with decent ventilation.) We now fully understand its toxic effects and I would only advise using it outdoors, and not even then if someone around me is sensitive to it.

I'd also recommend not using the hardware store turps as it won't be as rectified, and all turp will degrade or breakdown over time in a sealed can, just as gasoline will. Meaning, the older it is, the more it reverts to other tarry substances that are left behind after flashing off your paint.

However, despite OMS's strength of being a 'healthier' substitute, its greatest weakness is that its lower solvency, meaning oil painters who work with damar, copal, amber -- or mediums containing them -- will have difficulty with those resins gumming up, although cleaning your brushes with isopropyl alcohol after a working session (outdoors, if possible) can take care of that concern. (You will want to apply hair conditioner or walnut oil to any natural hair brushes if you do this, as the alcohol will strip the brushes of the natural oils.)

The jury is still (somewhat) out on the use of zinc white in oil paint, as there are a few new studies underway to try and confirm Meckelberg's efforts. And even he seems to have concluded that if the zinc content remains below 10% of an oil film Mmuch of the potential for delaminating is abated. (After all, one of your new favorites, Tho. Moran used zinc extensively in his clouds for its beautiful transparency, and his work (after some conservation) seems to be holding together.

In the end I always encourage my students to feel free to paint the kind of paintings they wish to paint, regardless of present day conservation science. But I also tell them they should understand the materials they are working with so that way they can make their choices based upon knowledge and not on ignorance. For many, painting for the ages is of little concern. And that is fine by me.

I'm more concerned when I see someone who is more obsessed with the esoterica of the materials than they are with the work.

Thomas Kitts

Thomas Kitts said...

And Diane:

I will finish my last post by repeating something Robert Gamblin himself would say -- that even though you may not be smelling Gamsol in your studio does not mean it isn't there. So ventilation is important if you work indoors for hours at a time.

In other words, be safe. For yourself and all your loved ones around you.


barbara b. land of boz said...

yes welcome home Stapleton...there truly is no place like home.
Since I don't use oils all the time in my painting, I can not give "mho".
However I have been told that walnut oil will remove the oil color from your brush with out the bad smell of turps. You then use a good brush soap to remove the rest of the oil thereby leaving your natural bristles still soft.
Thank you for the post....I have been playing catch up. Some awesome ones on the Dumb End side of painting.
Take care now...but keep on keeping on.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I believe that Gamsol and some of the other OMS solvents have fewer volatile outgassing evil molecules.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I like an oil priming, I know that much.

Stapleton Kearns said...

There are plenty of folks who are overly concerned with materials using the best of materials to make paintings that not only will last forever, but never should have been made in the first place.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks. I want to be awesome.I can be loathsome.

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