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Old painting with linseed and stand oil underpainting is starting to drip

Hello,

I sold a painting about 9 years ago to someone who got in touch recently to inform me that the painting had deteriorated over time, with drips of brown goo running down the surface.

For about 11 years, I’ve been working in oil paint and oil pastel on canvas. When I start a painting, I generally prepare the surface with a combination of linseed oil and stand oil, sometimes applying multiple layers and allowing them to dry between coats. This is to provide a kind of buffer between the paint and the canvas so that the paint can be more easily removed, keeping it workable. In addition, I often squirt this linseed/stand oil solution onto the painting while I’m working to keep the paint wet, and to add a drippy quality. I’ve seen – and still have in my possession – many of my paintings from the era of this painting and earlier, but this is the first time I’ve seen this fairly catastrophic degradation.

I’m not sure exactly what happened here, but I’m guessing that for this particular work, I applied the linseed/stand oil undercoating in big globs instead of in a smooth coat, and puddles of it congealed such that the outer surface solidified but the interior remained liquid. Then over time, the outer layer cracked/dissolved, and inner liquid oozed out.

The challenge now is to remove the drips while minimally affecting the underlying painting. The patron says “the drips have been going for some time”, and describes the substance as “tacky/sticky to the touch” but “not wet exactly”. My first thought was to use a dry paper towel/napkin/rag to remove the bulk of it, then go over it again with a paper towel/napkin/rag damp with soapy water. If there is still a residue, I thought carefully wiping it with a rag soaked in mineral spirits (or a comparable substance that a non-painter might have lying around, though I don’t know what that would be exactly – ethyl alcohol?) could clean the final bits.

Can anyone advise on how to clean this up? Also, how can I prevent this happening in the future? I have not been in the habit of varnishing my work, but I’ve been thinking of starting to do so. Might that prevent such calamities? Note that my technique is experimental and largely of my own invention so I’m still not sure what long-term hazards it poses, and am keen to ensure my work preserves over time.

Thanks very much,

Jeremy.

Hi Jeremy. I’m sorry this happened to you. I have some thoughts, but I think the best place to get advice is the Facebook page “Traditional Oil Painting.” Virgil Elliott, master painter and author, is moderator, and lots of real experts chime in on situations such as yours.
Good luck!!

@laurelle_cidoncha thank you for the suggestion! I’ll check out that page if I don’t get a solution from this forum + others I’ve posted to.

Yikes. It definitely sounds like you are using way too much oil.

Stand oil is more concentrated than linseed oil so I’m unclear why you would use that as a base.
This is the opposite of the fat over lean principle where you use a smaller oil to pigment ratio for your first layers.
I would definitely discontinued this practice.

You can try removing the drips with gamsol and then touching it up.

I don’t think varnish is going to help, sorry.

Thanks for the feedback Jacqueline!

My motivation was to create a slick layer between the paint and the canvas so the paint could be more easily wiped off without “staining” the canvas. My whole approach is to keep the paint wet and workable, so I can work on it for a long period of time - several weeks, say - and still be able to completely redo any part at any time. If I continuously work on a given area, I find it acquires a stiff, overworked appearance. If instead, I repeatedly wipe off and redo a certain area, I can eventually get an accurate representation while retaining a spontaneous freshness.

Do you think there could be some other substance I can apply to the gessoed canvas that will support paint without causing the pigment to sink into the canvas and stain it, so it can be repeatedly wiped off?

Here are some more examples of my work, to get an idea of the style I want to maintain: https://www.instagram.com/jeremyeliosoff/

I know from personal experience that safflower oil is slower drying than linseed oil or stand oil. It’s also thinner, so may help. It’s also lighter in color and less yellowing over time so keeps whites and lighter colors ‘fresher’.
I haven’t used poppy seed oil but I believe that is slower drying as well. You would have to experiment I think.

I don’t know of a substance that you can work into for many weeks.
I’m not sure, but I think my advice would be to find a way to work faster if you can, so as to try to work with and accept the natural limitations and properties of the materials.
Perhaps plan ahead with oil sketches on paper first so that you can achieve your goal with the actual piece in a shorter time period.
As to avoiding the staining issue, I’m not sure I have any ideas. Again, it’s probably best to have a plan so as to avoid staining areas you do not want to stain in the first place.
I’m loving the freshness of your work and I’m certain you can still achieve your goals with a little forward planning.
I’m sorry to not be more helpful!

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perhaps learn to paint alla prima and use paint straight out of the tube.
maybe use liquin original if you need to glaze. keep it simple ! : )

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You may want to look into making a slow-drying medium, something like this:
http://www.drawmixpaint.com/supplylist/international.html

That should stay workable for a couple of weeks, but I’m not sure there’s anything that would keep the paint workable much beyond that.

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Hi Jeremy- So sorry this has happened to you. Like others I think the linseed/ stand oil is a big problem. You do want the paint to eventually dry, and having a layer between paint and canvas is not a good idea. They are meant to be used mixed into your paint in small quantities.

First of all, I highly recommend that you contact an art conservator before you attempt to remove the streaks. There is a wide variety of solvents, and ea. will react differently to the stand oil vs the oil paint you want to keep. You should be able to find a local conservator or through the AIC website. You don’t want to wipe something all over the canvas— it may loosen more of the underlying oils.

Adding varnish on top will not solve your problem, only make it worse. And varnish needs to be applied only to dry paint. Some paintings don’t fully dry for a year.

Another recommendation would be to contact Gamblin about a workable medium that fits your needs. They work with artists and conservators and could explain the properties of their mediums to you. You might search their website – a lot of info there.
Good luck!

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Hello Jeremy, So sorry this has happened to your lovely painting. For your future work I think safflower oil dries the slowest. Also you may want to try gessoed panels vs. canvas. My panel paintings seem to dry much slower than my canvas work so it may give you more workable time.

Best of luck to you.

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Have you tried painting on aluminum panels, wood panels or yupo paper? Might be worth a try as these surfaces are not as absorbant as canvas and make take to scraping better. As everyone else has said, you may consider not using that combination of oils beneath the paint but perhaps a different surface will help you achieve the nice style you’ve developed.

One painter comes to mind, Mel Williamson (@melpaints on Instagram), she paints with oils on yupo and I believe she does demonstrations sometimes. I’ve only used acrylic media on yupo which can often be completely removed from the surface.

Sorry I don’t have a suggestion on restoring the piece but sounds like there are a few good thoughts here already.

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Hi Jeremy. I didn’t read all of the replies so maybe someone has already mentioned this; I think an oil primed canvas/ panel, as opposed to a gessoed canvas, will work better for your approach. Oil primed surfaces are slicker and will not absorb your paint like gesso.

I would definitely recommend not using a fat mixture for under painting.

As for the painting in question, if it were me I would simply paint another one and chalk it up to just another learning experience.

Hope that helps!

Thank you Jacqueline, this is very informative!

I’ll look into safflower and poppy oils. Actually my drying retardant system is working pretty well; in addition to the linseed/stand oil underpainting, I store my painting in a fairly form-fitting box with an inner plastic lining to minimize air exposure, laid flat so it doesn’t drip. I also place a rag in the box soaked with clove oil, which I’m told delays drying. You’re also right that working faster might be a good idea - not necessarily spending less total hours on a painting, but setting aside large chunks of time multiple days in a row so the time between starting and finishing is shorter.

Thanks Dan, there’s a pretty interesting tutorial video there too!

Thank you for your input Donna.

I’m a bit unclear as to why an undercoating of stand + linseed oil is a bad idea. Since oil paint contains linseed oil, I assumed the paint would bind to the oil layer just as it would to an underlayer of paint. I know oil and water (or an aqueous solution) don’t mix, but I thought oil on oil would be fine. I take your word for it, I just don’t understand the underlying chemistry.

To be sure, I wouldn’t want to apply varnish until after I’d cleaned up the drips. Do you think it would help at that point? I figured it would hold everything together like amber, preventing more drips from running down.

I’ll look into Gamblin and other alternatives to my oil underpainting.

Thanks Rachel! I’d never heard of yupo before but I like what Mel Williamson does with it.

Thank you for the input Gary! I’m curious, if it’s a bad idea to apply oil paint over a layer of stand and linseed oil, why is it ok to apply oil paint to oil-primed canvas? Does the oil in oil-based gesso have different properties than stand + linseed oil applied over (acrylic) gessoed canvas?

Thank you so much for all your feedback everyone! Here are the changes I propose to my technique to prevent this problem from recurring and make my work more archival:

  1. Reduce the use of oil pastel. I have been told that these never fully “cure”, could melt in warm temperatures, and are “not for serious artwork”. However, this post suggests that they are safe to mix with oil paint “if you use the oil pastel only lightly, in the beginning of a work, to sketch things out… this amount of pastel will dissolve into the paint and not present the problem that distinct layers might.” I’m hesitant to abandon pastels altogether since they’re so useful for sketching things out, and I love how they partially melt when paint/oil/solvent is applied to them - but of course, durability is paramount.

  2. Do not apply an underlayer of stand and linseed oil, and then allow it to dry.

  3. Apply a layer of safflower oil instead of stand and linseed oil when I begin my painting. I hadn’t made this clear before, but in addition to preparing my canvas with a layer of oil which I then let dry (to add a slick “buffer” over the canvas so I can remove paint easily), I also apply a thin additional layer to the whole canvas just before I start painting. This creates a wet surface to which I can then apply paint (or oil pastel), which stays wet for longer, to the point where it drips and I have to regularly wipe it off, creating a drippy/melty effect which I like - although not when it happens accidentally 10 years later, like in this case!

  4. Once the painting has dried, apply varnish. I have not been told that this will prevent this dripping problem, but I assume it will at least generally protect the work and make it more durable.

What do you folks think of this updated process?

Jeremy.

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Hi again Jeremy-
No one will be able to tell you exactly what happened to this painting as we don’t know how much linseed/stand you used nor how much paint. But you should look up the principle of “fat over lean”. It is a basic tenet of oil painting and many have explained it better than I could here.
My best guess as to what is happening, is this oil layer is not curing as you put layers of leaner paint over it. So you have a layer of sticky oil that has a ‘skin’ of drier paint over it. Imagine a blob of oil paint you have on your palette that has sat out for 4 days; if you poke it it is dry on top, but tacky and gooey underneath. I imagine that pockets of this layer have started to ooze in areas of your painting where the top layer of paint has shifted or cracked. You basically put a ‘skin’ over stand oil, which keeps it from curing.

I am afraid this particular painting will keep having areas that ooze over time. If you wipe up the ones you see, and varnish, this is just putting another ‘skin’ covering on uncured oil. Then when you want to wipe new drips, you will have a varnish layer to deal with. So this may complicate it further. Using a chemical to remove your drips may also be problematic, as a solvent that dissolves linseed oil may affect the paint, which also has linseed oil in it. Again, consult with a professional art conservator.

As to safflower oil, again this is a fat layer. You want to be painting thin, lean layers, then fatter layers over this.

By your method of doing the opposite, ie putting a layer of fat down, then lean paint, will lead to cracking and shrinking of paint, and the oil underlayer not fully curing. These oils are meant to be used as mediums to add in small percentages mixed into paint. There may be something out there that you can mix into your paints to keep them “open” for a week or more, but I am not sure what that is, just because I don’t paint that way and haven’t researched it.

Keep experimenting, but really research how these mediums work before using on a painting that you want to last.

Happy painting to all!

Hi Jeremy,

yes I agree with Donna, you really need to look into the fat over lean principle.

As to your use of oil pastel, I don’t believe you need to abandon them.
Have you tried R&F paint sticks? They are oil based and very compatible. They are much thicker than oil pastels but they might give you the effect you are looking for. I’d pay no attention to what people consider ‘serious artwork’. The fact that you are selling work tells everyone all they need to know about how serious your work is. The advice we are giving you is only to help you avoid future disappointments with your medium. But other than that I think you should express yourself how you want. Mixed media is far more accepted that it was.