How to Make Oil Paint – a Faster Method

This is Part 2 of Making Your Own Oil Paint. Read Part 1, Making Your Own Oil Paint with Jackson’s Pigments, for lots more helpful instructions about paint making.


While trying different oils for making oil paint, I ended up developing a faster method for hand-grinding oil paint than I showed in Part 1 of this series, by adding two steps. So for Part 2, in addition to discussing making the paints with two different oils, and showing a method for making a hand painted label, grinding I will show the faster method for oil paint by hand.


Making Your Own Oil Paint

1. Put on a dust mask or respirator mask.

All fine powders are dangerous to breathe in. Gloves are also recommended and you might consider wearing eye protection.

2. Place a couple of spoonfuls of dry pigment onto your grinding slab. Make a big well in the center with the back of your spoon.

Scooping it from a container with a lid, rather than pouring it so that it puffs into the air, is better for keeping the fine invisible particles out of the air. See Making a Grinding Slab for more about making your own grinding slab. Put a wet towel under your slab to stop it from sliding around and wet it again if it dries out.

ultramarine blue pigment

3. Pour into the well a little more drying oil than the well will hold.

See Part 1 for more about drying oils.

4. Using a palette knife, work the two together until you have a smooth, stiff paste.

If the mixture is too dry add more oil, but do it slowly using a pipette because the point at which you have too much oil arrives suddenly. Sprinkle on more pigment if the paste is too soft. Work it until it is as close as to a stiff, smooth paste as you can get it.

adding drying oil to pigment

handmade oil paint

make your own oil paint

grinding oil paint

5. Test for the right ratio of oil to pigment by observing the sheen and doing a peak test with your palette knife.

Very matt is too dry, very glossy is too oily, satin is just right. For the peak test, press the knife flat into your paste and lift straight up. If the paste is too dry, you won’t get long peaks of paint standing up from the pile, you might only get short, jagged, sharp peaks, so add a few more drops of oil and work the pile. If it is too soft then the peaks will flop over and not stand up, so add a bit more pigment and work the pile. If you get peaks that stand up and don’t flop over much at the tip, that’s perfect. Slightly dry is better than slightly soft because the paint will become a bit softer as you grind it.

peak test making oil paint

6. Grind the paint to encapsulate each pigment particle with the oil.

Place your maller on the paint pile and make little circles around in a big circle. A ring will form around the edge and you will need to scrape the ring up and put that paint in the center and scrape your muller clean and put that in the center and work it for a few seconds with the palette knife. (Working it well with a palette knife at this point is a new step, and helps speed things up by getting the dry parts mixed in faster.) Then put the muller back on top and make more circles.

grinding oil paint

grinding oil paint

grinding oil paint

scraping up the outer ring

This is where step two of the new, faster method that I now use, begins. After 5 – 10 minutes of repeating the process above, you add a step. As you grind the paint with the muller and as the ring of paint forms around the edge, use the palette knife to scrape up all of the thin layer of paint in the center of the circle, leaving only the thick ring of paint. Put the scraped up paint in a pile on a corner of the slab, it is finished. Then as usual, scrape the ring into the centre, scrape your muller clean and add that to the pile, work it a bit with the palette knife, and grind with your muller again. After just a few passes, less than two minutes, you will have created a thin layer of finished paint in the center again and a ring around the edge. Scrape up that finished paint from the center and add it to your finished pile. Repeat until all the paint is ground and you have a finished pile to the side.

how to make oil paint

Scraping the finished paint from the center of the circle to place in a pile on the side.

making oil paint by hand

Very quickly you end up with a large pile of finished paint in a pile on the side.

how to make oil paint yourself

Using two palette knives is helpful.

This method works much faster because the only time the muller is grinding the paint fully is when the layer is so thin that the muller is almost touching the glass, much as a triple roll mill grinds the paint. So if you keep piling it up and mixing that paint back into the pile it takes longer than if you remove that fully ground paint from the center each time. It means that the paint pile you are grinding gets smaller and smaller and you don’t waste time re-grinding the finished paint or working on top of the big pile where the muller is less effective.

With this method I was able to grind a 60 ml tube of paint in about 20 minutes. I tested it against paint I had made by grinding for an hour or more and it was no less buttery or smooth.

It helps to have a second palette knife on hand to scrape the finished paint off the first one when you are putting it to the side. I also found a better method for dealing with the muller when I want to lift it but it is suctioned to the slab. I slide it to the edge of the glass and pull it off sideways.

7. Put the paint into a paint tube.

To store your paint you will need to put it into a container with no air space in it, like an empty paint tube. Scrape the paint up with your palette knife and scrape it into the open end of the tube. Tap the lid of the filled paint tube very gently a few times on the table to get the paint to settle to the cap end. Pinch the end up to the bottom of the paint. Fold over the edge against a palette knife 3 or more times. To see more on filling oil paint tubes, see our earlier article Filling Your Own Oil Paint Tubes.

fill oil paint tube

make oil paint

You can label with anything but you can make a nice hand-painted label with a strip of gessoed canvas. If you stretch your own canvas it’s a way to use up any primed canvas scraps. A piece about 10.5 x 2.5 cm works well for our 60 ml empty tubes. Glue the strip on with overlapped ends, around the top edge of the tube. I use PVA, but other glues will work. Leaving room on the top half of your label for the paint strip, you can write the paint info on using a Sharpie Permanent Marker, as some other fine liners will smear with solvent. I include pigment name and number and source, the oil, the amount of time it was ground and ratio of pigment to oil, and the date. Then paint a swatch around the top, using the paint left on the slab before you clean it. Paint a line of neat paint to show masstone and a line of diluted paint to show undertone. You may want to change your gloves before starting or you will end up with paint all over everything you touch.

paintmaking

Be sure to clean your muller, slab, and palette knife right away with solvent and then soap to prevent any oil paint drying on the slab and thereby filling in and smoothing out your etched surface or having color left on it to contaminate your next color of paint.


Poppy Oil Versus Linseed Oil for Ultramarine Blue Oil Paint

I have made Ultramarine Blue oil paint with linseed oil before and had no problems and it was lovely to paint with. But I had read that Ultramarine is difficult to wet and needs either additives or a different oil. Using poppy oil is supposed to improve the making of Ultramarine Blue paint and give better working properties to the paint. So I thought I would try making it with poppy oil. But when I couldn’t tell any difference, I then made a batch with linseed oil straight after to double check. I couldn’t tell any difference between them in how they acted for paint making. At the 10 minute mark both the Ultramarine made with poppy oil and with linseed oil began to get too soft so I sprinkled a little more pigment on. This is easier than starting with overly dry paint to begin with, because the muller doesn’t work well on dry paint. In the end, I didn’t find a difference in the way the pigment acted when making paint or in the quality of the finished paint. So it might be that in homemade paint the differences aren’t as apparent as in machine made paint.

oil paint making

I tried different marks and mediums to check the look and feel of just made oil paint and some paints I had made a few weeks earlier.

Both of the Ultramarine Blue paints that I made were thick and buttery, the same viscosity as a store-bought tube of paint. They seemed softer as I was making them but when I tubed them up and then squeezed them out to test painting with them, they were not too soft. In my tests they thinned well with solvent, held peaks, went smoothly onto the canvas, were dark in mass tone and bright blue in undertone. I didn’t wait a week to check the drying times, but I assume the poppy dried a few days slower.


Pigment and Oil Quantities

I made the paint as described above. I did not weigh the oil or the pigment as I was making the paint. I made it by observing the texture and sheen of the paint. But I weighed what was left in the containers and figured it out, so that I could help you predict how much oil and pigment it would take to make a tube of paint. I weighed the oil to be more accurate and since a gram of oil is also a milliliter of oil it was easy to then convert that to ml. I also checked the Jackson’s 60 ml Empty Tubes, to see how full they needed to be to be 60 ml and what was left over for folding. Since I like to be able to fold the end three times, I wasn’t able to get it to fill all the way to the 60 ml mark.

make oil paint

making oil paint

pigment and oil

I made a small batch of Ultramarine Blue oil paint with linseed oil – about half a 60 ml tube. It took 13 ml oil and 20 g of pigment and 10 minutes of grinding.

I made a bigger batch of Ultramarine Blue oil paint with poppy oil – 1 1/2 60 ml tubes. It took 58 ml oil and 81 g of pigment and about 20 minutes of grinding. So the ratio of oil to pigment is about 3:4 – a larger proportion of oil than with the linseed oil.

I would estimate that a 100 g pot of Jackson’s Ultramarine Blue pigment will make enough to fill two 60 ml tubes of oil paint, not filled up quite all the way, so that you can get some good folds. It will take about 65 ml of linseed oil or 72 ml of poppy oil.


Materials Featured


Further Reading

Making Your Own Oil Paint with Jackson’s Pigments

Drying Oils

Our Pigments series

Filling Your Own Oil Paint Tubes

Just Paint – Volume, Weight, and Pigment to Oil Ratios

Shop pigments on jacksonsart.com

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