The Secret of Oil Painting Without Solvents

Don't like the smell of turpentine or mineral spirits...
even the low odor kind is too much?
Worried about health effects?

No problem!

There are ways to avoid nasty solvents.


Method #1

Use a painting knife

The simplest and and least expensive method is to set aside your brushes for the painting knife. Use whatever paint you have and the knives you most likely have as well. Knives are cleaned with a quick wipe of the cloth. No need for solvents at all. It's easier to maintain pure color. With a little practice you'll soon pick up the technique.

Painting Knife — A blunt knife with a slightly flexible steel blade and no sharpened cutting edge. It is used in place of a brush for applying paint colors, paste, pigments, and so forth directly onto the canvas or painting surface. Between the handle and the blade there is usually a large crank, to keep the artist's hand off the paint surface. Painting knives come in a multitude of styles, shapes, and sizes.

Short Intro to Painting with Knives

Method #2

Water mixable oils

Clean up with water, special medium

I have covered these fairly new paints on another page.

Prefer regular oils and brushes? Read on!


Method #3

Walnut Oil With Regular Oil Paint

Use walnut oil made especially for oil painting. Use a drop or two to loosen up stiff paint. Use it like solvent to clean brushes during a painting session. Fill your stainless steel brush cleaner with walnut oil and swish the brush as normal. Squeeze out all the oil you can and then wash with soap and water at the end of the day. Use special brush cleaning soap if necessary. Let the soap set in the bristles over night in stubborn cases. For hardened brushes you can soak in fabric softener over night.

A tip from William Whitaker:  After getting soap into the brush, grab the end of the bristles with your left hand and, while holding the brush handle with your right hand, wiggle the brush handle back and forth several times - doing this helps remove the stubborn paint that is close to the ferrule and will extend the life of your brushes.

It really helps to use a creamier oil paint for the no solvent methods. Maimeri, Rembrandt and M. Graham are good ones to try. M. Graham's are made with walnut oil.

M. Graham
Brush Soaps
Safer Solvents
Sporny Solution


Method #4

The Sporny Solution...with Regular Oil Paint

Traditional Oil Painting Without the Hazards

If the traditional oil painter is willing to follow simple instructions designed for The Sporny Solution™ products, an efficient, fume-free studio environment is assured. All Four Products in the The Sporny Solution™ line up contain NO VOCs, nor citrus of any kind. All three Media – the Light Medium, Heavy Medium, and Time Extender -- are blends of tested, superior professional grade, non-yellowing, highest elasticity, archival-class oil painting materials. The clean-up Solvent is user-friendly, does not evaporate, and can be recycled many times.

“I have successfully used the Sporny Solution for ten years, all through grad school and professionally. I recently started a non-toxic oil painting workshop in my own studios. Everyone uses the Sporny Solution materials, carefully following the easy directions. We have a completely fume-free painting class”.

Laure Williamson, Painter and Educator, Baton Rouge


Method #5

Chroma Archival Oils, Mediums & Thinner

May work for some. I have tried these
and can not detect any odor at all.
A 'stickier' consistency than regular oils

All of the Archival Mediums use low toxic odorless solvents.
Very little vapor is generated during a painting session.
Over time they do evaporate...ventilation required

but that's true for any paint.

Break the Traditional Oil Painting Rules

As an Archival painting cures, the surface layer stretches to accommodate movement below, allowing the artist to go on and complete their work quickly without harming it, even when complex layering techniques are used.

Don’t Wait For Up To Six Months For Your Oil Painting To Dry

When combined with alkyd based mediums Archival dries quickly on the painting, but it will remain workable on the palette until mediums are added.

The flexibility of Archival Oils allows for movement as the painting dries, cures and becomes stable. Age crackling will not happen to paintings done with Archival.

The Healthier Alternative

Archival Odorless Mediums and Solvents evaporate much more slowly than turpentines so that very little vapor is generated during a painting session. Archival Mediums are based on fast drying alkyd resins which out perform ‘traditional’ mediums and are better for health.

Paint, medium and thinner...see Jerry's Artarama

Method #6

D.I.Y. Medium

Calcite Sun Oil...with regular oil paint

Buy the book and make it at home.
1. Flax Oil from the health food store,
2. Calcium Carbonate powder
(Chalk of Champagne) from France
3. Glair (egg white beaten and allowed to settle)

Very positive reviews.

Youtube Videos Vol. 1 Vol. 2 Vol. 3

"For almost two years now, I have had no health issues with this method. I paint almost daily, I do wear latex gloves when I oil out, but there are no fumes and the results have been fantastic. This is just a bonus though. The fact that it is non-toxic was the main draw for me. Yet, it is not difficult to make, it is far superior to anything I have used previously and the finished surface is very exciting. I can sincerely recommend this book to anyone who oil paints or cares about someone who does. From an artistic opinion, it creates miraculous results. From a health standpoint, you owe it to yourself."  Review by L.H. on

Safety and Permanence without Hazardous
Solvents, Resins, Varnishes, and Driers.

The ‘Calcite Sun Oil/ Emulsions” method of Oil Painting is based on the ancient knowledge and materials of the Great Masters, Rembrandt and Velazquez. This NEW, yet ancient method of traditional oil painting allows artists to eliminate the hazardous Solvents, Resins, Varnish and Driers that are so dangerous to human health as well as to the permanence of the Artworks. This method is made possible by the “Rebirth of the Old Masters’ superior oil” with its extraordinary properties. Though the academic level is written for Professional and Advanced artists, one Chapter is written especially for beginning oil painters of all ages. Every Academic educational institution should have this ground-breaking fact-filled manual because of their ethical and legal obligation to safeguard the health and safety of their student artists. Now, every professional and independent artist can choose to use a completely SAFE method of oil painting, while gaining tremendous TECHNICAL advantages over the traditional solvent-resin-drier-varnish method. Additional information is on the author’s websites, and

He uses Flax Oil sold by the Barleans Organic Oils.
16 oz....$19.91


Denatured alcohol not necessary or recommended. It is toxic and hazardous. He recommends using 100 proof alcohol liquor for his method. Perfectly safe so long as you don't drink it.

"Thank you for informing others of my site and book. I do appreciate your website for its educational information.  Just a brief comment about the use of Methylated Spirits; It is Toxic and Hazardous. As you know, Methylated spirits is a mix of Ethanol ( which forms the basis of our alcoholic liquors) and TOXIC additives that serve to make Ethanol non-drinkable . Another common name is Denatured Alcohol. My warning to users is that Methylated or Denatured Alcohol is very toxic if ingested and equally hazardous if the vapors make contact with your eyes or lungs. Goggles must be worn if this hazardous product is used, as well as sufficient ventilation."

Louis R. Velasquez


From Yahoo answers:

You can make your own calcite oil from a bottle of flax seed oil you can purchase at your local pharmacist or health food store. Simply wash the oil in a cleaned and discarded milk bottle with a cup of methylated spirits, (industrial spirit), allow them to separate and pour off the spent alcohol which will separate to the top. Pour the oil a little at time into a shallow white dish and allow to sit in the sun and it will clarify from its natural lovely amber hue to very clear and colorless. Add some ground limestone into that to add body, and mix your pigments as you would have intended. Superb artist's oil paint. You can purchase the book of detailed explanation in eBay, too, for only $20. Check out the web site under Calcite Sun Oil.

See the update just above.



Modified oils and Putty Medium

Tad Spurgeon

Sun Oil: Without question the single most important thing you can get or make. The foundation for a great many mediums. A favorite of mine is based on Sun Oil and Spike Lavender mixed 1 to 1. This has an open time of about half an hour used thinly as a couch, can be adjusted to be tighter with less spike or longer with a bit of thinner oil or a bit of Burnt Plate Oil. Sun oil can also be thinned with raw oil and heated to make a variety of mediums in the "Oil of Delft" family. Expensive to buy, can be made easily in a sunny climate in the summer, but even in Vermont I can make something useful. The best sun oil is made from oil from which all the water-soluble fatty acid break has been removed. (The material marketed by Grumbacher as Sun Oil may have seen the sun at some point in it's process, but is essentially a mixture of much slower drying vacuum bodied oils as a single sniff will tell you).

Putty Mediums: A huge family of mediums with wide-ranging characteristics based on the translucent and adhesive properties of calcium carbonate -- chalk, calcite, marble dust, precipitated chalk, whiting -- mixed with oil of varying viscosities in various proportions. Can be made loose or tight, put in a jar or a tube, or can simply be done on the palette. Chalk has been found in the work of many older painters including Chardin, Rembrandt, and Velásquez. Perhaps most importantly, enables traditional oil painting without using any solvent. For more detail on this family of mediums and their use, you can go here . The text handout for a workshop I give on these mediums is here.

Handling and modifying oils

Tad Spurgeon Numenist, anachronist, maroon Home page of a very interesting painter, thinker experimenter.




Many items below can be found at Dick Blick!  
(Bob likes Dick Blick so much he has become an affiliate!)

Painting Knives
M. Graham
Brush Soaps
Safer Solvents
Sporny Solution

Click and save


1. A glorious expression of Italian craftsmanship! Blick’s revolutionary series of painting knives are made from black anodized stainless steel with multi-colored ergonomic rubber handles for cool looks and a comfortable grip. These knives are easy to clean and will provide years of dependable use.

2. Safer to use than metal knives, these one-piece molded plastic knives are also economical, durable, and easy to clean.

3.  These Loew Cornell Fine Quality Painting Knives are a great value! They feature extremely flexible, trowel-style fine quality blades set in hardwood handles. Made in Italy. I have this set and like them a lot.


1. Blick Blue Comfort Grip    Painting Knives
    Traditional set of 6...$52.99

    Detail set of 6...$52.99

2. Richeson Plastic Knives
    Set of 5...$3.67

3. Loew Cornell Steel Knives
    Set of 6...$27.29

Click and save



5 review:

"Any knife painter who loves colour straight from the tube will benefit by studying Coulton's exuberant paintings. His book not only contains over 220 black and white illustrations, it also has 16 full colour plates. Coulton offers 'an enormous range of knife painting techniques', with step by step demos. His discussion of colour is second to none. As an oil painter, I have found his book to be the single most valuable work I've ever read.

His beautiful, powerful knife paintings illuminate the book, as does his warm, intelligent narrative. I love this man.

He was born in Cornwall, England, in 1896 and later made his home in Newburgh, New York. His work is in collections in Syracuse University, the University of Wichita, the Cooperstown Art Association, the Toledo Museum, and in private collections all over the U.S.

Nothing reveals the man and the artist more than this quote from his book, with reference to Egyptian Turquoise: "I have certain still lifes with backgrounds of this colour which I love so much I often just walk around the studio, carrying them."

Coulton Waugh's books should definitely not be out of print. I hope Watson-Guptill Publications will consider reprinting them."

Photos of my copy.

I order a used copy based on this review alone! It arrived a couple days ago and I can report it is well worth the money. Published in 1971, it's full of helpful information. You'll find chapters on 'Tools and Grounds', 'Painting Setup', 'Paints, Mediums & Varnishes', 'Using the painting knife', Looking at nature', 'Color', and 'Demos'. He covers acrylics, too.

Learn the wibble-wobble and the flutter strokes.
Five Stars...Recommend.


Good for basic techniques. Powell also has videos for sale on his website. I own this book and a couple videos.


1. Art Graham took his new colors back to the roots of oil painting in Italy and Flanders by using walnut oil as a binder. Walnut oil has been used interchangeably with linseed oil for over a thousand years.

2. It flows more freely, and has less tendency to crack or yellow. Today it is known that Renaissance masters such as Da Vinci and Dürer generally favored walnut oil over linseed oil.

3. This special medium was developed to provide a non-toxic, environmentally responsible alternative to solvent based, rapid drying alkyd mediums. It closely resembles combinations of sun-thickened oil and natural resins used throughout the history of art, but with the advantage of being solvent-free.

1. M. Graham Oils
    37 ml tubes...$5.86 - 16.22

2. M. Graham Walnut Oil.
    8 oz/$8.66

3. M. Graham Walnut Alkyd    Medium
    8 oz/$10.24

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1. Classico oils spread like butter right from the tube and dry to a rich satin glow. The colors are lightfast and highly concentrated, thin well, and mix perfectly. Classico pigments are micro ground with the finest linseed oil for great transparency when glazing, and will quickly become your choice for fine painting.

2. Walnut Oil - Increases the brightness of colors. It has similar properties to linseed oil, but it won't yellow as much. Good drying power.

1. Maimeri Classico Oils
    60 ml ...$5.19

2. Walnut Oil
    250 ml...$13.49

Note: Some mediums contain lots of solvent. Read carefully and avoid.

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1. Transform your studio with this outstanding range of oils! Recognized for more than 75 years as a manufacturer of fine oil color, Maimeri oils are formulated to give the artist the highest degree of lightfastness, purity and quality, ensuring a clean, pure tone.
1. Maimeri Puro Oils
    40 ml ...$9.52 - 47.66

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1. Rembrandt Artists' Oil Colors are highly durable and are produced in Holland with the highest color strength possible, using valuable, costly, pure pigments. They respond to the brush with a buttery feel, and have a noticeable brilliance and color intensity rarely seen anywhere in the world. The pigments are ground to extreme fineness in a binder consisting of the purest linseed or safflower seed oil, resulting in an oil paint whose texture is exceptionally smooth, creamy, and even.
1. Rembrandt Oils
    40 ml....$6.60 - 21.98

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1. This soap thoroughly cleans and conditions brushes, possibly to better than new condition. A little lathering with water quickly does the job. This highly fatted soap is made with linseed oil, and is the result of many efforts by a number of artists over the years. One jar contains enough soap to last the average painter a long time. Ugly Dog Brush Soap is not recommended for cleanup of watercolor or acrylic paints.

2. The Masters Hand Soap is specially formulated to remove petroleum-based paint or materials without harsh and messy thinners. It removes dried-on paint with just water. It's non-abrasive, and leaves hands soft. Environmentally safe.

3. This versatile linseed oil soap is an excellent brush cleaner and moisturizer that can also be used to clean your hands. The soap's minimal odor makes it ideal for classroom or studio settings.

4. Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner and Restorer completely cleans dried acrylics, oils, and alkyds with no damage to the brush head or loss of fibers. It can be used on natural or synthetic brushes. The cleaning solution is effective within minutes for oil colors (hours for dried acrylics), and leaves no oil residue.

This water soluble cleaner is non-toxic, biodegradable, non-flammable, and has low vapor. It comes in a plastic bottle.

1. Ugly Dog Brush Soap
    4.2 oz Tin....$14.39

2. Masters Artist's Hand Soap
    4.5 oz bar...$2.78

3. Richeson Studio Soap
    4.0 oz jar...$4.17

4. WN Brush Cleaner & Restorer
    4.0 oz jar...$3.31

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For Stubborn Paint
1. Aquasol Waterbased Solvent replaces hazardous petroleum solvents for clean-up. It quickly cleans all artists' oil paints, varnishes, inks, acrylic paints, and mediums. It's easy to use for all brushes, palettes, tools, containers, and surfaces, including plastic. Completely water soluble, non-flammable, and non-combustible. It gives out no toxic fumes or vapors, which greatly reduces ventilation needs.

Note — Do not soak natural fiber brushes for more than 45 seconds. Aquasol is not suitable for use as a painting medium.

2. #115 Xtra Mild Citrus Thinner is a medium-strength, general purpose thinner and mild solvent. It is a combination of highly purified cosmetics-grade hydrocarbons and food-grade essential oils.

Use for thinning and clean-up of all oil-based Eco-House products, resins, gums, varnishes and waxes. Also suitable for use as a volatile medium with most conventional oil-based paint products including fine artist's oil paints. Not suitable for dissolving hard resins such as damar or copal.

3. #125 NeutralThin is a truly odorless 
thinner, brush cleaner and volatile painting medium for oil-based paints and artist paints.

This hypo-allergenic formula
without essential oils has been used successfully for chemically sensitive persons for more than a decade. However, due to the individual uniqueness of allergic reactions, exceptions are possible.


1. Aquasol Waterbased Solvent
    32 oz ....$6.99

2. Eco-House
#115 Xtra Mild Citrus Thinner
    32 oz ....$9.99

3. Eco-House
#125 Neutral Thin
    32 oz ....$14.31

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1. Solvent cleans brushes, tools and palettes. Makes brushes silky and flexible without the hazards of turpentine. Not for painting.

2. Light Medium for under painting or thin surface.

3. Heavy Medium for finished work, impasto, plein-air. Durable finish, bright colors.

4. Time Extender prevents early dry-up of paint on the palette. Saves money! Lengthens workable time on the canvas, as for portraiture or flowing impasto.

1. Non Toxic Clean-Up Solvent
    16 oz....$24.99

2. Light Medium
    8 oz....$19.99

3. Heavy Medium
    8 oz....$19.99

4. Time Extender (not listed)

Art Outfitters


More Painting Secrets:

The Secret of Values New
The Secret of Emotion

The Secret of Critiquing
The Secret of Composition

The Secret of Visual Idea
The Secret of Borrowing
The Secret of Tonalism 
The Secret of Style
The Secret of Maxfield Parrish

The Secret of Plein Air
The Secret of No Solvents
The Secret of Water Mixable Oils

The Secret of Thumbnails
The Secret of the Process
The Secret of Knife Painting

Painting Knives
M. Graham
Brush Soaps
Safer Solvents
Sporny Solution



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Landscape Portfolio 3
Secret of Painting

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Native American Portfolio 2
Western Themes 1

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Daily Painting Blog
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Wild Life Portfolio 1
Still Life Portfolio 1

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