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Studio Craft: Achieving greater economy with your paint

Ask the Expert: "How can I get my colors togo farther? I need to stretch my budgetwithout looking like I'm using student gradepaint."

A: There are many ways to reduce the amountof paint you're consuming without sacrificingresults on the canvas. By eliminating waste andspoilage along with skillful use of mediums, it'spossible to get a lot more from your colors.

Proper Storage
Paint containers should be closed tightly andstored in an environment that doesn't promotedrying or spoilage. Exactly what conditions arebest depends on the medium.

Oils: Oil paints are very forgiving of storagetemperature, so winter cold and summer heatreally don't affect them much. It's particularlyimportant that oil paints are capped tightly instorage because it takes very little contact withthe air to induce drying. Some artists keep acotton ball soaked in essential oil of clove insidethe paint box to retard drying. Since oil paintdries by oxidation, the eugenol in clove oil slowsdrying by creating an antioxidant atmosphere.For particularly fast-drying tube colors, a smallamount of clove oil can be swabbed inside thecap to retard skinning.

Acrylics: Acrylic colors and mediums can bestored in fairly warm temperatures provided theyare tightly closed, and can be kept in cold (notfreezing) storage as long as they are allowed towarm up to room temperature prior to use.Acrylic paints and mediums should never beallowed to freeze, as this can cause irreversibleclotting.

Prevent Spoilage: Older acrylics in jars thathave lost some of their preservatives maydevelop mold in storage, particularly in warmconditions. To boost antimicrobial protection,apply a light coating of Lysol disinfectant sprayto the paint surface before closing the jar.Orthophenyl phenol (the active ingredient inLysol) will prevent mold, and the alcohol carrierwill not harm your paint.

To further prevent mold, use a clean paletteknife or non-porous utensil to take paint from thejar. To avoid introducing spores or contaminants.avoid dipping brushes directly into jars or puttingleftover paint back in with fresh.

Invest in a covered palette: Severalmanufacturers offer artist's palettes with tightfittinglids. These are highly effective at keepingacrylics wet and keeping dust out of all types ofpaint. There is still enough air under a liddedpalette to allow oil paint to dry, but a cotton swabwith clove oil can be placed in a corner of thepalette (away from colors) to retard oxidation.

Dispense paint in a long bead
While a generous dollop of paint looks nice onthe palette, it's hard to tell exactly how muchpaint is leaving the tube. That nice pile of paintgets dirty fast, and often quite a lot of paint is leftover. Instead, try placing paint in straight,uniform lines. This approach provides a moreobjective measurement than a fat dollop soyou're less likely to deposit too much. As an added benefit, colors stay cleaner as you workfrom one end of the bead to the other.

Buy in bulk and fill your own tubes
Basic oil paint staples like Titanium White can bepurchased in pints and quarts, but unless youcan use up the entire container in a few weeks,it's likely you'll end up throwing away some driedpaint with the container. In order to get the bestvalue from bulk containers it's essential to get allthe paint out of the package. If there's just a littleleft in the can, use a palette knife to transfer it toan empty collapsible aluminum tube, and crimpthe end with a tube wringer or canvas pliers.

Learn to use mediums and extenderseffectively
Mediums are generally less expensive thanartist's colors, so modifying and extending morecostly colors is a great way to increase thevolume of mixtures while imparting desirableoptical and textural properties. Professionalgradeartist's paints are dense and pigment-rich,and can be mixed with a considerable amount ofmedium or extender with no apparent change inmass tone. The addition of painting mediumactually enhances the appearance of some verydeep colors because it allows light to betterpenetrate the mixture.

Particularly with oils, it's best to use mediums inthe minimum effective amount. Add a little at atime until you achieve a balanced mixture withthe correct transparency, brightness and bodyfor your application. Acrylic mediums can beused more liberally, even with very little paintadded.

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