Bi-weekly musings, artwork, art-talk, and randomness.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Don't Try This at Home

Recently I challenged readers with the advanced kung-fu of using the Pet Hair Pic-Up™ to remove lint from dried oil paintings. There is another thing I do that is so hardcore, it’d make Bruce Lee wet his pants if he considered trying it. As with the last post, most of these specific techniques (i.e., ones you don’t learn in basic art classes) are relevant to me and probably no one else. There are good reasons, and they have to do with the belt level required to attempt them. You need a belt color deeper than black. Trust me, this color exists—I’ve seen it within the bitter, evil eyes of my cat.


Drying oil paints is a subject that every oil painter can talk about endlessly. If you are around oil painters and everyone is out of conversation in one of those awkward silences, ask, “How do you all dry your oil paints?” You’ll instantly re-start the conversation for hours. This will also be a good time to exit the room unnoticed.

My method is still by far the easiest, fastest, and most potentially fatal of them all.


No, really, I will not be held responsible for your 3rd-degree burns and ruined life. You think I'm kidding?

This method is the easiest: it requires no manual labor or attention like the hairdryer method. You stick the painting in the oven and walk away (once you’re a seasoned pro). It is the fastest: I can hit a painting in about an hour with any combination of solvent or oil or paint, where drying mediums alone can take 24 hours. While the old lightbulb trick can sometimes yield these results, it only works on about an 8” diameter at a time; work bigger and you have to reposition the lamp and wait longer. Most potentially fatal: you run the risk of burning your house down and perishing, screaming, in horrible all-consuming flames.

The method is as follows. Take your painting, ideally on something sturdy and shove it in your oven on the middle rack. If you are using heavyweight paper, tape down the edges to a sturdy board like a piece of masonite; it will probably curl some and you’ll have to deal with that later, but you’re in a rush aren’t you? That curling will usually undo itself after not very long. If you are using illustration board you can count on it curling some too. Since I mainly use paper mounted on Hardbord masonite, I have none of these problems, but I’ve used other materials as well.

Next, turn on your oven. Paper ignites around 450F, and petroleum distillates (paint thinner) ignite right around there too. Ditto, turpentine. There isn’t a ton of either on a wet painting, but enough to start it up. It will vaporize into the air and that vapor can be ignited—I don’t smoke, so I haven’t bothered researching that. In any case, leave windows open because the thinner will evaporate quickly off the painting and build up in the air. It smells none too pleasant, and the smell of hot wood can sometimes be off-putting as well. It disappears shortly, however, but keep those windows open.

Oil paints don’t ignite, so that’s not an issue, however the pigments can “burn” and this starts happening somewhere around 300F. Your whites will turn brown and other unpleasant stuff. That’s way hotter than necessary. 200F will do the trick, this is often the default lowest setting anyway. Ovens can vary in temperature accuracy anyway, so experiment with higher temperatures at your own risk. I’ve done my own tests, but do yours if you want to know for sure.

And that’s it. If you know for sure your temperature is set correctly and that your oven is not crazy under-calibrated so that 200F actually produces 400F or whatever, you can leave your oven unattended. After years and dozens if not over a hundred paintings, I’ll even leave the house or take a nap (!) with the oven on; impasto passages can take a bit longer, as can passages containing heavy amounts of slow-drying oils. Often I’ll check email, write a blog post, or go for a run with a painting in the oven.

Limitations: size. Most ovens can comfortably accept a 12x18” board but not much larger. Working bigger means you have to move to one of the much slower methods or use more drying mediums that interrupt your flow as you work with them in mind. I swear that when I eventually settle down and have my dream studio I’m going to drop $10k on an industrial pizza oven. 56x37” capacity, oh man. Don't ask where I'm going to get $10k from, dreams don't need realities barging in. I’ve always dreamed of working larger but my Guerrilla Art Studio doesn’t allow me to, and drying time would affect me at larger sizes. The only question is whether they allow temperatures low enough for my needs. Oh, and don’t imagine that pizza parties will not be had! If it doesn’t work, perhaps some overhead food warmers would be good. Would you like fries with that?

More on this topic was posted here.