’42° Degrees Centigrade’
Oil on Gessoed Card
approx 30 x 40 cm
© The Artist.

What happens to oil paints in sub zero temperatures

In answer to Stew’s question, what happens to oil paints in sub zero temperatures, it’s easiest to divide the question into three parts:
1. What happens to the paint whilst actually painting.
2. Whilst drying.
3. Whilst being kept/hung/stored3. Oil paintings like to be kept in moderate temperature, in daylight & with little humidity. Actually I’ve observed that oil paintings done on MDF board age very well, if properly primed with an oil-based thixotropic primer (acrylic primers tend to absorb & suck back the oil over the years. There is less sign of this with oil based primers in my exprience), as the rigidity of the board doesn’t dilate like the flexibility of canvas (where hence ‘craquelure’). If kept in extreme heat/cold any paint not 100 percent dry underneath the dry exterior crust will move whilst the hard crust won’t, hence another source of craquelure. Again less chance of craquelure on wood panel.
2. When drying, oil paints react with the oxygen to form a hard film called LINOXYN. They seem to like right light to dry to nice bright finish. None of my paintings are left outside to dry in extreme conditions, just properly & gently in moderate conditions.
1. Whilst actually painting. On lovely sunny temperate Dordogne spring days, you can feel the paint going tacky dry whilst painting. It’s the linoxyn forming & it’s a beautiful thing. In more extreme temperatures, this sensation is more difficult to detect.

‘Winter Sunset’

Oil on Panel
30 x 40 cm
© The Artist.

Plein -Air Painting in Freezing Conditions

In subzero temperatures, the paint spreads more like hard butter from the fridge, despite the fact that oil freezes at much lower temperatures than water (watercolour in sub zeros are fun , form all sorts of icicles…which unfreeze when back inside & hence the watercolour actually dissolves & disappears). It’s all the wax & alumina fillers in the paint stiffening up. Just like honey. You have to push the brushes around that much harder & with more physical ‘ummph’. I was quiet pleased with some of the blending behind the status clouds in the above painting, this fine film plays of well against the thick impasto in the soil in the foreground.
In plus thirty degrees centigrade……

42 degrees Centigrade’
© The Artist.

Plein-Air Painting in the Heat

In plus thirty degrees centigrade, there’s evaporation of the turpentine along with the wax going runny. Fun, as the paint feels more like watercolour! All runny & liquid. I did the above oil in 42 degrees centigrade. It was in 1997, I’d just emigrated to France at the same time as a close painter/picture restorer friend of mine (who I used to share studio with in Bristol UK, hence a little of his great knowledge of picture restoration was given to me) emigrated to Australia. I challenged him to a contest – who could paint ‘en plein air’ in the hotest conditions. We hung a thermometre on the easel. The above painting was done in the corn fields in the Dordogne, after the harvest. It gets very hot in the stubble. The farmers thought I was mad & in retrospect, I agree with them. But it was fun & the painting good.
Another way of charting heat whilst painting is how many litres of water. The above was about four litres of water & the sub zero was about a thermos of black tea. The real problem isn’t with the paint but the painter… in sub zeros, one can remain warm but the hands stop moving. Maybe all of this is manly bragging. Like Turner strapped to his mast in a sea-tempest. The essence of plein air painting (plein-air = fresh air or outside) is to catch something of the feeling of ‘being there’ . When this sentiment joins with that of making a picture…… things gel.


‘Sechoir à Tabac’
30 x 40 cm. Oil on Panel.© The Artist.

Old Tobacco Drying Barns

The South West is where most of France’s tobacco is grown. This is an old drying barn (sechoir), not far from my house. In these types of barns, alot of work goes on, as the leaves are hung up to dry & then carefully processed by hand. One of the jobs is to take the leaves off the trunks, which are large & woody. As I was painting this, the farmer was burning the old trunks on a smokey bonfire. An aroma of fresh tobacco floated across the landscape. For just how long this crop will go on being produced, I don’t know. Recently the government passed a law banning all smoking in public spaces, much to the annoyance of ‘Les Gauloises’.

 Some American fauve barns :

Allen Tucker (1866–1939)   Red Barns 1923


no heightened colour RED

Heightened colour = where the colour is pushed back to the most saturated, most intense. Back to ‘pure’ colour straight from the tube, the ‘mother’ colour of the mixes.

I remember reading somewhere in a Robert Genn newsletter, something about trying to paint a rusty barn & keep it browny rust , rather than let it go over into heightened colour RED. So I decided to try out this pictorial idea of an ‘anti-fauve barn’ , being something of a fauve myself.

Et viola la resultat (as much this poor quality pin-hole digitial camera will allow. Yes, I’m still waiting to be reimbursed by Sony Minolta for the manufacturors default in my Minolta Dimage A1).



Rules in Painting

However, so as to make up for following one rule, I also decided to deliberately break another ‘artistic’ rule. That of never placing the centre of interest in the middle of the picture. These rules have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Part of me still longs to paint a fauve barn, hei oui!  Red, I see you on my palette & in my dreams… but where are you in my paintings?

this is the post fauvist barns part one
fauvist barns part two – fauvist-barns-heightened-colour-vlaminck-kandinsky

Fauvist Barns 3 : Red in Landscape Painting

Heightened Colour in Photography