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Save Money On Oil Paints – 8 Methods For How To Keep Oil Paints From Drying Out

Sichuan Liujiang, by Barry John Raybould, 80cm x 60cm, Oil on Linen
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Oil paint is expensive, so if you are storing them overnight for use the next day, it is important to keep to find a method for how to keep oil paints from drying out and how to keep oil paint wet.

how to keep oil paints from drying out

Method #1: Put your palette in the freezer

The simplest way for how to keep oil paints from drying out is to use your freezer. Just put your palette in your freezer at the end of the day! The cold temperature will slow down the rate of oxidation and evaporation, and so help prevent your oil paint from drying out. See method #5 for a variation on this tip.

This method is even more convenient if you have a pochade box or plein air easel that will fit in the freezer compartment. Then you don’t have to mess around with trying to remove a palette from your box.

I am using a Daytripper easel and it just fits in a standard fridge.

Note that the freezing point of linseed oil (the main oil in most oil paints) is -20°C (-4°F). Most people set their freezers at -18C (0°F) , so oil paint will not freeze in most home freezers.

Pros:

  • This is the fastest and most convenient method

Cons:

The owner of the kitchen might shout at you 🙂

how to keep oil paints from drying out

Method #2: Put your palette under water

Step 1: Another method for how to keep oil paints from drying out is to put your palette under water. Do this so that the water completely covers your piles of paint. You have to have a water tray large enough to put your complete palette in.

Pros:

  • This completely cuts off the oxygen to the paint, and is a good way for how to keep oil paint wet.

Cons:

  • After about a week, a slime starts to grow in the water. You will have to clean this slime off your palette and off the piles of paint before you start painting.
  • It won’t work if you have a wooden palette. The palette will eventually rot, or warp.
  • Exposing an oil painting to water or high humidity can disrupt the cross-linking of the polymers. This can cause a loss of adhesion (which is naturally poor because linseed oil is not a strong adhesive).

Method #3: Transfer your paint to a plastic box with compartments and add water

A third method for how to keep oil paints from drying out is to transfer it from your palette to boxes. You can find very cheap small plastic boxes that are used for putting sewing supplies in, or a fishing tackle box. These are plastic boxes with small separate compartments that will exclude a lot of the air and prevent the oil paint from drying out. You can use a different compartment for each color.

Step 1: Scrape each color off your palette into a separate compartment of the box.

Step 2: Pour water into the compartments in the box to completely cover the piles of paint.

Pros:

  • This completely cuts off the oxygen to the paint, and your paint will never dry out
  • The box is small and so particularly when traveling this is easier than carrying around a large plastic water tray.

Cons:

  • It takes a lot more time to scrape all your paint into the box and then back onto your palette again the next day compared with the other two methods.
  • Exposing an oil painting to water or high humidity can disrupt the cross-linking of the polymers. This can cause a loss of adhesion (which is naturally poor because linseed oil is not a strong adhesive).

Method #4: Put plastic wrap on your palette

A method for how to keep oil paints from drying out on your palette is:

Step 1: Can cut piece of plastic wrap a little larger than your palette, and lay it on top of your paints.

Step 2: Gently press the plastic around your piles of paint to exclude all the air

Pros:

  • This method does not suffer from the problems of damage to the paint by water.

Cons:

  • It is very messy to get the plastic off the paint before you start to work again.
  • You actually waste quite a lot of paint because it sticks to the plastic
  • It wastes plastic!

Method #5: Plastic wrap and freeze

Here’s a great tip from one of my students for how to keep oil paints from drying out and keep them wet. It is a combination of methods 1 and 4.

plastic wrap - how to keep oil paint from drying out

Step 1: Can cut piece of plastic wrap a little larger than your palette, and lay it on top of your paints.

Step 2: Gently press the plastic around your piles of paint to exclude all the air

Step 3: Put the palette in the freezer as in Method 1

Step 4: Take the plastic wrap off BEFORE everything thaws out.  There is a minimum loss of paint this way!

Pros:

  • You waste much less paint using this method compared to method #4.

Method #6: Use Clove Oil

clove oil to stop your oil paints from drying out
clove bud – use clove oil to stop your oil paints from drying out

You can use clove oil to increase the drying time. There are two ways of using it:

  • Add one or two drops to each pile of paint – this work if you put out very large piles of paint.
  • Add a few drops of the clove oil to something absorbent (furniture felt pads, small sponges, cotton ball), then enclose the palette in an airtight container. The fumes from the clove oil will slow the drying of the oil paint.

A great suggestion by Kathy was to stick the furniture felt pads to the lid of your airtight container, and from Juette, to use a 2 1/2″ deep, 14″ x 28″ aluminum baking tray to cover the palette. Great tips for how to keep oil paints from drying out.

use of baking sheet to help stop oil paints drying out

Method #7: Spray Linseed Oil On Your Paint

You can spray a thin film of linseed oil over the paint and then cover it loosely with plastic sheet.

Cons:

  • this will change the consistency of your paint a little, and affect your fat over lean working method somewhat. See wikipedia article on fat over lean.
linseed oil to help stop paint drying out

Method #8: Build A Vacuum Chamber

You oil paint won’t dry out in a vacuum chamber. Here’s how to build on:

Tip: Weight Considerations When Painting Plein Air

When I go out plein air painting, I don’t carry paint tubes with me – they are far too heavy. Instead, I put out plenty of paint on my palette. It saves weight and it helps me concentrate on my painting instead of wasting time continually squeezing out paint. But what to do with all that paint at the end of the day? Just use one of the above methods and you’ll keep the oil paint from drying out and be able to use the paint the next day.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Oil Paint Freeze?

water soluble oil paints

Oil paint can freeze if you lower the temperature enough. However the freezing point of linseed oil (the most commonly used oil in oil paints) is -20°C (-4°F). Since domestic freezers at usually set at 0°F, the oil paint will not freeze in most home freezers. So freezing oil paint is not likely to happen.

Can I Put Oil Paint Under Water? Does Water Ruin Oil Paint?

micro pochade box

Exposing an oil painting to water or high humidity can damage the paint because it can disrupt the cross-linking of polymers. This can prevent the paint from sticking to the canvas as as linseed oil is already not a strong adhesive.
Also if you store paint or a palette under water, the high humidity can inhibit polymer cross-linking and weaken the paint. There are also chemical reactions that can break the polymer chains in oils. The most common is a chemical reaction with water. This reaction is usually slow, but it gets much faster if the paint film is exposed to humid air under alkaline conditions. This becomes a problem if the paint is formulated with alkaline pigments or if it is applied over an alkaline surface.”

However there is a long artistic tradition of doing this including many professional artists, so if the time under water is relatively short this is probably not be a major problem. However be aware that it could be.

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Thank You

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to share it with friends. If you are interested in a structured approach for learning how to paint, take a look at my online painting classes.

Happy painting!

Barry John Raybould
Virtual Art Academy

What The Students Are Saying

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22 comments

  • I use a variation of the above: I scoop my paint off the palette and transfer them onto a small piece of tile, then put it in a small plastic box with lid, and throw it into my freezer. The wife won’t shout at me for occupying too much freezer space, and I can keep my paint fresh for up to a month.

  • Does the freezer method work with water mixable oils (I am using Winsor Newton’s Artisan)? I have tried keeping water on them, sealing the palette in a ziploc bag, wrapping palette in plastic wrap, but have not found a method yet that keeps them from getting gloopy and stringy. I am working on a very large commission and keep having to mix new colors that should be the same but by the time I get there, my mixed paint is too gloopy/stringy to use.

    • yes Christi, if you put them in the freezer it should stop your oil paints drying out. The clove oil method is worth trying too.

    • Thanks so much for your response! I have clove oil, but don’t really want my painting to smell like cloves. I will try the freezer method.

    • I’m can’t see how this would not affect the paint. In general you never want to mix a non-drying oil with your oil paints. If you do, a part of your oil painting will never dry.

  • this is helpful, what about putting your palette in an airtight box for acrylics (Masterson’s) with some clove oil will that work?

    • I’ve added method # 8 for how to stop oil paints drying out using a vacuum box. This explains how to make a vacuum box. I might have a go at this myself. Looks like a good system for stopping your oil paint from drying out on the palette if you’ve got a good plumber friend to help you.

  • I’ve put paint into lidded containers, work it level, add enough white refined linseed oil to cover the surface to prevent skinning over. When ready to paint again pour off the white refined linseed oil from the surface .

  • Great information. Thank you. For those who use Water Soluble Oils, I spray a fine mist of water over my paints on my glass palette and then cover it with aluminum foil, gently pressing the foil around the piles of paint to exclude the air. When I come back each day to remove the foil, a bit of oil paint lifts off the top of each pile, but that is OK. It is usually the “skin” that comes off and exposes fresh paint underneath. At the end of each painting session, I place the same piece of foil back over the palette lining up with each pile as before. The paint that had lifted off is still on the foil and then rests back on top of each pile on the palette. This further helps to “seal” each pile and keep them fresh. I can usually get 7-to-10 days out of my paint this way.

  • I plein air paint and travel frequently with a small paint box which carries 6 x 8 inch panels. I need small amounts of paint to make it light weight and fit airline standards for small luggage. I can’t carry my 6 colors in tubes Turp and brushes. Here is what I do,
    I ama woman and have acquired a collection of makeup, eye ream face cream jars. These jars are usually glass or double lined plastic, meaning plastic jar with space for air and plastic lining, with Uber expensive crème Inside. These jars are made to keep these fragile crèmes from drying out. Ask the women in your life to gift you these jars. Start your plein air day with filled paint in these, then scrape left over paint I to them end of day.
    Also, they sail right through airline scanners carry on in my makeup bag! ( but that means I go bare minimum in the glam department) on trip. Oh well, plan your fluids well in these cases. I also use larger cosmetic and. Crème jars in the studio. PAINT SAVES IN THESE Forever,!!!!

  • I just clean my palette out after each usage and place the paint into a container. As long as I use the paint everyday (add a little medium at times (non linseed oils of course)) it usually last a week. Of course, it is time consuming, some paint dries quicker than others and I have to make sure I don’t mix the paints. Might add this to freezer next time.

  • I buy the small plastic “sample” cups at Costco that they use to pass out food samples. One cup fits over each paint pile on my palette and seals the paint in place. They can be used over and over until the edges are no longer clean then replace. No muss no fuss.

    • I have tried these and not found them as good as the plastic wrap or freezer method. The problem is that there is still quite a lot of air near the paint. They may work better in colder damper climates perhaps but my experience in hot climates is that they don’t slow the drying by very much.

  • I heard this just when I needed to hear it. I’m in the market for a standalone freezer and was going to get the smallest one available. Now I’ll go for one step up so my paints can have their own little section. Thanks!

  • I have found that oils keep well by placing the whole palette into a container with a lid and keeping a couple of cotton balls with clove oil inside the container. The length of time each pile of colour will stay soft varies depending on the pigments. For example, burnt umber will only last a day or two, while cadmium lemon will last weeks. Most pigments last at least a couple of weeks. Very little clove oil is needed- just a few drops on the cotton balls. The oil only needs to be refreshed every few months. I do scrape up my central thin paint mixtures into piles of grey and place them on the periphery to use the next time, as the thin mixed patches tend to dry faster than the thick blobs of paint from the tube. Up side- rarely need to replace tube paint. Clove oil is cheap and easy to find in drug stores. Down side- clove oil can eat holes in some types of plastic, so be careful with contact. Clove oil has a distinctive smell. I find the smell stays within the container because of the lid, which I keep closed except when taking the palette in or out of the container.

  • Great tips! I have used the freezer for wall painting brushes, but never thought of it for my oil paint palette.
    I will try this on some of my oil painting brushes as well, as that is the truly messy job.

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