Virtual Art Academy
How to keep your oil paints from drying out 1

How to keep your oil paints from drying out

Want some valuable tips on how to save money on paint? and how to cut down on all that weight you have to carry when painting plein air? Then read this article …

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?

This is my freezer. This is by far the simplest way to stop your oil paints from drying out. Just put your palette in the freezer! The cold temperature will slow down the rate of oxidation and evaporation, and so preserve your paint. 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 🙂

Other methods

Method #2: Put your palette under water

Step 1: Put your palette under water 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 your paint will never dry out

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

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. 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

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. It is a combination of methods 1 and 4.

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.

How to keep your oil paints from drying out 2

4 comments

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!