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Sunday, April 14, 2013
Painting in Cold Weather
Oils or Acrylics, which to choose?
Painting on location in cold weather I have often used acrylics because they
dry slower than normal, but still much faster than oils. Many years ago in
Alaska it was just above freezing and the rain had finally stopped. I
hurried outside to paint for a half hour or so with acrylics. Because of
the low temperature and high humidity, the paint stayed wet. It was like
painting with oils. Once back inside the paint seemed to dry normally.
I have heard of an artist who built a special room that could be brought
down to near freezing temperatures so he could paint skies better with
acrylics. In the May 2013 issue of The Artist's Magazine is an article
about an artist who tested a new acrylic paint outdoors in "temperatures
just below freezing".
Is this a sound practice? As a result of the research I did to answer the
question below about cracking oil paintings I wonder. If it is so cold and
humid that acrylics won't dry, could you safely bring the painting inside,
let it warm up and dry as normal? And what if your tubes of acrylics happen
to freeze? Can they still be used or is it better to throw them away? Skip
to the end for my final answer.
"Acrylic house paints should not be used when the temperature is below
about 5 oC (about 40 oF) or when the temperature is expected to fall below
this level for 4 to 8 hours after the paint was applied. The reason is that
strong, coherent films cannot form at low temperatures, and even if the
film later becomes warm, it will never recover. Acrylic artist paints are
similar. To be on the safe side, they should be used only at temperatures
above 10 oC (about 50 oF), and the painting should be kept above this
temperature for several days after it has dried.  Acrylics painted and
dried under cold conditions may look OK, but the films will be less durable
and more vulnerable to cracking. Oils, on the other hand can be used at
freezing temperatures or below." From the Golden website...http://www.goldenpaints.com/justpaint/jp12article1.php
When temperatures start to fall, put away the acrylics and bring your oils.
Fifty degrees is the cut off. Okay, but...
From Tips to Reduce Waste: "Store products to maximize shelf life.
Avoid extremes of temperature, especially freeze-thaw cycles."
Which seems to suggest that while freeze/thaw is to be avoided it does not
make acrylics automatically unusable. Here's what one artist had to say...
"Not good to freeze acrylics. Some can withstand more freezing and
thawing than others. Add some retarder to acrylics if they MUST freeze. It
works as an antifreeze. 3-5 cycles of freezing and thawing is about as much
as acrylics can stand without suffering quality damage. Most turn to
cottage cheese and get stringy. Store in moderate temperatures in order to
Here another artist uses freezing temperatures as part of her creative
"Acrylic dispersion products that meet ASTM D 5098 are designed to withstand
at least 5 freeze-thaw cycles. Normally, you shouldn't have to worry about
shipments at any time of the year. But acrylic dispersion grounds are not
subject to a standard (yet; ASTM D01.57 has one in the hopper) so Golden
was right to replace the primer."
The Amien's "Staff" reports this about painting with acrylics in cold temps:
"We can say that we have painted many acrylic dispersion paintings
in temperatures between 0 and 4 degrees C and have never noticed a problem
with the curing paint films. Our caveat is that we brought the
paintings into a heated space before they started to dry -- perhaps thereby
bypassing the problem."
Here is the best most complete answer I could find about freezing acrylics
from an AMIEN Moderator and Technical Services Supervisor for Golden Artist
"In terms of storing wet product, all our paints and mediums are tested
for freeze/thaw stability and must be able to survive 5 cycles of being
completely frozen solid then thawed out
without any loss of performance or quality. That gives a lot of wiggle room
to cover the occasional time when they might get
frozen during shipment or storage. We have never tested what the
upper limit is for the number of cycles they can survive before there is a
noticeable change in properties, and obviously we don't encourage storing
products in freezing conditions, but given the conditions you describe you
should be fine. If you ever did notice anything, of course, let us know and
we will make sure to get it replaced.
As for the other issues, our
acrylics have a minimum film-forming temperature of 49 F, which means that
they need to dry at that temperature or above to form a good, durable film
with maximum flexibility. This does not mean one can not apply the acrylics
in a lower temperature, such as painting outdoors in the winter, but they
would still need to be brought indoors in order to cure properly. If you
try to dry acrylics under very low temperatures, the paint could fail to
fully coalesce, causing a weakened or even, at the extreme, a granular and
crumbly film to develop.
Separate from either of these is the effect
of cold temperatures on the storage and transportation of acrylic
paintings. Acrylics are thermoplastic, which means they will get
increasingly rigid in lower temperatures and softer, more flexible in
warmer ones. Especially as you approach 40 F and below, the painting
becomes more susceptible to cracking and fracture if it is suddenly
subjected to an increase in tension, such as restretching a canvas, or if
it undergoes a sudden blow, like dropping it on a corner. However,
paintings will rarely if ever undergo spontaneous damage from simply being
stored in the cold or carefully moved around. However, before packing or
doing any sort of major handling of the pieces, you should definitely make
sure they are brought into a warmer environment and fully reach ambient
Saturday, April 6, 2013
Question from Visitor
Cracking oil paintings..
Girl with the Pearl Earring, detail
1660 - 1665
I found your website doing a search on cracking oil paintings.
I've been painting about 4 years. So far so good. Can you please give me
some insight about this? I paint using many many layers, and truthfully
without regard to how much or how little oil goes into each layer. Some
layers alot, some not. If an oil painting hasn't shown signs of cracking
say, in 6 months to a full year, would it be safe enough to say that very
little if any will still occur in years to come? I've heard that finer,
thinner cracks will due to environmental conditions ..heat, humidity etc,
but any "fat" cracks occur in the first year due to this layering process
(fat over lean or vice versa). P.J.
An interesting question.
If durability is
your main concern, you might want to switch to alkyds or even better
acrylics. Paint on a rigid surface. But all these films are doomed to fail.
Better choices: encaustic, pastels, watercolor, fresco or egg tempera. The
ultimate might be painted and fired ceramics or cave painting.
you are happy with oils, then use professional grade materials and follow
the rules for the best chance of long lasting work.
No cracks in the
first year is a good sign, but no guarantee of the painting's future.
Oil paintings crack for three reasons:
1. Lean over fat
Movement in the ground from moisture
3. Flexing of the canvas
Sanders has a good explanation of how to correctly layer paint...
"Conservators we talk with suggest to not
use rabbit skin glue because it has a lot of movement due to constant
swelling and contraction due to moisture in the atmosphere."
"Supposedly alkyds are a superior resin to linseed and walnut oils because
they are designed to remain more flexible over time than linseed oil, and
this should improve the aging characteristics.
...We don't think
anyone will debate an aged oil paint film is going to crack if flexed, so
why give it the opportunity?"
Standing the test of time...
"Acrylic paintings are expected to develop
cracks much less often than oil paintings because they are more flexible
and can withstand much greater forces without breaking. However, cracks
do form in acrylic paintings...
When they are exposed to sub-zero
temperatures, acrylics become increasingly brittle and they will crack."
"From the moment a painting is made, it begins to age. Depending upon
the quality, combination and nature of the materials which have gone into
its construction as well as its environment, a painting may age well or
not. A new painting in good condition will begin to deteriorate as a
result of time alone. Its materials go through a drying process which sets
up internal stresses in the structure. This may continue for a period of
years, decades, or centuries. As the paint films dry they shrink and the
films rupture or pull apart in cracks."
"Tempera, also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast-drying
painting medium consisting of colored pigment mixed with a water-soluble
binder medium (usually a glutinous material such as egg yolk or some
size). Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium.
Tempera paintings are very long lasting, and examples from the first
centuries AD still exist. Egg tempera was a primary method of painting
until after 1500 when it was superseded by the invention of
They don't seem to know what binder was used.
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