John Crump, “Overlooking the Shotover River,” oil, 90 x 100 cm. Courtesy Wanaka Gallery

Think you’ve got your plein air oil supply list nailed down? Think again. Esteemed painter John Crump takes the myth out of some plein air oil painting conventional wisdom. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just getting started in plein air painting, you might be surprised by some of his hard-won findings.

  1. Kerosene. Most people seem to wash their oil painting brushes in turpentine and then with soap. Kerosene is much better. It stops the bristles from drying out and breaking off, and it keeps the brush soft and pliable right up to the ferrule. An inch or two of kerosene in a tin can, four or five brushes at a time rotated between the hands like an egg-beater —it’s all over in a minute! I do a rinse with a second lot of kero. No need for soap! You can use the kerosene a number of times — just leave it in a three-liter juice container and when the rubbish has settled, carefully pour off the clean stuff.


  1. A smooth-as-glass palette. A smooth palette makes mixing color, picking it up, and cleaning so much easier when you’re done. I make my own palettes and finish them with several coats of two-pot epoxy varnish. When a palette gets a buildup of hard paint, I clean it by brushing on a little lacquer thinner, letting it soften the paint, and then scraping it off carefully with a palette knife. Note: Ordinary varnish cannot stand this treatment — it needs to be epoxy.


  1. Gessoed hardboard panels. Some artists believe that if you’re using hardboard panels, they need two or three coats of gesso before you use them. I’ve tried this, but discovered that in doing so, the gesso becomes hungrier. It sucks the medium out of your paint, making the brushstrokes less fluid. I prefer giving the panels one generous coat and allowing them to dry thoroughly before using them.


  1. Winsor & Newton Liquin. If your paintings dry too slowly during the winter, try using Winsor & Newton Liquin as your medium, and also mix up to 50 percent alkyd white into your (titanium) white oil. The heavy lumps of impasto color are touch-dry in 24-36 hours, while thinner paint is touch-dry overnight.

This article was featured in PleinAir Today, a weekly e-newsletter from PleinAir magazine. To start receiving PleinAir Today for free, click here.


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