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Doak’s cristallo medium

So I called up Robert Doak over the Sum­mer to order some paint. As he does, he asked me about how I paint and started sug­gest­ing addi­tional things for me to buy (he’s a very good sales­man). One of the things he pushed was his new medium, “cristallo.” At $12 USD for a 40 ml tube I decided to splurge and pick some up.

Mr. Doak says that the pri­mary ingre­di­ents in cristallo are leaded glass pow­der and sun-thickened wal­nut oil. It also con­tains small amounts of cold-pressed wal­nut oil, beeswax, and lead drier. It is based on recent research indi­cat­ing that 16th cen­tury Venet­ian painters added more pow­dered glass to their paint than was pre­vi­ously thought, although he makes no claim that this is the “redis­cov­ered” medium of Tit­ian, Gior­gione, and Tin­toretto. He sug­gests that it is best used by spread­ing it thinly onto the sur­face and paint­ing into it. He also sug­gests that it is a good replace­ment for var­nish on a dried paint­ing, but I am dubi­ous about that appli­ca­tion and have not tried it.

I’ve now painted with it, off and on, for a few months. It is a sort of thick, col­or­less fluid, about the con­sis­tency of ketchup. It is not sticky the way medi­ums con­tain­ing resins, bal­sams, or stand oil tend to be. It is easy to spread very thinly onto the paint­ing sur­face with a fin­ger (you can feel a slight gran­u­lar­ity from the glass pow­der, but it is barely per­cep­ti­ble) and it becomes more fluid as you move it around (i.e., it is some­what thixotropic). It is nice to paint on, pro­vid­ing a pleas­ant, slip­pery qual­ity to the paint­ing sur­face. Mixed into paint, it dilutes it slightly and gives it extra brusha­bil­ity. It doesn’t hold brush marks. It does not seem to markedly increase or decrease the dry­ing time of oil paint. So far, I like it. It does not make the paint mag­i­cally trans­par­ent or lumi­nous, but I didn’t expect it to.

If you do use cristallo or any other paint­ing medium, add only very small amounts to your paint—never more than 20% of paint vol­ume and prefer­ably much less than that.

Posted in art materials, art suppliers, oil painting, painting.

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5 Responses

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  1. Michelle Philip says

    I have been using Robert Doak’s Cristallo for a year. I find it is per­fect for mix­ing with paint that is already fairly stiff, such as Hol­bein oils. It helps the han­dling with­out thin­ning it, per­fect for an alla prima style. When I have tried it for thin­ner glaz­ing effects (by thin­ning the paint with sol­vent plus Cristallo), the crys­tals can be annoy­ing because they move around under the brush and leave streaks. Over­all, I am very pleased to have dis­cov­ered this medium — I can’t imag­ine head­ing out to do land­scape with­out it.

  2. David says


    Thanks for the com­ment on Doak’s medium. I agree that it’s a good gen­eral paint­ing medium; but for glaz­ing, not so much.

  3. Mel says

    I bouoght some Cristallo and mine isn’t the con­sis­tency of ketchup, it’s like Dorland’s wax medium, very stiff. I can’t squeeze it from the tube, I have to drag it out with the end of a paint­brush. Maybe it’s a bad batch or has got­ten old. I did mix it with a lit­tle thin­ner and a lit­tle paint and applied it to the sur­face of a paint­ing, just to see how it dries. It’s been a cou­ple of days and it’s still tacky. (granted this is Florida in hur­ri­cane sea­son, but my stu­dio has A/C)

    Just won­der if any of the ingre­di­ents would slow down dry­ing time. Or if it should be returned.

  4. Mel says

    One more thought: As a pas­tel painter for 40 years, I used pumice/gesso or pumice/matte acry­ilc medium to recover areas that needed work. It sort of sealed, iso­lated the pre­vi­ous layer of pas­tel, made a muddy but toothy sur­face for reworking.

    Is there any­thing I could use in a sim­i­lar fash­ion on an oil paint­ing to get a toothy sur­face back when the sur­face has become too slick to suit me?

  5. David says


    That’s noth­ing like the Cristallo I got. I’d give Doak a call and ask for another tube. It does not, in my expe­ri­ence, make paint dry either faster or more slowly.

    As far as sur­face goes, what I gen­er­ally do is either wet sand or apply a very, very thin layer of medium to the sur­face. Either of those approaches makes it much eas­ier to go in with the next layer of paint.

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