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Lead white is not a fast drier

I used to think that lead white dries quickly in oil and pro­motes dry­ing when it is a com­po­nent of mix­tures. It’s true that lead white dries faster than tita­nium white, which is a slow drier, but it is really just nor­mal in over­all dry­ing speed.

This has been illus­trated for me this week. The back­ground of the paint­ing I’m work­ing on is a gra­da­tion of mostly lead white to lead white with a fair bit of raw umber. Raw umber dries quickly and pro­motes dry­ing when it is a com­po­nent of any mix­ture. Over the course of sev­eral days, I’ve observed the paint­ing dry pro­gres­sively from one edge to the other—the more raw umber, the faster the dry­ing. The lead white part of the paint­ing has not dried quickly at all.

Mod­ern lead whites are made with a pig­ment called “basic lead car­bon­ate.” His­tor­i­cally, lead whites were less pure. They con­tained basic lead car­bon­ate, as well as other lead com­pounds that do dry fairly quickly. So older lead whites, such as those made using the tra­di­tional stack process, would likely act as dri­ers. It may be that if you bought some stack process lead white from Nat­ural Pig­ments and mulled it with oil, you’d have a fast dry­ing white.

Other than that, you can make lead white dry more quickly by adding a small amount of lead napthen­ate or other drier, just as with any other oil paint. Or you can mix in some umber.

Posted in art materials, oil painting.

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13 Responses

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  1. Brian Kelley says

    Another vari­able, that you may have omit­ted, is the vehi­cle of lead white. Nearly all the com­mer­cial lead whites I’ve come across other than the Williams­burg lead white has poppy or saf­flower oil (slow dri­ers) instead of lin­seed (fast drier). Even the Doak lead whites would have some wal­nut oil. If you mulled basic lead car­bon­ate (stack process or mod­ern) in lin­seed you’d notice a dif­fer­ence in the dry­ing rate.

  2. David Rourke says

    Brian,

    That’s cer­tainly a valid con­sid­er­a­tion. I’ve used Williams­burg flake (as well as Stu­dio Prod­ucts flake). They are both ground in lin­seed oil and appear to be aver­age dri­ers. If you mix a small amount of Doak raw umber with a small amount of Doak flake white, it dries much faster than plain Doak flake white. That sug­gests to me that flake does not have the sicca­tive prop­er­ties that umbers have.

    This is hardly a con­trolled exper­i­ment on my part; sim­ply an observation.

  3. George_O039Hanl says

    The rea­son why so many authors in the past con­sid­ered lead white to have dry­ing prop­er­ties in oil is that lead white (basic lead car­bon­ate) has one of the low­est oil absorp­tion num­bers of any pig­ment. Less oil for an equal vol­ume of paint when com­pared to other pig­ments makes it a faster dryer than most. How­ever, when you con­sider that most mod­ern flake white oil col­ors con­tain stearates that increase the oil absorp­tion rate of pig­ments, then lead white is cer­tainly an aver­age dry­ing color.

  4. George_O039Hanl says

    The rea­son why so many authors in the past con­sid­ered lead white to have dry­ing prop­er­ties in oil is that lead white (basic lead car­bon­ate) has one of the low­est oil absorp­tion num­bers of any pig­ment. Less oil for an equal vol­ume of paint when com­pared to other pig­ments makes it a faster dryer than most. How­ever, when you con­sider that most mod­ern flake white oil col­ors con­tain stearates that increase the oil absorp­tion rate of pig­ments, then lead white is cer­tainly an aver­age dry­ing color.

  5. George_O039Hanl says

    The rea­son why so many authors in the past con­sid­ered lead white to have dry­ing prop­er­ties in oil is that lead white (basic lead car­bon­ate) has one of the low­est oil absorp­tion num­bers of any pig­ment. Less oil for an equal vol­ume of paint when com­pared to other pig­ments makes it a faster dryer than most. How­ever, when you con­sider that most mod­ern flake white oil col­ors con­tain stearates that increase the oil absorp­tion rate of pig­ments, then lead white is cer­tainly an aver­age dry­ing color.

  6. George_O039Hanl says

    The rea­son why so many authors in the past con­sid­ered lead white to have dry­ing prop­er­ties in oil is that lead white (basic lead car­bon­ate) has one of the low­est oil absorp­tion num­bers of any pig­ment. Less oil for an equal vol­ume of paint when com­pared to other pig­ments makes it a faster dryer than most. How­ever, when you con­sider that most mod­ern flake white oil col­ors con­tain stearates that increase the oil absorp­tion rate of pig­ments, then lead white is cer­tainly an aver­age dry­ing color.

  7. David Rourke says

    I appre­ci­ate your vast exper­tise, George. Next time I need more lead white, I’ll buy some from you.

    *For read­ers not famil­iar with Mr. O’Hanlon, he is the pro­pri­etor of the excel­lent http://​www​.nat​u​ralpig​ments​.com web site. Check it out if you haven’t already.

  8. Matt says

    Hi, I am fairly new to oil paint­ing. I am hav­ing a prob­lem with my darks. I like to have really rich, deep darks, but they are dry­ing con­sid­er­ably lighter than I want and a lit­tle chalky. Do you know of a way to fix this? Is there some­thing I should be adding to my medium? I use a basic OMS/linseed oil medium.
    Thanks,
    MT

  9. David Rourke says

    Matt,

    It depends to some degree on which paints you’re using. I myself think it’s bet­ter to get fewer paint col­ors of higher qual­ity than more paints of lower quality.

    You may also be get­ting some “sink­ing in.” That means that dif­fer­ent pig­ments, which have dif­fer­ent amounts of oil, dry to dif­fer­ent degrees of gloss. You can fix that when the paint­ing is done using varnish.

  10. david says

    old holland-scheveningen has a great lead white, very stiff and fast drier. Also Michael Hard­ings crem­nitz white is great. Dry in two days, and more but­tery than Old Hol­land. These two prod­ucts are really fine. Rem­brandt and Velazquez mixed some egg yolk with it to make it more stiff and struc­tural. I pre­fer to use cobalt blue as a drier above umber, because it makes mixed tones softer/cooler.

  11. albert says

    Hey David, Nice paint­ing blog, sure appre­ci­ate your lit­tle skits on can­vas primers. Yah, I will admit that today peo­ple are sh-mucked with so called acrylic ges­sos. What i’ve been doing is tak­ing a basic cot­ton can­vas mak­ing sure it’s not to cheap..:).. and then apply­ing some flake white with a lit­tle liquin. To my sur­prise it dries to a nice shiny sur­face and usu­ally within 2 days. If peo­ple only knew the dif­fer­ence between paint­ing on nat­ural primer than acrylic rubber.

  12. David says

    Albert,

    I’m not a big fan of alkyd medi­ums myself. If it’s work­ing for you, then great.

  13. Eric says

    basic Lead Car­bon­ate is, in fact, a fast drier. Lead is a sicca­tive chem­i­cal, mak­ing the the oil dry faster and the lead also cre­ate a more flex­i­ble film, improv­ing the long term qual­i­ties of the fin­ished paint­ing. All but a few paint man­u­fac­tur­ers adul­ter­ate their paints in some man­ner to mod­ify the paints they are cre­at­ing. In the case of basic lead car­bon­ate, man­u­fac­turer often add tita­nium (to brighten the white and increase opac­ity with­out increas­ing the pig­ment den­sity of the lead) which dilutes the fast dry­ing prop­er­ties of the lead. Some add Zinc, which varies the par­ti­cle size of the paint, mak­ing the mechan­i­cally ground lead “act” like flake white, the con­sis­tency of which should be accom­plished by vari­able par­ti­cle size of lead, which doesn’t hap­pen in most mechan­i­cal grind­ing. Moreso, zinc is a well known anti-siccative pig­ment. Still oth­ers, in an effort to bring con­sis­tency to the dry­ing times of their var­i­ous paints, will add dri­ers and retarders to their paints. And, as has been pointed out, still other com­pa­nies use pop­py­seed, saf­flower, or wal­nut oils instead of, or added to the lin­seed to reduce linseed’s nat­ural yel­low­ing but which also slows the dry­ing times of the oil. And last­ing, with very very few excep­tions, almost all of the paint man­u­fac­tur­ers add a great deal more oil than the pig­ment OA rate. More oil means more dry­ing time AND the less lead there is to impart its sicca­tive qual­i­ties on.



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