Walnut Oil as a Painting Vehicle and Medium


  “Why walnut oil?” is a fairly frequent question I get from people who are true students of the medium and who want to pick my brain. Well, in this post I hope to answer that question fairly comprehensively, which won’t really be all that extensive. The fact is, I’m a simple guy and I don’t like to get too technical with the whys and wherefores. And believe me, I’ve spent many sleepless nights on the other end of the spectrum — reading articles and searching forums for the pigments, mediums, and even solvents, of the Masters.

But due to time, money (or the lack thereof), and other responsibilities (What, I have a life outside of art? Well…no, not really) I have mostly gone to commercially and readily available materials and supplies. Most of the well known reputable companies are putting out some pretty decent stuff.

I’m not sure how it happened but somewhere along the line I stumbled upon M. Graham paints (which uses walnut oil as a vehicle)  and walnut oil as a medium. It just feels right to me. I cannot describe the very subtle difference I feel but it’s there. At least for me it’s there. I can also feel a very subtle difference in the thinning medium I use, which is a 1:1 mixture of odorless mineral spirits and walnut oil. What I mean is it feels different than 1:1 linseed oil and OMS. And I like it better. So there you have it. It suits me.

Okay, now some minor technical items which strengthen why I like it:

It stays “open” a bit longer than linseed oil paints.

It’s not supposed to yellow as much as linseed oil paint over time.

It’s compatible with linseed oil paint if M Graham doesn’t make a particular color I like and I have to get it from a different manufacturer.

When I “oil in” with walnut it doesn’t bead off the whites like linseed oil does (at least that’s my experience).

There is a historical (an historical?) precedent for using walnut oil as a vehicle and medium for paint.

So I don’t have any highfalutin reason why walnut. For me my paint is a tool I use to express myself artistically. The walnut “tool” works well for me. If you want to try it click the image above and it will take you to an Amazon page where you may purchase some.

Here’s a link to the M. Graham site if you want to find out more about their products.

All the best!




12 thoughts on “Walnut Oil as a Painting Vehicle and Medium

  1. Pingback: Runny

  2. Hi, I am returning to oil painting and really like the idea of walnut oil but I also dislike a shiny surface and am mixing in cold wax as well. It is taking sooo long to dry – any suggestions? I have been avoiding adding OMS to the walnut oil to avoid the melting effect it has on the previous wax layers, and perhaps the OMS speeds up drying? thanks for any help

    • You could mix an alkyd medium of your choice with the wax. Or you could use cobalt dryer or other siccative. Make sure you don’t use too much wax. You won’t need all that much to keep a dull surface. You may have to experiment a bit in order to achieve exactly what you are after. Good luck!

  3. I’m having some problems with the M.Graham walnut alkyd beading when i lay it on top of a previous layer. Though its to be expected because i’m not thinning it at any stage with odourless mineral spirits. I got cfs three years ago and am trying to stay away from solvents as they affect me badly. Unfortunately theres no substitution that i know of for solvents, and solvents by their nature, are volatile.
    Odourless doesnt mean harmless, it just means..odourless. Wish there was some other way to thin oil.
    I guess i have to use proper ventilation, or …try something else.
    But nothing has the qualities of oil paint.
    Your glazing is quite amazing! Thank you for your site.

    • I do not use that particular medium so can’t really speak with authority on it. You may want to try gently scrubbing it in in those areas. It may stick a little better. Occasionally I have spots like that with my normal oiling in process. Gently scrubbing seems to work. But you have to be that much more sure that your paint film is sufficiently dry. Good luck.

  4. Hi David

    Your work is quite *amazing*. Thank so much for being so generous with your experience. I feel so lucky to have found your site yesterday. Your advice has been invaluable to me as a beginner. I haven’t had time to go through your site thoroughly, but have just seen the first part of the Underpainting. You mention “In this step I am using oil paint slightly thinned with OMS. I am, of course, also adding a bit of Daniel Smith Painting Medium for Oils and Alkyds so that it will be dry the next day when I start the overpainting.”

    I have 3 questions:
    This may be a real beginner question, but you mention that you use Walnut oil and OMS (1:1) in your materials, however in the quote above you mention using OMS and Daniel Smith medium. Do you first mix your walnut oil and OMS (1:1) and then add some Daniel Smith medium?

    I’m in Mauritius where supplies are frustratingly limited. It’s very difficult to even get artists quality paint here (very limited colours and stock). We don’t have Daniel Smith medium here. Should I use a different medium or is the walnut oil (in my case linseed oil) and OMS enough as a medium?

    I can’t get Venetian Red, Hansa Yellow Deep and Quin Violet (can get Students Quin Red Violet – not sure if this is correct). Are you able to recommend ways I can achieve these colours using other colours? I’m not sure what they lean towards.

    Thanks very much

    • Yes, I understand your confusion. In the underpainting I thin my paint a bit with OMS and also dip my brush into the DS medium to help it dry. I don’t add the DS medium to the OMS. It’s a gel I have on my palette that I dip in to. In the overpainting I switch to a mixture of OMS and walnut oil to thin as necessary. It’s really not all that critical so don’t worry too much about it. You can use linseed oil in the same way I use walnut. The main problem with linseed oil is it tends to bleed off the whites in the oiling in process I show. Walnut seems not to do that. If you can’t get DS medium you will just have to experiment with some of the other alkyd mediums. Liquin Impasto is similar if you can get that. I would add a little oil to it, though. Be careful with Liquin as it is very toxic to breath. Make sure you have plenty of ventilation. Gamblin Neo-Megilp is also an option. Neither of the two mediums are just like the DS medium but they are similar in some respects and I have used them successfully. My main gripe is that they both dry the paint a little too fast for my taste. The DS medium seems just perfect for it’s drying rate.

      But note that the alkyd medium is not absolutely essential to my process. I use it mostly for the drying properties because I’m in a hurry to get these paintings ready for the market. I actually prefer not to use the alkyd medium. I like the feeling of the paint without adding the alkyd. The downside is I have to wait longer for the paint to dry before I do another layer. But in such cases you should have a couple of other paintings in progress so you can switch between them when one is drying.

      My colors can generally be substituted for something else. You can mix a sort of Venetian by combining Burnt Sienna with a Cad red. You might want to try Terra Rosa as well. It’s a different color but it’s somewhat similar. You can use Cad yellow instead of Hansa. Most people have Alizarin Crimson on their palette. I prefer Quinacridone Violet because I think i can get more brilliant purples with it. Of course in my painting it doesn’t really matter because I am rarely trying to get a brilliant anything, preferring quiet hues and neutrals. So you can use Alizarin. Try to get one of the Alizarin permanent hues available now because they will be more light fast.

      You will learn that the actual palette doesn’t really matter. As long as you have an adequate palette you should be able to mix just about any color you could want. I have gotten to know my colors pretty well, but if you were to give me something else I could learn it and do well with it. There’s no secrets hidden in the specific pigments used. It’s how you mix and apply various color relationships that matter.

      I hope this helps.


  5. Yes , is this not just a wonderful material.
    And interestingly…dries quick well and quickly…I find it has little “effect” to colours unlike linseed oil.
    Another safe studio technique is to extend the use of walnut oil as a brush cleaner…saves your brushes…wipe off excess, “clean” in walnut oil, wipe off, wash with soap and water…I use a castile soap…that I happen to get at a natural food store…but I think it is available in a grocery store. I use and like “Lee Valley” oil…mail order company…very clean…and has yet to go rancid.

    • Thanks for your participation and input! What is castile soap? Does it have any advantage over Ivory, which I use?

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