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Grafix Wet Media Film and Oil Paint Test

November 25, 2012

I’ve been experimenting with a new product I’ve found called Wet Media Film made by Grafix in the last few posts, and today I wanted to show how oil paint performs on this surface. The package information reads “coated on 2 sides to accept water-based mediums, inks and markers.” No mention of oils or solvents such as turpentine. I’m waiting to get a response from them on using oils, but from my own tests so far I don’t see any problems.

I’ve tested a range of oils that have different oil type binders (linseed, safflower, and soya) and they all seem to work fine. I’ve thinned them with both odorless mineral spirits and turpentine, and that doesn’t seem to effect the film surface in any noticeable way. I’ve also tested water miscible oils, which work well, as I expected.

As I mentioned before with the gouache paint samples, the paint takes longer to dry on this than it would on a more absorbent surface, and oils are no exception. The thinned areas took many hours before they began to tack up. After about six hours I was able to easily wipe away some paint even with the burnt umber which is a very fast drying oil paint. The next morning the umber was completely dry to touch in the most opaque area and could not be wiped off. The sample showing the ultramarine and red oxide paint above had been drying for two days before it was dry to touch in the thickest painted areas.

Notice how I was able to scratch off paint on the umber sample above using a razor. The blade damaged the film somewhat so extra care is needed for that effect. While this does show that the surface doesn’t offer quite the degree of adhesion that oils have on more absorbent material, I would still rate it as good if not ideal. This would mostly be a concern if you paint in thick impasto due to the weight of the paint on the film, but otherwise I wouldn’t be worried.

If you would rather not wait so long for the paint to dry, it is possible to paint on both sides of the film, so you could just flip it over and continue painting. An idea occurred to me to tack or tape the film to a frame, paint one side, and then flip it over and tape it back down so that the paint doesn’t touch anything and get smeared (see the image above, for example.) Otherwise, the extended drying time makes this a less convenient surface to work on than prepared canvas, wood panels, or paper, unless you tone the surface with paint a day or more in advance. Once that first paint layer is dry, subsequent layers will dry at the same rate as they would on any other surface.

One suggestion if you want to paint on a toned surface is to lay the clear film on top of a sheet of colored paper, as shown in the sample above where I’ve stuck the film to gray paper using a sheet of double-sided tape. Smooth paper works best or you might notice uneven air pockets underneath. Next, lay down a thin coat of shellac, turpentine, or retouch varnish on the film and let that dry. The first coat of oil seems to dry faster on that sort of prepared coating.

I had noticed with the gouache paint how the brush strokes would furrow through the paint to the film surface so that it was hard to get an opaque layer. Oils, however, have more body to them so that wasn’t much of a problem. Once you paint over the first layer of dried oil then it’s definitely not an issue.

As I mentioned, turpentine doesn’t seem to effect this surface in any negative way (see the red paint sample above.) In fact, when I brushed it on the surface by itself it dulled the reflective shine of the film, which is a nice added feature. Odorless mineral spirits just evaporated after a few minutes and left no noticeable residue.

One final thought is related to varnishing the oil paint. While I see no problem with this as an immediate concern, varnishes are intended to be removable, which requires the use of strong solvents. That could very likely damage this film surface beneath. So, I doubt any conservator would give this surface an endorsement. An alternative would be to protect the painting under glass instead, but that’s a problem for very large pieces. Either varnish it and recommend that it not be removed, or don’t varnish it at all and rely on gentle cleaning. I also recommend you tell your customers that the surface is a polyester film so they can care for it appropriately.

I want to wait and see if it’s easy to peel off the paint after drying for a few months. Based on the scratching I did above I’m guessing that won’t be a problem. I also want to wait a few months to see how it reacts to wiping the surface with a cloth that’s damp with turpentine. So far this test shows promise that this is a decent surface to paint on with oils. The fact that it comes in very large rolls (up to @4×12 feet) at a reasonable price, along with it’s other features, makes it very appealing.

In the next post I plan to test acrylic paint and mediums on this film surface. I expect them to perform well also.

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