|Dry pigments from Lilly’s paint lab|
I MET Walter Haas online in a group about painting with thick paint. During our conversation I learned Walter was a paint maker and he asked if I would like to try his specially formulated paint. I agreed and he sent me a set of Lilly Artists Colors. I painted a small landscape (watch video here) and found the paint delightful–it was easy to pick up off the palette and lay down on the canvas–yet retained the texture I love so much in a landscape painting. I asked Walter if he would agree to an interview about his paint and its development. He very graciously agreed.
BRAD TEARE– I really enjoyed using your paint although it was difficult to describe the exact properties in the video. As I used it I found myself totally focusing on the creative aspects of painting as technical concerns faded away. I attribute that to the unique nature of your paint. What prompted you to begin making oil paints using such a unique formula?
WALTER HAAS– It was definitely you who inspired me. After reading some of your posts, such as 69: The uses of putty and 106: Best chalk for painting I started to reproduce your mixtures to see how it would change the paints I used. Mainly, because I felt pretty much the same way as you, that I couldn’t get the consistency in paints I was looking for. They were either somehow too stiff or too thin.
BRAD– I’m truly honored this blog helped in any way to facilitate such great paint, Walter. It makes it all worthwhile. Since you have an intense desire to make an ideal paint I assume you have a background in art. Are you primarily a landscape painter?
WALTER– I painted my first oil painting 35 years ago. But I never became a professional painter. Only during the latest years I intensified my painting approach and took online classes to increase my knowledge. I started with surreal paintings, which I still love to do. But the challenge to become a good landscape painter increased over the years–so I put my focus on landscapes during the last 5 years.
BRAD– I imagine it was a difficult process to arrive at your final paint formula. Can you elaborate on how you formulated your paint? How many versions of the formula did you try before you settled on the final mixture?
WALTER– It was really difficult. The problem I ran into was I decided to work on too many pigments in the first place. As it turned out every single pigment required a unique recipe. But I couldn’t resist. So the recipes I made were in the thousands. I even developed my own software so I could keep track of the recipes. The ingredients themselves are actually no secret–the same ingredients other paint manufacturers use. I didn’t want to experiment with materials that had not been in use over the years. The recipes contain Fumed Silica, Castor Wax, and Aluminum Stearate. These ingredients are used in various combinations and mixtures by staying in line with the recommended maximum amount for each ingredient. The challenge is to get to the right mixture for each pigment. Sometimes I feel that pigments very often behave a little like teenagers when growing up. You have to have a lot of patience with them.
BRAD– I like that metaphor. In addition to having an amazing texture your Titanium White is very white. I’m assuming you’re using a clearer oil like Safflower oil?
WALTER– Yes, exactly. I tested dozens of oils. The most extraordinary was the so called Dragon’s blood oil from Moldavia. Supposedly it should dry very fast while remaining clear (something we would love to have in oil paints) but tests did not provide the results I hoped for. So I tested refined oils, cold pressed oils directly from farmers, walnut oil, poppy seed oil and so on. I washed the oils, salted and froze them, kept them in the sun for months, and tested them for yellowing, drying rates and viscosity. After 3 years of intensive testing I decided to use refined safflower oil for whites and blues, and for the rest of the pigments I use refined linseed oil. Nothing radical, but a proven way of using oils.
BRAD– I noticed that the paint can go on quite thin yet still retain the mark of the brushstroke. Is that a quality you consciously tried to achieve?
WALTER– Yes, that is exactly what I was looking for–a paint that can be used directly from the tube without modification, while at the same time having the consistency to retain its brush strokes and the characteristics you described so well in your prior article. To stay within this very fine line between too thick and too thin, you have to constantly monitor the manufacturing process. Paint usually stays thick for quite a while and then suddenly becomes liquid very fast. To control this process I had to create my own test procedure. So it is not only the ingredients that make the paint but also the manufacturing process.
BRAD– Many artists are rightfully concerned about longevity and the archival qualities of the paint they use. How do your paints compare in color permanence, and other factors, such as potential cracking or discoloring?
WALTER– I follow some simple but very important rules:
1. Use only the best raw materials. Pigments, for instance, are artist quality according to ATSM Standards (American Society for Testing and Materials) which is the highest rating.
2. Do not use ingredients that have no proven record of usage in oil paints.
3. Keep ingredients within the recommended minimum amounts.
4. Keep your recipe as simple as possible. The more ingredients a paint contains the more unstable and hard to control it will be.
WALTER– For the Artist oilpaints I do not mix any pigments together–not even for greens.
It’s my personal belief that artist grade paints should not come pre-mixed or otherwise altered. There is also no filler in these paints. It is 100% artist grade pigments. With the exception of phtalo green and blue, which would have too much staining power. Some earth pigments such as venetian red, golden ochre, burnt umber or terra die sienna are made from the original natural pigments, which makes them a little more transparent and less staining. Whereas Studio oilpaints simulates these natural pigments based on specific mixtures to become more opaque and intensive. Most Studio oilpaints are made of mixed pigments, in order to provide various greens, to simulate expensive single pigment paints such as cadmiums and cobalts and, as mentioned, to change the characteristic of some natural earth pigments. Studio Oilpaints also contain a filler, but only to the amount where you just barely notice a difference to the artist grade paint. So the quality is still very high. Regarding consistency both paints are the same.
BRAD– Have you tested how your paint performs in extremely thick applications, such as several centimeters thick?
WALTER– I tested the paint in one to two centimeter thick applications, but no further. At the moment I do not have information about the behavior of such thick layers.
BRAD– All of the paint tube labels were printed in English except one–what color is Irgazin Rot?
WALTER– Irgazin Red is a medium temperature red. Sorry, I must have mistakenly sent you a tube in the wrong language. I have never sent paints to the US before so these were my first English labels.
BRAD– No problem, Walter, it’s a beautiful red and, like all your colors, has a beautiful consistency. It’s a great honor to be an early adopter of Lilly Paints and share the results with the readers of Thick Paint. As soon as I finish my acrylic abstracts for my upcoming show I will be making a huge order! Thank you for your ingenuity and your generosity.
Brad Teare –May 2016