I just returned with my family from a couple of weeks in Oregon. While we were in the Portland area, I was able to visit the factories of two companies who make artists’ paint and I wanted to share some of what I learned with all of you. I’ll focus on one company in this post and cover the other next time.
The M. Graham facility is located just outside Portland and they’ve been making paint for artists for more than 20 years. They are a small, close-knit company led by Art and Diana Graham who are dedicated to making paint of the highest quality.
I was most interested in learning more about their oil colors since I’ve been using them for several years now. But I’ve also recently been trying a set of their gouache, and they make acrylics and transparent watercolors as well.
M. Graham oil colors use walnut oil as the vehicle rather than the linseed oil most other manufacturers use. Artists have been using walnut oil-based paints for centuries. A study conducted by the National Gallery in London revealed that Raphael used walnut oil in the early 1500s. The reason we don’t see walnut oil used widely in today’s artist paints may be at least partially due to the fact that it’s two to three times more expensive than linseed oil. But it has some great attributes for use in the making of paint.
Art and Diana explained to me that the properties of walnut oil allow it to carry more pigment than linseed oil, resulting in colors with greater pigment load, more saturation and better tinting strength. They really are passionate about loading their paints with as much pigment as possible. They test their colors regularly against those from other brands to make sure that M. Graham colors have the most pigment.
Another important aspect of the walnut oil vehicle is that it is known to resist yellowing over time. All drying oils are somewhat prone to yellowing as they age, but Art and Diana showed me tests they’ve done revealing that walnut oil-based colors show less yellowing when compared to linseed oil-based colors. One of their tests showed an especially dramatic difference. I’ve started some testing of my own in this area to see how much better the M. Graham colors might perform in my studio environment. Since many of my paintings are done in a high-key value range with light, delicate colors that contain a lot of white, I want to keep a close eye on this yellowing issue. But from what I’ve seen so far, M. Graham oil paint holds up very well over time.
Walnut oil also has a slower drying time compared to linseed oil, so M. Graham colors dry a little more slowly overall. I find this helpful in my studio since the piles of color on my palette stay usable longer and I don’t have to waste as much paint. But M. Graham offers a walnut oil/alkyd painting medium that speeds up the drying time of their colors for those who want their paintings to dry more quickly.
M. Graham is proud that their paints and their factory are solvent-free. They recommend that artists use walnut oil instead of solvents for thinning paint and cleaning brushes. They even use it to clean the paint mills at their facility.
Even though they’ve given me samples of their paint over the years to test, I don’t make any money for promoting M. Graham. I’m just a painter who is impressed with their products and highly recommend them. I really enjoyed the chance to visit their factory and to finally meet the staff in person after our many years in contact.
You can probably find M. Graham paint stocked at an art supply or hobby store near you. It’s also available at many online suppliers. Visit their website to see some of their color comparisons and to learn more.
Thanks, Dan. Very helpful to know about different paint brands and especially about walnut oil as a base. Appreciate that you are doing the research and sharing your results with the rest of us.
Hi Dan. Thank-you for the informative article about M. Graham. In addition to what you have said, some artists who have allergies have switched to M. Graham exclusively and it is likely due to the walnut oil versus linseed or other oils which they find to be toxic to them. I am making the switch, too, but have a whole pile of other paints to use up first.
BTW, a (very) belated thanks for emailing me the photo of your mountain climber, one of your earlier paintings. I thought it was just great! You are such an generous person with both your time and talent.
Thank you for the useful info , Dan. I do enjoy using walnut oil periodically, but after reading what you shared, I will be more conscious about all the issues it brought up.
Thanks Dan for the generous sharing of your time and research. I’m curious to know your opinion of Gamblin and Windsor-Newton paints in comparison to the Graham paints. I find Windsor-Newton paints to be a little firmer than Gamblin, though color saturation and mixing qualities seems similar. BTW, Vasari paints though expensive, will last a long time on the palette. I have used and been happy with their line of 8 grays formulated with input from Scott Christensen.
Dan: I have been using M. Graham paints rather regularly because I enjoy the buttery quality of the paints and because I see that they do not dry on the palette as quickly as other oil paints. (It is helpful to know that Raphael used walnut oil 500 years ago since I aspire to paint just like Raphael … in about 500 years from now.) I still like Winsor Newton but prefer M. Graham, except for Graham’s titanium white which seems a bit more transparent than Winsor Newton. My wife now allows me to put my sealed and bagged oils in the freezer which greatly extends the drying time of oils. See you for Plein Air soon.
Thanks for the info Dan! I too use M.Graham, love the buttery feel, their Azo green is amazing! Nice to know they are just up in Oregon!
Very informative, Dan. I wasn’t aware that you used Graham oils. Thanks for sharing. What do you use for varnishing? Does the varnish also have to be walnut oil based? Great newsletter as always.
Thanks for the comments, everyone.
Verna, I didn’t mention in the post about walnut oil being non-toxic — thanks for bringing that up. I believe they told me at M. Graham that the walnut oil they use is actually food-grade. And since there isn’t any solvent in the paint, it should make for a safer studio environment.
Jake, I’m no varnish expert, but I’ve been experimenting with Gamblin’s Gamvar varnish, combining it with their Cold Wax Medium to make it less glossy. Seems like a good varnish. I’ve also heard good things about Golden MSA varnish but I haven’t tried it.
M. Graham oils definitely don’t require walnut oil varnish. I don’t know if any varnishes even use walnut oil. Might have to look into that.
Paint Makers (Part 2)
[…] « Paint Makers (Part 1) […]
I would love to know what the M stands for in the name?