It’s not Too Cold to Paint

With the recent bitterly cold temperatures this country has seen during the polar vortex a few questions have come up regarding how oil paints stand up to the cold, how paints should be stored and what issues may occur due to paints being exposed to frigid conditions. The short answer is, they do fine.
Oil paints are not affected by freezing or sub zero temperatures. The freezing point of linseed oil is -4.27F/-20.15C. While we definitely endured temperatures and wind chill factors below this threshold the effects of thawing out frozen linseed oil shows no alteration in viscosity, color, clarity or the ability to polymerize.
This automatically brings up another subject, freezing your palette in between painting sessions. This is or has been a sworn by method of many painters to keep their paints from drying out when not in use. Most freezers are set at about 0 F, which is above the freezing point for linseed oil, so technically it never really freezes. What it does is slow down the oxidation thus slowing down the drying. As always we feel the need to mention that we never endorse storing paint near food or near utensils used for eating.
Below is a link from a great article in Just Paint that was written back in 2004 by Prof. Frank N. Jones from the Coatings Research Institute at Eastern Michigan University. It explains the longevity of oil and acrylic paints and paintings and deals largely with the limitations thereof.
Just Paint:

4 thoughts on “It’s not Too Cold to Paint

  1. Thank you for this information. It is a great fact that the practical advise in your publications are always supported by the chemical knowledge involved. That is to be admired!

  2. Thanks Amy for this great article. I just want to remind folks to use adequate ventilation in the studio even if it’s cold. This is a problem sometimes with winter weather when we don’t want to have the window open. Using oil paint alla prima is a good way to avoid solvents when there is less ventilation available. But, I’m still a big fan of good old fresh air. Maybe wear an extra pair of wooly long johns?

    • Hi Tesia, Fresh air is really painful when the weather promises frostbite and -30 wind chill factors. That being said you make a very valid point, we would always recommend open windows and ventilation hoods when we paint with solvents although that is not always possible for a good amount of artists. Many artists develop sensitivities to solvents forcing them to paint without and the practice is more common all the time. For those that still like washes in oil, odorless solvents offer a wonderful alternative in regards to smell but will still cause health issues . Spike oil is often overlooked as an alternative to turpentine, has a great smell but should still be used with adequate ventilation. It will however eat a hole in your wallet.

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