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Clove Oil as a Retarder, Or Not?

By January 7, 2010

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The tip about using clove oil as a retarder for oil paint is one that gets submitted regularly. Typically it's suggested you place a few drops of clove oil onto your palette to keep oil paint workable for longer, sometimes alongside the paint, sometimes on top. Other suggestions have included reviving hardened oil paint by placing it in a jar with a drops of clove oil, sealing the lid, and leaving it for a few days.

It occurred to me that any oil would surely do this, were there any special properties in clove oil that it keeps getting suggested? So I posed the question to an expert. Paul Robinson, Technical Advisor at Winsor & Newton said:
"Clove oil works well as a retarder but there is a note of caution: over time (a long time) it does actually darken as it dries. It starts off nice a light but can eventually turn black. This is over years and is dependent on the amount of direct light. I would be tempted to use a different oil as a retarder -- linseed or stand oil -- and if my tubes go solid I would revive these with solvent and oils."
So if longevity of your oil paintings is something you consider, perhaps stick to using clove oil as a tooth ache remedy or mosquito repellent.

See Also:
Submit Your Painting Tip Here...
The Oils Used in Oil Painting


October 1, 2013 at 2:39 pm
(1) Dave says:

This is the first I’ve ever heard of clove oil darkening over time (blackening, no less!) and there are multiple mentions of using clove oil in Ralph Mayer’s The Artist Handbook—by far the most respected source on oil painting mediums and techniques—and he never once cautions against using it due any tendency to darken. I also find it strange that he recommended linseed oil as a retarder because it’s neither as good as poppyseed or safflower oil in this regard and it’s known to yellow (unlike stand oil). This article is the only mention anywhere of clove oil’s darkening properties. I suggest your readers get a second opinion, especially from a party not affiliated with a company that doesn’t sell clove oil.

October 2, 2013 at 2:54 am
(2) Josh says:

Ralph Mayer as the ultimate authorutiy = do some more research!

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