Using Sunflower Oil to Make Oil Paint

Sunflower is very cheap and very available, if it can be used to allow  art making  to become much cheaper and accessible then thats a pretty great thing. If you’re a painter you already know that oils are not cheap and can only be found in certain stores whereas sunflower oil is everywhere. This coupled with making your own pigments means a very sustainable practice and easy access to paint.

Common sunflower oil

So, can sunflower oil he used to make oil paint? I will first go into my reasoning behind why this can be possible and then do a little experiment to find out.

My reasoning behind thinking why sunflower oil could be used in oil painting is its iodine value. Basically, for an oil to be suitable for painting with it must be  a drying oil. All oils can be categorized either as: drying, semi-drying, and non-drying oils. 
You can tell if an oil is a drying oil by looking at its idione value. 

-Drying Oils: more than 130
- Semi-drying Oils: between 115 and 130
-Non-drying Oils:  less than 115

Here’s a table I made showing different types of oils and their values:

You can see a lot of common oils such as coconut and olive oil are immediately ruled out as they fall deep into the non drying category.  There’s the semi drying category- nothing special there and then the most interesting category to me out of all of them are the oils that lie between semi-drying and fully drying oils. With ranges that fall pretty deep into the drying oil iodine value; I have not seen anything out there that would negate  grape seed oil and sunflower oil being used as oil paint mediums.   Lastly, are the drying oils. These contain the very popular and commonly used linseed oil as well as hemp seed oil which I was surprised to find out about. 

To test my hypothesis out, I’m going to combine sunflower oil with a pigment of my choice and basically wait and see if it dries.

white clay pigment

The pigment I’m choosing for this is white clay that I ground and sifted. I chose it because it extremely stable and shouldn’t have an effect on the sunflower oils chemistry and natural behavior.

white clay pigment and sunflower oil

I placed some of the clay on my glass plate, added some sunflower oil and mulled it with my palette knife.

pigment + sunflower oil

I observe that I may have used too much sunflower oil- I guess it’s way more viscous than other oils and that a little bit goes a very long way. It does have a very nice oily slippery consistency though but it’s far from buttery or dense. If this works I would add less oil the next time I use it.

painting the sunflower oil paint

 After mixing the oil and pigment I painted them on a piece on primed canvas. I did this right under a ‘control’ walnut alkyd swatch which I had made earlier that day. 

 I’m going to put this aside and check on it over the course of seven weeks. If it’s not dry by then- I will consider this a failure and give up on the dream of sunflower oil paint.

Final Results

After seven weeks, I check up on the sunflower oil and I find that it is dry but still a little soft and malleable. I see that the swatch with the walnut alkyd is the same so i give them another 2 weeks of drying just to be sure. After two weeks i check again and the paint is no different. I can easily leave finger prints it which is bad sign. Im not too sure why this happened, but the areas with thin paint are perfectly dry with no yellowing.

This leads me to believe that sunflower oil could be used to make oil paint as it creates a film, and seems quite permanent. Im not sure why it was soft in thicker areas but that might have come down to the choice of pigment. I will probably conduct another test later on to have a final conclusion!

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