Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Zinc Oil Paint

by Matthew Innis |

If you haven’t signed up for George O’Hanlon’s newsletters, or treated yourself to one of the workshops he and his wife, Tatiana Zaytseva, present, then what are you waiting for?  He is as dedicated to making sure that all artists have the best materials available to them as most artists are dedicated to their easels, but if you haven’t taken the time to read his research or listen to him speak, then there is a good chance that what you create at your easel will not stay in good condition for the long haul. Whether you use the excellent products he makes at Natural Pigments or not, I highly recommend immersing yourself in O’Hanlon’s wisdom to learn the latest information on making your works last for generations – you owe it to your art and your buyers!

The following is just a short snippet about the risks of using zinc white oil paint.  To read a more in-depth article, visit the education section of the Natural Pigments website.  There you can also learn when and where to attend his next Painting Best Practices Workshop.



Tatiana Zaytseva and George O’Hanlon at a recent demonstration at Flax Art & Design in San Mateo, California. Notice the great “Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Zinc” matching T-shirts.

Zinc White and Delaminating Oil Paint

An interesting 2008 study examined the potential causes of delaminating oil paint on acrylic dispersion grounds and the author concluded:

“Zinc soaps are one of the main causes of delamination as they were found in almost all the delaminating paints. The severely delaminating paintings all contained high levels of zinc, indicating that more zinc can make the delamination worse. The presence of lead in addition to zinc may exacerbate the problem, as seen by the fact that all samples with paint are delaminating, even though it contains less zinc than the titanium white paint. This may be related to the form the metal-soaps take when there are both zinc and lead soaps present. All the lead white oil paints contained zinc, so it is not possible to determine the effect of lead alone; however, in alkyd paints, the lead white alkyd is well adhered, while the alkyd paint in the ‘grey/brown painting’ which contains both lead and zinc, is delaminating. Similarly, the titanium white alkyd without zinc is well adhered, while paint, which contains both titanium white and zinc white is delaminating.”

Yonah Maor, “Delamination of Oil Paint from Acrylic Grounds”, Thesis, 2008, p. 85.



    What about zinc white in acrylic paints?

    Cadmium Scarlet

    Zinc is not a problem in water based media, such as watercolour or acrylic, as I understand it, only in oil paints, where the metal ions interact (saponify) with the organic oils. Acrylic grounds I take to mean acrylic ‘gesso’ rather than acrylic paints that contain zinc. Unless anyone understands different. (and I don’t know why this is coming out centered)

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