Art Tip of The Day – Allergic to Oils? Go Nuts!


"Lie To Me" © 2009 Janice Tanton.
"Lie To Me" © 2009 Janice Tanton. 40x60, oil on linen

For years, one of the things that kept me back from painting with oils, was an allergy to them. At the age of 12, my parents bought me a set of oils, which I dove into down in the basement of our bungalow in Oshawa. Less than an hour later, I emerged, hardly able to breathe, my eyes swollen, itchy and my skin all blotchy with hives, as I was trying to paint a picture of a horse. An hour after that, I was in a doctor’s office, getting a massive dose of antihistimines. Needless to say, the oils were packed off to the garbage while I was being packed off to the hospital.

Thirty plus some years later, after painting in years with watercolour and egg tempera, I thought there must be some “modern” solution for me to expand my media.

Brushes!When I took up painting with oils, I did a lot of reading on what might be the best way to approach it, from a health and useability standpoint. I think my allergy may have been to stand oil – but I’m not about to take a stab at it again without an epipen nearby!

The solution that I found was in M.Graham oils. Based with walnut oils, this did the trick for me! The medium is wonderful, silky smooth and the pigment quality is excellent. I love them, and I wouldn’t trade them again for my watercolours or egg tempera, although each of them does have a spot in my studio and my work.

The Palette with oil paints
Typical palette setup with M.Graham paints

The walnut oil is non-yellowing over time, unlike some other drying oils, and I find that there are many ways that I have been able to avoid the use of heavier solvents with the walnut.  It seems to clean up very well with Murphy’s oil soap, and the M Graham alkyd medium is an excellent way to work through lightening the consistency of the pigment-rich paint.

Overall, I love my “new” medium and the way that the oils are performing. The happiest thing of all – is that I can actually use oil paints now without having a terrible allergic reaction.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Alice Szitar

    Great for article. I think that this article is interesting . I like your article this site. I need to know how can I subscribe to your blog?. I will be follow you blog each 5 days.

    1. Janice Tanton

      Just fill in the form that pops up! or go to the subscribe button. Thanks Alice.

  2. Adan7777

    I have a problem with the solvents… got any ideas or info…to for around this problem…Adan7777

    1. Janice Tanton

      Hi Adan. Yes….if you use M Graham paints, you can use the walnut oil as a solvent to clean your brushes. Just dip the brush, and keep wiping until you have most of it out. After that, you can clean your brushes with Murphy’s Oil Soap and water. If you cannot use the solvents (odourless mineral spirits) at all, in some cases it might slow your drying time in various ways, depending on how you use them…but that is just a matter of timing in planning your painting and a good “workaround”.

  3. Hsinyao Tseng

    I have been painting oils for 7 years now, and recently I have the similar reaction like you. I am afraid that I am starting allergic to the solvent I am using which is Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits.
    My question is after you changed to M.Graham brand, you feel none allergic to oil painting at all?
    Do you only use M.Graham oils colors? Because most of other brand of oil colors has linseed oil or stand oil on it.
    Do you use M.Graham Walnut Oil Medium to thin your paint or clean your brushes as like Gamsol does?


    1. Janice Tanton

      Hi and thank you for your comment/questions. I don’t feel any allergy at all to the M Graham paints. I use 99% M Graham paints – and a lead white from Old Holland. I use the walnut medium to change the viscosity of the paint as required – but not a lot of it!

      When I clean my brushes, I wipe most of them out by hand on baby wipes or cotton rags, and then wash thoroughly with Murphy’s Oil Soap which I find useful, kind to my hands and brushes and a great “oil cutter”. I hope that helps!

      1. JJ

        Thank you so much for the quick reply.
        Do you use “Walnut/Alkyd Medium” as your medium or “Walnut Oil”?
        Because I saw these two items on their website. Do you know what is the difference between these two product?

        I will give a try~

        1. Janice Tanton

          I use the Walnut Alkyd Medium as my medium. The medium has much different properties and chemical makeup. The company is very, very helpful in providing information so don’t hesitate to contact them too. Like any oil paints, a medium is just that…the medium. It will provide a gloss finish and quicken the drying when used in the correct proportion. Walnut Oil is the oil used in the paint – the binder of the pigment. Perhaps I should do a post on this if folks are interested in knowing just the basics about the makeup of paint. Look for it upcoming, Hsinyao! Thank you again for your comment

  4. JS

    Been painting on and off with oils for a while due to a sensibility or allergy with linseed oil. I tried removing all solvents but I still had no luck. Recently found about M. Graham oils and I´m very exited about them. I´m crossing my fingers hopping there´s no reaction to them.

    1. Janice Tanton

      I hope it works out for you! Sensitivities seem to flare up and down with many artists. Here’s hoping this one will work.

  5. Maple Canner

    Just came upon your page. I think I am having a reaction to painting with oils. I do use linseed oil and love the results but after reading this I may actually be allergic to that. My nose is sore and itchy and nothing seems to heal it. So from what I gather, it may not be the paints but the linseed oil I am reacting to? Can I use food grade walnut oil in my paintings or just plan to buy the Alkyd medium? My painting teacher was just talking about M.Graham oils in our zoom class yesterday. I am so happy I found your information.Thank you, Maple

  6. Janice Tanton

    I am not a doctor, but you can get allergy tested. It could be the linseed oil, or it could be any use of solvents – even OMS will irritate. Just because you can’t smell it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there! So yes….it could be the linseed oil. I suspect that food grade walnut oil would be better. It lasts me a VERY long time. Yes, you can use M. Graham oils. I find now, that I’m okay working with just about anything so it probably was a childhood allergy. However, use the BEST quality paints that you can get with the highest pigment load. I rarely use solvents, if ever and use Murphy’s oil soap to clean up. Good luck with your oils class! Feel free to sign up for my newsletter as I will provide tips every now and then! I also have a lovely community at that works daily at their drawing and art skills if you are interested.

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