Ten Artist Tips!

Ask the Colourman ,

 Artist And Illustrator magazine featured a piece from Michael about the use and care of his paints;  you can read it here:

How should I store my oil paints?

Because pigments are heavy they can often sink within the oil and therefore separate. To avoid this store your oil paints cap down thus permitting the lighter weight oil to naturally flow up and the weightier pigment to flow down to the cap.

How important are mediums?

If you can already achieve with the paint what is in your mind’s eye then there is no need to add a medium. That said, a medium should only be added to assist for handling quality purposes or to obtain a surface which cannot be achieved with paint alone.

Which Michael Harding medium should be used?

Oil Paint Mediums are added to oil paint to increase its flow and translucency. It will naturally thin the colour making it more transparent for the artist who desires more translucency in their paintings.

Beeswax paste is added to paint to give it body and increase the impasto brush stroke.

The new MH Oleo Impasto Medium was designed to increase the transparency of MH oil paint and, also used to create thick bold brush strokes.

Do you recommend the fat-over-lean technique?

Please do not bury oily, fat colours under heavy, thick lean paints – it is like building a house on rubber bricks.

How do I find a complementary colour?

To find the exact complementary colour of a colour stare at the colour you want the complimentary colour of for at least 30 seconds to one minute and then quickly shut your eyes. Your mind will present you with an exact opposite complimentary colour of what you were looking at. Take a look at the Michael Harding colour chart.

What’s the best way to speed drying time?

Set your painting in a warm room and in a bright sunny window. Use warmth and sunlight to help your painting cure faster. That’s right, paintings cure – they do not dry.

What does the word ‘lake’ mean on oil paint labels?

Believe it or not the word ‘lake’ is derived from a Hindi word Lac which originally described the number 100,000 and is a generic term. It refers to the many hundreds of thousands of insects one finds when drawing resinous materials from trees which was used to create colour in dyes.

Nowadays this term means a man-made pigment where a dye has been used to stain an inert pigment like chalk. For example, colours like the Phthalocyanines and quinacridones are some of the most lightfast colours we have. Lake colours originally had a bad reputation as they were made from organic vegetable matter which was fugitive – this is not the case today.

Where’s the best place to store a finished painting?

Store paintings in an area that is well lit as it will keep the colours bright. Storing them in a dark cupboard will darken the colours. Whites go a yellowish colour for example when kept out of brighter lit areas.

How do I choose a good support?

A good artist understands the difference between good quality linen and other panels. They also, of course, know the correct primers to use. If you need a good quality primer at a reasonable price you may want to try Michael Harding’s Non-Absorbent Acrylic Primer. It is specifically created for the oil painter in mind so as not to draw the oil out of a painting and therefore leaving it look dull and matt.

Often artists are “oiling out”, using MH Non-Absorbent Acrylic Primer will preclude this from having to happen or needing a retouch varnish. It may be used to prime linen, wood, and other surfaces that are not readily meant to be painted on with oil paints.

What’s your essential painting tool?

A bottle of wine and a mirror. (The wine is obvious as it is inspiration medium and increases relaxation!) Looking at your own painting in a mirror will allow you to see design and drawing faults as if you are an independent viewer. The mirror is a fantastic tool for assessing the design and drawing of any painting be it figurative or non-figurative.

Do you have a top painting tip?

A trick for painting portraits, particularly when painting Caucasian skin tones is to simply place a little bit of MH Terre Verte in shadows under the nose and chin. This tends to play up the red complementary colours of cheeks thus making the painting come a little more to life!

24 Responses to “Ten Artist Tips!”

February 10, 2019 at 11:06 am, Alison Carr said:

Can your oil paints be mixed with alkyd oils and mediums please?


April 09, 2019 at 11:30 am, Michael said:

Yes but it will compromise the quality.


February 10, 2019 at 11:24 am, Alison Carr said:

Hi – also, does your zinc white, unbleached titanium and lead tin yellow actually contain zinc please? I’m new to oils and it seems paints containing zinc and lead are prone to cracking over time. I liked your colours and wished to use them with my alkyd paints and mediums. Will this work? Rgds Alison


April 09, 2019 at 11:31 am, Michael said:


also, your zinc white, unbleached titanium and lead tin yellow actually contain zinc please? No none or it would say on the label. I’m new to oils and it seems paints containing zinc and lead are prone to cracking over time. No not lead though there are concerns over zinc so we have fazed it out. I liked your colours and wished to use them with my alkyd paints and mediums. Will this work? Yes but it will compromise the quality.


August 02, 2019 at 1:17 am, Paul Ferry said:


I’d appreciate if you could clarify your above April 9th reply – “No not lead though there are concerns over zinc so we have fazed it out”.

Are you fazing out Zinc White? It’s my understanding from your post found here:


that the fears over zinc are unwarranted provided the artist utilise it correctly and as such Michael Harding will continue to give us a zinc based white.

Can you confirm whether this is the case and that you will continue to produce a genuine zinc white?

Many thanks



August 21, 2019 at 9:45 am, Michael said:

Hi Paul,

Thank you for your message.

I have decided to remove zinc white altogether from the range.

Have a great week!


March 28, 2020 at 3:39 am, Suzanne Clark said:

Can you list your most fat and oily pigments please? It seems as if many paint makers want to standardize paints and now when looking at ingredients, its numbers and letters rather than pigment names. Its harder to identify what is in a tube of paint and it seems that the oils are very different these days as well. Linseed, safflower, walnut, Alkali refined linseed oil…are they all compatible?


April 14, 2020 at 4:12 pm, Michael said:

Hi Suzanne,

Please visit https://www.michaelharding.co.uk/colours/ to view all of my colours, click a colour swatch for more information on a particular colour and you will find all the information you will need 🙂

Best wishes!


May 01, 2020 at 1:49 pm, Linda Blackburn said:

Hi Michael l am new to oil painting so bare with me. I’ve purchased your paints and I have brushes and boards ready too go. I would really like to know more about your painting mediums and Varnishes and the right situation too use them in. As a beginner in oil painting I’m assuming if needed you use pm1 to pm3 in order lean to thick? Varnishes – Damar, Matt can you mix them too achieve a satin finish? Is there a YouTube segment I could watch on your specific mediums and varnishes?


June 17, 2020 at 5:41 pm, Michael said:

Hi Linda,

I am afraid that there is not a youtube video about this but I shall certainly make a note of your question and aim to have one made soon.

Have you seen these pages:


and https://www.michaelharding.co.uk/michael-harding-varnishes/

They contain more information on my Mediums and Varnishes that may help you.

If you need further help please let me know.

Best wishes,


July 02, 2020 at 10:23 am, Dominique Grantham said:

Could you tell me the best varnish to even out an uneven surface on an oil painting, ie dried matt and shiny and sunken in in areas,
I do not want a glossy finish though, will your matt varnish do the job?


August 10, 2020 at 3:04 pm, Michael said:

Dear Dominique,

Yes the matte varnish should unify the surface. However in the future you might want to consider what causes the uneven drying, primers and such like.

Best Wishes



October 02, 2020 at 12:29 pm, Екатерина said:

Hello! I really loved your colors! Your advice on the use of different colors and the use of mediums turned out to be very interesting and useful to me. Now, basically, I use pure paint without mediums and am very happy with the result. I need your advice: how to treat the dried paint layer for better adhesion of the next paint layer. Sometimes I start working again after a week, and sometimes after 6 months. Many in Russia use “Teenik” (linseed oil + dammar resin + turpentine + alcohol), others advise “Retouch varnish” (dammar resin + white spirit + plasticizer + solvents), someone will process the dried paint layer with linseed oil, and who does not process at all. Since I just comprehend oil painting, I have to correct a lot (erase or overlap with a new layer), when using “Retouch varnish” places of corrections without erasing become noticeably thicker, I do not like it. Your opinion is very interesting. Thanks!


February 16, 2021 at 1:59 pm, Michael said:

Thanks! Just paint straight on top any addition of any weird medium is only creating a weak link/layer paint on paint is the strongest. Avoid retouch varnish for the same reason, should colours like umbers have dried dull a very thin linseed oil coating is the best option but even that best avoided.


October 08, 2020 at 1:51 am, Dermot Hallahan said:

It is my understanding that titanium white is cooler in tone than zinc white. Did you keep this in mind when you replaced your Phythlocyanine Blue and Zinc White with Phythlocyanine Blue and Titanium White? Is there something extra in the new mix to bring it as close to the dis-continued zinc version as possible?


February 16, 2021 at 1:58 pm, Michael said:

Hi Dermot,

We made it only with PW 6 and PB 15.3 the slight colour shift was seen as tolerable to appease the anti zinc white people.


October 12, 2020 at 8:32 pm, David Hardy said:

Hi, I’ve painted a gradient on a 3′ square canvas in oil, ir goes from bluish grey to almost white. My problem is no the painting is a month old, down the bottom half on both edges an area of speckled glossy patch are left, I’ve tried oiling out but to no avail. Any ideas?


February 09, 2021 at 1:24 pm, Michael said:

Hi David,

Could you please let us know if you have used any other products and if so which ones?

Thank you


January 20, 2021 at 5:11 am, Joe said:

You say alkyds will compromise your paint’s quality. How is this so? Also driers. You say driers will effect the longevity of the paint film. How is this so, if they are added in the proper and minimal proportions? I cannot understand why alkyd mediums used in painting would compromise quality when they are in many ways superior to oils in many scientific tests, showing they’re more flexible and stronger, yellow less, and have a great compatibility with linseed oil? Where is the evidence that either alkyds or driers, like cobalt zirconium, when used properly, have a detrimental effect on a paint film?? I really would like to learn!
Thank you!


January 22, 2021 at 2:59 pm, Michael said:

Alkyds just have an unproven record timescale wise, if you refer to The Artists Handbook of Methods and Techniques, Ralph Mayer will explain better in chapter 3. If you test your materials and are happy with the results, who am I to say you cannot paint the way you want.


January 21, 2021 at 8:44 am, Simon said:


I’ve recently bought your oil colors and would like to ask you why are they when dry about two tones darker. This is not long term drying but rather touch dry (1 week). Didn’t have that problem when i was using mid range oil colors. What would cause this… Is it perhaps because I’ve used W&W liquin for underpainting or underpainting is to dark. I’ve tried to repaint it several times with same results beeing darker when dry

Thanks for the answer

Kind Regards


February 08, 2021 at 11:45 am, Michael said:

Hi Simon,

What are the layers made of? Including the primer?

Best wishes


August 09, 2021 at 3:59 am, Michael Vale said:

Hello, I have been mixing Pthalocyanine Green with Alizarin Crimson to make a range of purplish blacks that I use all the time. I have just been reading about the permanence issues associated with Alizarin Crimson … does this mean that mu ‘blacks’ will start to turn green over time?


January 17, 2022 at 8:24 pm, Michael said:

Hi Michael,

If it’s displayed in a strong light this might happen, you could find better peace of mind with a quinacridone based pigment in this context like our magenta.

Best wishes


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