Tad Spurgeon oil paintings


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Questions have been an important part of this website since 2003. If you have purchased Living Craft and have a question, have any questions about the Refining Linseed Oil PDF, if you'd like more information about the book, or have a question about the information on the site, or just want to say hi, please feel free to send me an e-mail.


There's a lot of technical information on the website, but exponentially more in Living Craft, which tells the last eight years of the story in detail.

If you have general oil painting questions, a great option is the technical support system at Williamsburg. They have a quality selection of technical information online here, a great set of technical bulletins here, and you can also contact them directly here.

The mainstream art supply system assumes you are an intelligent person if you are asking materials questions. As such, it has designed a trap to keep you within a frame of reference that they define. The trap is like a figure-ground exercise: they direct your attention to one part, but what you want to be more aware of is what they are not telling you. Conservation studies such as 'Issues in Contemporary Oil Paint' make it clear that modern oil paint is deteriorating more quickly, and subject to many more issues, than the simple handmade paint of older work. The writing of Dr. Francesca Izzo is particularly focused on issues encountered in 20th century oil paint. The materials analyses of technical art history are helpful in a more positive way, and although the Archetype publications are not cheap, every issue of the National Gallery Technical Bulletin is now online for free. Looking these over creates a more realistic picture of older practice than that of earlier scholars, with their endless theories about the secrets of the Old Masters, all of which have now been proven incorrect by analysis at the molecular level. This is not to say hard science has all the answers. The greatest tool we possess is the patient observation of the materials interactions within our own practice. No one selling art materials is offering the level of detailed, dispassionate information necessary to proceed on this path. The people who present themselves as experts within commerce are an assortment of egomaniacs, pathological liars, and adroit conmen. The con is increasingly focused on a particular sleight of hand trick: the conspicuous use of science to tell only half the story. What modern person of intelligence questions science? At the same time, who is actually being served by half the story? The art supply business has a history of fraud spanning centuries. There are no rules, there is vigilant no cultural watchdog or government agency keeping it all in line. It is a business, and business is about making money. If the consumer is enthusiastically deluded, so much the better.

Living Craft Selections

      New for 2020! Download a PDF selection from Living Craft about the pros, and some little known cons, of contemporary commercial oil paint.

      Also new! Download a detailed PDF selection from Living Craft about linseed oil and how to keep it from darkening .

the spike lavender fraud

Have you seen this ad? It conceals a fraud. Spike lavender for painting has a long history of adulteration with turpentine; this is first recorded in the De Mayerne Manuscript. The price of spike lavender is now such that the solvent sold to painters is not even an adulteration, but an invention. European companies are required to list the actual compounds in their “spike lavender,” but American companies are not. Spike lavender has three major components and dozens of minor ones. The three major ones are Linalol (26-44%), 1,8-Cineole (25-36%), and Camphor (5.3-14.3 %). These compounds occur in many other plants, or can be made in a laboratory. Adulteration of lavender, the most popular essential oil scent, is especially sophisticated. A recent paper noted that while 20 tons of fine lavender are refined each year in France, 250 tons are exported.

The European MSDS files I’ve examined show no actual spike lavender content. These materials are either a mixture of VOC solvents such as turpentine, pine oil, and D-limonene, with a little camphor and linalyl acetate to supply the specific smell, or a mixture of either synthetic or, at a higher price point, natural essential oils similar to the major components of actual spike lavender. The American companies claim their solvents are safer – presumably because VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are considered more toxic that FOCs (volatile floral compounds), but their “MSDS” files are meaningless because they do not list what is in the solvent. The consumer assumes that this is spike lavender, but the finest print does not confirm this, and the price point of these solvents makes this an economic impossibility.

So, American companies like Art Treehouse and Chelsea Classic Studios are selling something else, not genuine spike lavender, and no one knows what it is. Is this harmless? What is being hidden? A product containing VOC solvents or synthetic compounds made in a lab? It is impossible to know.

As of Spring, 2019, genuine spike lavender costs about 500-550 dollars per quart, or 26-28 dollars per ounce. Actual spike lavender can be purchased through an essential oil company that provides a GC/MS (gas chromatography/mass spectrometry) analysis sheet: for example, Lotus Botanicals in Maine. The compounds that make up spike are about half the same as those in genuine lavender, so actual spike smells like a more spicy or penetrating version of lavender, its odor is integrated, not fragmented.

The only technical reason to use spike lavender is to dissolve sandarac or Manila copal, not exactly everyday painting materials at this point. The essential oils of eucalyptus and rosemary also dissolve these resins, and may be easier to find in an unadulterated form.

spike fraud pdf

A PDF file with an overview of the Art Treehouse-Chelsea Spike Lavender Fraud is available here


I've found the craft fascinating and rewarding on a number of levels. Below are some links to more information here about how to do this yourself.


You can begin to get aquainted with Living Craft, a unique approach to oil painting based on handmade materials and traditional techniques, here.


The 20th century textbooks became very involved in the use of toxic solvents. Many painters are interested in minimizing or eliminating solvent from the studio. Various strategies for solvent-free painting are covered here.

      For centuries there has been intense speculation about the materials and methods used in older painting. This has often focused on the concept of the "lost secret." Analyzing older painting at the molecular level, modern technical art history has told us a different story. What do the actual secrets of older painting now appear to be? The following PDF of selections from Living Craft is focused on older practice.

      A condensed overview of oil painting technique that sorts out reliable facts from prevailing myths is available here.

      A more detailed look at sound practice can be found here. This explains the fundamentals of the system that has come about through a decade of research into the basic, original materials of oil painting. This is also available as a text-only PDF file here.

       The older craft was different, and technical art history has shown that the oil is the foundation of the older craft, not any resin or another secret ingredient. As such, the more you know about the oil, the more informed decisions you can make for your work. This page about the oil will get you started. If you refine the oil yourself, you have the sine qua non and foundation of older practice, a genuinely non-yellowing oil that dries hard in a day or two. This oil makes several techniques available that cannot be done otherwise. No oil even close to this is available commercially, and you will never see this statement directly contradicted by anyone. You can download a pdf file with the latest version of this process and several traditional variations here.

from Living Craft

      'The details generated by experience with a given set of materials create a system that is more than the sum of its parts. This happens most simply with a system based on becoming oneself through the materials in the present moment, however this naturally comes into being. The system may use handmade materials, or it may use commercial materials, but, to succeed, it needs to be based on the details of practice, not the bravado of theory. This means acknowledging that things are not quite as they seem, ever, and being willing to investigate, always. But, in the hall of mirrors that we blithely refer to as visual reality, looking more closely is also not quite what it seems. We base our conclusions on what we know. How can we know what is there unless we see it? Until we understand that our vision is limited, that there is always more to see, this possibility is not within our frame of reference. This deceptively simple process is grounded in creative uncertainty, the awareness that, in an infinite universe, frames of reference must expand to remain viable. Our knowledge – however high our opinion may be of it – must be considered partial to have an opportunity to grow. This approach sets the stage for resolving the compelling paradox of representational painting: the creation of an illusion that tells the truth.'

For further information on technique or a specific painting please contact tadspurgeon@gmail.com
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