Mark Golden on Paint

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Can I use House Paint?

14 July, 2006 (10:39) | General

I can’t tell you how many hundreds of times I’ve heard that question from artists. If you’re asking for my permission by all means go ahead use house paint. Artists don’t need our permission to use any materials they want to use to create. The opportunity to create and the materials used to create with are limitless. This is a joyous thing. It gives us tremendous visual metaphors for the sort of materials that artists are looking to experiment with. Fish scales, peanut butter, ice, coffee and tea, cake batter, tars, wood glues, leaves and all sort of flora, bat guano, insects, cardboard, pvc piping, garbage bags (paper or plastic?) and a wide range of industrial coatings made for everything from floor finishes, to epoxy glues, to gelatin sizes to a wide range of wood, wood products, laminates. Pieces of cloth or shavings from material, including all sort of hairs. And just about anything from those isles in the craft stores. They are like magnets of inspiration to so many people.

But then the next question comes… Is it going to last?… I mean is it permanent? For some that question may never arise. But for those who care, that is the question we are most excited to hear. It suggests that someone actually cares about the longevity of his or her work. It may be for reasons of commerce or for their own sense of legacy. I believe there are many reasons why artists should care, but I also know that it may be for very different reasons then I would assume.

I was reminded at the recent symposium at the Tate Modern, “Modern Paints Uncovered�?, that all materials develop a patina. Some turn dramatically and others less so over time… but that every material does change with time. Bronzes go to this incredible deep brown or outdoors develop all sorts of green and white patination. Silver tends towards deepening tones or black. Woods deepen are darken with age. Oil paints develop amber tones and crackeleure.

This suggests to me that the better question is how will my material change over time? First, nothing is permanent, but we can to some extent decide on how we would like the work to change over time. I think it would be wonderful for artists to actually describe to future generations what might be the changes to be expected and how the work should be treated to accept these changes or mitigate these changes.

So… back to the first question… Can I use house paint? Yes… Second question: Is it permanent?

It is house paint. It is formulated very specifically to have some critical properties that allow these products to perform. The products must go on very smoothly with roller application. They must avoid lap lines that disrupt the visual of the wall. They must have very low spatter when applied with a roller. They need excellent hiding to avoid too many multiple coats. They almost always have white and other colors mixed with them to allow for easy color control. House paints are made with at most 12 different colors, unless you’re purchasing some special designer brand. They must have good scrub resistance. Meaning that you can wash them with a fairly abrasive cleaner and they will still hold up. All of this very specific formulation requirements are quite difficult to formulate well. It costs a good deal of money to create this level of consistent performance.

In no way are these products formulated with any intention to last for hundreds or even dozens of years. I can guarantee that this was probably not in the mind of the formulator. No attempt or effort could be assume that these products were formulated for use on flexible supports; be shipped around the world; or have to maintain their surface profile for decades. So let me answer the next question… What is the likely patina for these house paints over time? Here is my suggestion of what ‘house paint’ will do over time; The most significant problem with even a quality house paint is that it will begin to develop cracks. This cracking will be most evident the more the painting is moved or subjected to changes in humidity and temperature. These cracks if painted below another paint medium will begin to propagate through to the upper surfaces. Some of these cracks will lead to paint cleaving off of the canvas. This hardening of the surface will not allow for paintings to be easily taken off their stretchers and rolled, or to allow for using stretcher pegs to retighten slacking canvases. Other problems that may occur over time will depend on the specific paint but they will include some colors becoming much more amber in tone, with some going quite brown. Other problems will definitely depend on the brands and colors, but may include efflorescence on the surface. (or a white powdery accumulation on the surface). For inferior range of colorants one will also develop reduced color saturation on most colors.

So, take a look at your painting constructed with house paint and imagine this new patina on your surface. If you’re happy with the changes, and can justify these alterations in your work… use house paint… you don’t need my permission.




Comment from Anonymous
Time: July 17, 2006, 8:29 am

Marion, What a great comment. I think we are still dealing with the understanding of issues of dust and paintings. One of the significant problems with acrylics is the softness of the film and the ability to hold onto dust particles. Some researchers are looking at the assumed high level of dust attraction of the acrylics. This has been suggested but not proven. It should provide some critical insight on the issue of dust and how bad a problem is it.

It is true that dust can be quite difficult to remove from the acrylic surface. Just using dry techniques may not be sufficient to remove the imbedded dust. In fact wet treatments may also not be sufficient. In cases where the painting is in a more fragile state because of the conditions of its production, (mixed media, over diluted… etc.) dust may in fact be another patina. Regards, Mark

Comment from Marion BE
Time: July 18, 2006, 5:43 am

>One of the significant problems with acrylics is the softness of the film and the ability to hold onto dust particles.>

Is this, to you, a reason for varnishing acrylics? Some of my forum members are totally opposed to varnishing acrylics, saying the paint is fine as is, rejecting the argument that varnish (removable) provides a valuable layer of protection against the environment.

Comment from Anonymous
Time: July 21, 2006, 5:02 am

If you talk to Pip Seymour in England, you will find that the failure of materials education in the visual arts extends to Europe as well.

A young, well-known artist on a panel at the MPU Symposium said, “Teaching art students about materials is a waste of time …”

Comment from Anonymous
Time: July 21, 2006, 5:04 am

But, Mark: If the esthetic choice is to have a matte surface, what about using a matte varnish?

Comment from Anonymous
Time: July 21, 2006, 7:26 am

Mark varnishes are made that will make a final surface matte, satin, semi-gloss or gloss. But we all know of some works that are created in such a way that any varnish on the surface will change that surface. Additionally some works depend on the differences between gloss and matte areas. And yes, it is possible to use different varnishes on these works. It is much more difficult to put a varnish that is able to follow these changes.

Our recommendations are always to first put a gloss coat down to first seal the surface, then to apply a matte or satin varnish. To many artists uncomfortable with varnishing in the first place this seems counterintuitive. This technique dramatically improves the clarity of the final finish whether it be gloss or matte or anything in between. But… it also increases the number of layers an artist must apply. And it makes it more likely that the varnish will change the surface aesthetics.

Folks really really need to practice varnishing!! It is the one critical thing missing from most artists toolbox of skills. Regards. Mark

Comment from Anonymous
Time: July 27, 2006, 5:10 am

Yes, Mark!

Rene de la Rie has commented to me more than once that the real problem with varnishing is that artists no longer know how to do it very well.

Best regards,

Comment from Anonymous
Time: August 29, 2006, 8:55 am

“… we take a risk with our ethics, too: this is especially true if we sell out art.”

Speaking of proofreading, I meant ” … sell OUR art.”


Comment from Eljey
Time: November 21, 2006, 9:18 am

I am grateful for the opportunity to read this discussion on acrylic paints. I must admit that for a long time I paid little attention to technical aspects of acrylics, even though it does matter to me that my paintings maintain their condition for as long as possible.

In wording a contract for a commissioned painting I have been advised to include a clause that addresses the issue of repairs and restorations to the painting after it has been sold, and the question of fees for such work.
Obviously, charging a fee to repair damage caused by negligence on the part of the buyer, such as displaying the painting in a destructive environment, is not an issue. However, if it can be shown that deterioration of the work has occurred within what might be considered a short time span – even where display conditions have been ideal – the owner of the work might feel justifiably wronged if a fee for restoration were charged.

I need some advice on this. The question is, should the contract specify a span of time over which an acrylic painting may be expected to maintain its state under ideal conditions, and if so, what could reasonably be considered the expected life-span, provided it has been created with good quality paints on a good quality surface?

I have read about Golden Acrylics but have never used them. (They are not sold here in Barbados where I live). I will be using a combination of acrylics manufactured by Winsor & Newton, Grumbacher (Academy), Daler-Rowney (Cryla), Dick Blick, and Liquitex (Heavy Body) and I will be painting on a Winsor & Newton Deep Edge canvas.

(In light of what has been shared here concerning glazing, I shall also include this as an option to be considered by the buyer as one that will influence the longevity of the painting).

I would value your suggestions.

Comment from Anonymous
Time: April 2, 2007, 11:23 am

Lorna, thanks for your comments. Many artists continue to work and experiment with house paint, just as artists have experimented with a wide range of industrial products. It does create for a lively sense of alchemy. As of yet very few artists have created gold. I do hope they are able to share their working methods with their collectors and galleries. Some dealers use this as a selling edge. Not sure why, other than the sensibility of using common materials to create the art. Risky business though… Regards, Mark

Comment from Chris
Time: July 27, 2009, 6:05 am


Comment from Drew
Time: August 31, 2009, 11:31 pm

Hi Mark,

I guess I’ll elaborate for the last commenter. Jackson Pollock used house paint, from Duco (DuPont as we know it.) Gloss enamel has seemed to hold up fine on Pollock paintings for the last…. 60 years?

I think you just really need to stress if you use house paints, it needs to be of high quality.

Comment from Lenora
Time: January 22, 2014, 7:57 pm

I’ve been thinking about using my ‘house painter’ husband’s leftover paint to either paint on canvas or Masonite on a frame; and then have him frame them with slates. I know of an artist who paints very large paintings using Gesso and only she knows what type of paint. These paintings are large (5′ x 5′) or larger. I find it hard to think one could afford artist acrylics quality paints to cover that much space.; but, of course given what is charged to buy one, I guess she could. In fact, she even ‘stains’ over the painting which might be just a leaf or flower done in various consistencies of gesso. What then ‘sells’ her work is her ‘signature’ and because of whose daughter she is … everybody who is anybody wants one of them for their house. Status hungry to have one (IMHO). However, I am still of the opinion that I could do them and have my husband (who works with some decorators) sell them. Husband does use ‘high quality’ paints (both latex and oil). I know the two cannot be used with painting over the oils with latex. I know that would not stick. As for gold; could spray paints be used as well. I’d think so since that is what a lot of gangs use for their graffiti. An comments would be welcomed.

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Comment from Anonymous
Time: May 1, 2015, 10:44 am

Picasso did a painting (“Red Armchair”) back in 1931 with one of the first commercial house paints that even after more than 80 (eighty!) years could only be identified as such through hi-tech and very detailed x-ray analysis in the last couple of years. Keep in mind that as one of the first such paints, the stuff he used was probably a long way short of what we’d consider “high quality” today…and yet, 84 years later, it’s still looking fantastic. And Jackson Pollock, once he started using house paint, never looked back and produced some of the most famous paintings of the 20th century – “Blue Poles” is 63 years old and still looking pretty damned awesome too. It’s almost as if the real reason for knocking house paint so savagely is simply for the hope that it’ll sell more acrylics for GAC…

Comment from Mark
Time: May 1, 2015, 12:09 pm

Thanks Anonymous for your comments. Always delighted when someone adds their thoughts. I’m sure if you picked your nose and put in on a canvas and most importantly, you were famous enough for anyone to care, that it would be conserved and other anonymous fans would say, “see, you can even paint with goobers and it will last”. I’ve seen paintings as well done in all sorts of impermanent materials and they’ve managed to survive well enough to be exhibited. I wouldn’t endorse those materials, as most of the work done with impermanent materials simply winds up in the trash.

What I shared about using house paint, in particular, was that it was never designed to last for hundreds of years and when you choose to use those sorts of materials you make choices for yourself and more importantly, if you have a commercial market for your works, you are also making choices for the people purchasing your work.

In these times, there are more choices of quality art materials than have ever existed in any time. If you choose to use house paint, I also hope you have the courage and ethics to share that with your buyers.

Comment from Oliver
Time: December 8, 2015, 12:26 am

Thanks for the great information. useful information about house painting. Especially about the colours!

Comment from Justin
Time: December 11, 2015, 9:14 am

Thanks for sharing such a wonderful information to us- I have read so many blogs on house paint… You can also visit to my blogs on house painter in Nashville and find out much more usefull information.

Comment from John Watt
Time: January 13, 2016, 2:58 am

The advertising of modern manufacture has every right to discriminate past manufacture, however used.
That shouldn’t include piggy pigment abuse.
My Scottish grandfather served a seven year sign-painting apprenticeship in Edinburgh.
When both clans of my ancestors left Scotland before the First World War, not caring who won,
my mother’s father used automotive gasoline and oil, digging in fields and crushing for colours.
Even now, you can see his house paint on old homes with some signage still being displayed.

What can you say about technique, when you’ve already been paid and are in your grave?
And I spelled colour with Proper English. You should too.
Bay-an-uck let, blessings on you.
Just sayin’.

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Comment from Steven L. Martinez
Time: April 5, 2018, 3:49 am

I have enjoy reading your article and it is really helpful to learn on the right usage of the paints. Thank you for sharing this article.

Comment from William Montgomery
Time: June 29, 2018, 3:30 pm

I used to paint multi million dollar homes outsidde of Philadelphia Pa as a painting contractor and mechanic. I painted one of my homes in 1986. I visited the property last year and the house has never been repainted. Thirty one years in the heat, cold, rain, sleet and vibrations from city travel has been something I hold in awe. Former customers have searched me out to compliment me on how well their homes have held up after my paint job. My paintings on paper and wood panels are holding up very well. I do varnish them with semi gloss latex varnish from Home depot at different times during a paintings evolution. I use rejected paint returned for $9.00 a gallon. I consider my work to be experimental. I also grind down the surfaces with grinders, belt and orbital sanders then repaint, wash paint in thin layes partially dried and very thick, add cement and plaster to my paint and so far all is holding on firmly. Please visit my site to see the variety of gestural work based on chance operations. I can not afford the high end paints that many artists use and yet I show my work regularly ina vartiety of different venues.

Comment from William Montgomery
Time: June 29, 2018, 3:33 pm

One more thing, I do list the fact that they are made with acrylics and house paint plus other materials on my web site, show labels I use charcoal, sharpie markers, glued on mixed media like cards, stamps, crusted paints, fabric and string, to mention a few materials.

Comment from Mark
Time: June 29, 2018, 3:42 pm

William whatever works for you. And if it does that’s great. Also wonderful that you share with your customers the materials you use. I’m sure they love the mixed media nature of your work. As a paint maker responsible for the materials we produce… it is, and remains our responsibility to provide artists with the best materials, backed by research and the best information we can provide. I stand by my concerns for using professional materials. No one needs my permission to use whatever they want in making their artwork. Keep painting!

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Comment from Alices Home
Time: December 21, 2022, 1:43 am

Of course we can always use house paint. It will always depend on your preference and availability. By the way, Thank you for sharing this post. It help us get some amazing ideas and answers as well

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