Mediums for painting, natural essences

by Mer Almagro, September 2020

We carry a selection of essences at enamelWorkshop, 10ml natural essences, 30ml liquid paraffin, 30 ml orange oil, and three drying mediums: water based, MX54, and essence grasse (fat oil).

What to choose?

The choice, although we have narrowed it down for you, can be a little confusing. Ultimately it is personal preference, fruit of experimentation, and there are as many recipes as painters, but we hope this little guide will be helpful.

The old fashioned medium for painting is a concentration of turpentine of more or less fluidity, called Fat Oil or Essence Grasse. This can be mixed with other oils to change its properties, fluidity and drying time. MX 54 is a mixture of an acrylic binder and pine oil. Both are drying mediums and will dry out in your brushes unless you clean them after use with, for example, orange oil.


Liquid paraffin is my favourite medium to use due to its amazing versatility. If I only could choose one medium, I would choose this one. Pigments mixed with paraffin, protected from dust, can be kept indefinitely, which I love due to the lack of waste! Additionally, the handling properties of this open, never drying medium can be altered by the addition of essences as painting mediums during the painting process. It offers the best of both worlds.


A medium with similar properties to the traditional Fat Oil is the natural Balsam or Essence of Copaiba. Mild, resinous, with a pleasant herbal scent. This can be used as is to mix your pigments with, it can also be made more fluid with addition of a little Lavender Essence, and even more fluid for use with pen and nib for writing with the addition of a little Anise Essence.


Pine is very volatile and dries fast, can be used to mix paint or use as a painting medium, to add to small amounts of pigments pre-mixed with paraffin to add a degree of solidity during painting, this results in a different painting style.

There is a certain degree of confusion when it comes to the origin of pine oil and its relationship with turpentine, terpineol and white spirit/mineral spirits. Pine oil, turpentine and terpineol are of plant origin, while white spirit is a petroleum product. Turpentine is a rough distillate of pine material, and terpineol is a concentration of terpenes found in pine oil, sometimes also used as a painting medium.

The product we carry is a quality distillate of pine, of cosmetic grade origin (our product is for exclusive use as painting medium, however, since we do not follow cosmetic bottling protocols). Pine is still a highly volatile substance so please exercise caution when using it, do not ingest it, avoid contact with skin and eyes, do not inhale the fumes, etc. These guidelines should be followed when working with all essences.

The popular painting medium MX-54 is a proprietary mixture of pine oil and an acrylic medium. This is a drying, closed medium.


Lavender essence can be used on its own as a very fluid medium, great for thin washes that do not readily crack upon evaporation, and also used as a thinner to dilute thick mixtures of other oils (like for example Copaiba). It speeds up drying time (in a smaller degree than Pine oil)

Anise & Clove

Anise and Clove essences are both used to make blends slower drying (especially clove) and more fluid, like for writing with a nib. Caution should be exercised since the addition of too much anise can result in a blend that spreads out over the surface and cannot be worked with. Our clove can however successfully be used on its own with our s.64 paints as a pen medium.

Caution: do not mix Anise with Paraffin, as the mix separates and spoils your colours. For a similar effect with Paraffin, substitute Clove.


Orange Oil is most often used as a solvent substitute to clean brushes (it’s is also a great sticker residue remover), and can also be used to thin other oils.


Odour in the workshop is also an important factor to consider when choosing mediums. Paraffin is the lowest odour of all oily mediums, and I recommend it for people with allergies or sensitivities.

Essences are more volatile (Copaiba less so) so they do perfume the workspace. So I think it is important to also choose one you like the scent of! I love Clove but am less of a fan of Anise. Ventilating the workspace and closing the bottles when not in use is always a good studio practice.

All oils smell a little burnt when evaporating at the kiln. The sensitivity to these smells varies from person to person.


As a starting point, below you find several traditional recipes that you can experiment with:

Mixing mediums (to mix pigments into)
  • 50 parts copaiba
  • 1 part clove (approximately 1 drop of clove into 2.5 ml of copaiba)

  • 16 parts paraffin
  • 1/2 part clove
  • 1/4 part lavender
Painting mediums (to blend into small quantities of premixed paint)
  • 8 parts copaiba
  • 1 part lavender
  • 1 part clove

  • 32 parts copaiba
  • 1 part lavender
  • 1/2 part clove

  • 4 parts copaiba
  • 1 part lavender
  • 1 part clove
  • 1 part pine
Pen mediums (for use with nib)
  • 7 parts anise
  • 3 parts copaiba

  • just pine oil! (fast drying)

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