My painting experience with Spike Lavender as a medium.

After listening to friends with their own switch to safer painting methods, I decided to go to try nontoxic methods with my paints. A good idea since my daughter, who is three, now spends more time in the studio with me. Recently, I learned a close friend had gotten ill due to the exposure to turpentine.  My first venture into this was with the M. Graham Walnut Alkyd Medium.  I liked it, but getting the oil thin enough to spread around fluidly was not happening.  It dried fast and left a nice gloss to the finished oil painting.  Using this as my sole medium made a difference in the odor of my studio and I became aware the gamsol on the few occasions that I did use it and found I preferred not to use gamsol if possible when painting.  Leaving it in an open brush washer does make you exposed to it’s vapors.  I decided move on to explore other options.  During trips down to my local Jerry's Artarama, I discovered several nontoxic mediums to use with my oil paints. One that looked the most appealing was Chelsea Classical Studios spike lavender. The claims by the manufacturer stated spike lavender is a safe historic alternative to turpentine and the chronic health problems associated with it.  It also promoted that spike lavender is used for aromatherapy and has calming effects. I should have become wary with one of the listed benefits of spike lavender was for “well-being”, but I was too intrigued with it’s benefits.  So I dived in, cleared out my remaining gamsol out of the brush cleaner container and poured in the Spike Lavender.  Immediately, the smelled dominated the entire studio.  I began painting and found it to be as good to mix with as turpentine.  I really began to enjoy it’s performance as it broke down even my thicker paints with ease.  However, after 40 minute into the session, I couldn’t take the smell anymore.  Tried to hang in with odor as best as I could, but my senses were literally overloaded from the vapors.  Even my sweater had absorbed the odor and smelled like it had been soaked in the medium.  I closed the lid and the next day returned to find my studio was still reeking from the powerful presence of the Spike Lavender. Having thrown out all the rags, I wondered what why the smell was still so prevalent, and then it occurred to me to smell the painting.  The painting itself was loaded with the powerful odor of spike lavender.  A week later and the smell was still as strong as the day I painted with it.  To my dismay, I realized there was no way I could sell a fresh painting directly to a buyer in this state.  My wife was already complaining of the studio every time she entered the room.  Begrudgingly, I threw the painting in the trash outside.  It took over a week for the smell to fully dissipate.  Maybe I wasn't using it correctly and should have kept the lid on as much as possible or maybe it wasn't designed to be used with thin washes?  One thing positive about the Spice Lavender was it's ability to break down paint to allow for thin washes with oil.  For that alone, it worked incredibly well.   I rationalized keeping the Spike Lavender in some form even if just to use as a brush cleaner, after all, the stuff is expensive.  Luckily, for me, the gracious folks at Jerry’s Artarama were more than happy to return my purchase, those guys are awesome and always looking out for me.  It took almost seven days for the studio to be free of the odor of the spike lavender.  After further research, I came upon some documentation that indicated that I might be susceptible to an allergic reaction.  After discussing with several artists who experienced similar reactions, it left with the conclusion that this was not the medium for everyone.  So I began to search for other methods to paint in the least non-toxic manner possible.  As of this writing, I have purchased Gamblin’s Solvent-Free Gel Medium and look forward to trying it on my paintings very shortly.



Doug Clarke is an award winning Plein Air and Studio painter based out of Virginia Beach. He works in oils creating plein air and studio paintings.

Graduating with Honors and Magna Cum Laude from Virginia Commonwealth University, Doug's work has evolved from commercial to fine art.  As an active member of the Norfolk Drawing Group, the painter strives for excellence in his figure drawings and paintings.  His commitment to life drawing and painting led him outdoors to paint "en plein air".  There he realized his passion for capturing light and nature in his own personal way.

Doug has been commissioned to paint both Harborfest and Neptune Festival posters for 2014.  Awards include 1st place awards for Plein Air 757,  Williamsburg Plein Air and the Plein Air Mount Lebanon quick draw competitions, as well as a three time winner of the Historic Fort Monroe Plein Air Exhibition.  His paintings are collected far and abroad internationally.  Doug’s work is currently represented by Harbor Gallery and the Ellen Moore Gallery.

In pursuit of mastering his craft, he has participates in local and national plein air events

When painting outdoors, Doug is very passionate about capturing the vanishing landscapes of Southeastern Virginia.