Vasari is often described as the Cadillac of oil paints. I’ve held off a long time on buying any since I tend to be too precious with oil paint even when it’s cheap, but some dry pigments that I really like from Earthpigments.com are now available in oils in the Vasari line, and I was interested to compare my handmade paint to commercial equivalents. I waited for their earth sale, but still paid $11 to $21 per tube. The tubes came in a fancy box with faux-suede lining, alongside a tote bag with Vasari logo. This is boutique paint!
I have a lot of dry pigments, and often make my own paints. I make small batches and use them in one day, which allows me to forego additives needed to stabilize tube paints. I mix the paint very thoroughly, but I often don’t mull it. It would take half of my painting session to mull several colors and clean up. Where are those apprentices when you need them?!! I follow Sinopia’s advice that you should mull if you plan to tube, but otherwise can just mix. So my comparisons to Vasari are done with oil paint that is mixed thoroughly, but not mulled.
I had expected that Vasari would be clearly superior to my own paint, but in some ways, for my purposes (emphasis on that), I didn’t find it so. That’s not to say these aren’t great paints and beautiful colors, but handmade paints are dramatically less expensive and in some cases even better for what I want. Where mulling matters for color intensity, Vasari definitely wins, but the color difference is pretty subtle and often lost in mixes, and I could always break out the muller and get close. Vasari also wins for a very smooth consistency that textures very nicely. But my homemade paint shows some interesting rheology that is missing in Vasari.
The premium paints I’ve tried, Vasari and Blockx and Blue Ridge, manage a very pleasing brushability while holding texture from brushstrokes without slumping. They create organic edges without blobs when a brush is dragged through thicker paint. They don’t resist the brush or pull against it. They have a long character that is much more like handmade paint than most brands. (We are all familiar with short paint, since most tubed paint is short. It breaks off quickly and stops when you lift the brush. Long paint is the opposite, more mobile and tending to continue moving a bit when you lift the brush; some even pulls out into strands.) These three are on they looser end of the scale, allowing them to be used without solvents or mediums if desired, but they are not runny (like Sennelier in some tubes I have). The tactile experience of painting matters to me, and these are really nice! Of the three, I like Vasari and Blue Ridge best for the way they hold texture and edges, and the way they look when dry (fairly even, satin sheen in the paints I have, without a jarring difference between thick and thin areas). But Blockx has a very appealing silky feel, sensual to move, that probably comes from the poppy oil. In thin paint, I’d probably prefer to paint with it just for the feeling. (I have a limited number of tubes, so I don’t know if these observations hold through the complete lines.)
Once you try something like Vasari, you may find less expensive tube paints a bit disappointing, but it depends very much on how you paint. Lower end paints generally compromise with over-use of fillers and additives like aluminum stearate, resulting in paints that may hold brushstrokes but lack sensual brushability and tend to be quite short, even waxy. With a few exceptions, in my experience, handmade paints are the only thing that can really compete with Vasari and Blockx in this area. One of the great advantages of handmade paint is its tendency to be longer than tube paint and brushable, yet adjustable to hold texture when you want it. Of course, every painter’s process is different, and something one of us finds desirable is the opposite for another. If you like the textures you get with a stiffer, shorter paint, these are probably not for you. Continue reading