I have been experimenting for awhile with oil/water emulsion mixes, a sort of shortcut tempera grassa created by mixing tempera paints or mediums with oil paints. Gottsegen’s Painter’s Handbook has some information about this technique. I tested a few tubes of Lukas, and found that they worked surprisingly better in these emulsions than any other brands I have (a few notes on that at the end), so I bought some more. There seem to be very few detailed reviews of them on the web, so here are my thoughts.
This is, first and foremost, heavily engineered to dry extremely quickly, in some colors as fast as an alkyd. According to promotional materials, “LUKAS has mastered the art of making oil colors by taking the guesswork out of drying while still maintaining an excellent archival painting film. Their secret recipe employs primary driers that support the surface drying as well as auxiliary driers that support the body of the paint layer’s drying.” One writer on Wetcanvas says they contain at least 3 driers. In my relatively warm, dry climate, many of the colors (in masstone) dry to the touch within 12 hours, most within one day. Cadmiums, which sometimes take 3 weeks to dry in other brands, are dry in 1-4 days. With a little intermixing of fast and slower colors, you can make everything dry within a day.
That makes this a viable alternative to alkyd paints or mediums for painters who want fast drying but can’t tolerate the solvents found in all alkyd paints and most alkyd mediums. I find this a useful addition to the paint spectrum. If you don’t want fast drying, you probably won’t be interested, but it’s worth considering that these paints can be used as drying modifiers mixed into other brands, an alternative to Liquin or Galkyd to speed up very slow driers like the cadmiums without the yellowing cost and solvent exposure of alkyd mediums. I added their cadmium red to another brand’s version and more than halved its drying time.
The catch is that their “secret recipe” is indeed secret, so you have to decide whether to trust Lukas. Heavy use of driers may come with a cost in paint durability. This is not for purists who don’t want paint with unknown additives. On the other hand, almost every painter I know freely adds Liquin or Galkyd to their paint with often casual regard for proportion or long-term effect on color. It’s worth asking whether we should trust our own paint engineering more than Lukas’s.
Lukas has done a somewhat mixed job with its color range. While there are many solid pigments, including cadmiums, there are too many questionably lightfast pigments at some important points in the spectrum. Lukas’s 1862 watercolor line has a good range of color choices; it’s a shame they have done a spottier job on this line. In particular, transparent yellows, oranges and reds are weak, represented by questionably-lightfast Hansa and Naphthol pigments. Both of the Indian yellow options have moderate lightfastness; py110 or py150 would be better. The only choices in the deep Alizarin Crimson/ maroon spot are PR83 (best avoided) or madder lake hue, a mix with PR176, known to fade in tints. Their primary magenta (PR122) is a good color choice but they don’t have a pure PV19. Their cerulean blue is cut with lithopone (though perhaps Lukas is just being more honest than most manufacturers to admit this). They are missing some great pigments found in most artist grade lines: Pbr24, PY110, PY154, PO73, PY150, Indanthrone blue, quinacridone rose, perylene maroon, Phthalo green-yellow, transparent yellow oxide, Mars black. They keep this line fairly inexpensive, but they do have cadmiums, so why not some of these other great pigments?
On the other hand, they carry good versions of most standard reds, blues, and greens. They have a basic but servicable range of cadmiums, reasonably priced when on sale, and the excellent pyrolle reds, PR 254 and 255. Their mauve is a nice blend of PV19 and PV23, though I’d prefer a pure PV19. Their manganese cerulean blue is attractive if you don’t want to mess with the cerulean/lithopone mix. They carry pg7 and viridian and chromium oxide green.
Their earth line is a little odd, heavy on synthetic oxides and somewhat limited. The raw umber is a somewhat weak pr101 rather than pbr7, and is much warmer than most brands. Van Dyke Brown is nice, a blackish-brown in masstone and quite neutral in tints. Burnt umber is a mix, not a natural earth. There is a nice English Red (pr101), but it would be nice to have Venetian and Indian red. Their burnt sienna is pr101, a transparent red oxide (my preferred pigment but an earth version would be welcome). The yellow ochre is py42, also my preferred version but py43 is nice also. Their raw sienna is pbr7 and is very nice. Overall, if you want interesting true earth colors, this is not the place to look!
Lukas titanium white is one of the few that gets high marks among artists who have done long-term yellowing tests for white oil paint. That’s a big, big plus. Like the entire line, though, it seems weak relative to the volume of paint, but stronger relative to its weight. I’ll discuss this more below, but in short this is a paint that is very low weight per volume. That can be useful to help deal with the titanium chalkiness problem, but when you want a really strong white, it is a bit frustrating. Sometimes I add white pigment to it. I have one white from the cheaper student-grade Lukas Studio: Opaque White (lithopone); it is even weaker, and it yellowed badly on a test strip, so I’m getting rid of it. I can see why lithopone is used as an extender; you can really bulk up the paint without changing it much, but its yellowing is unacceptable to me in a pure white. Lithopone is listed as an ingredient in several of their paint mixes. It is probably in a lot of brands, so maybe they get points for honesty, but after seeing the yellowing, I’m wary of those colors.
One other note on whites: paint tubes can sometimes turn gray along the lip and threads (aluminum oxidation?). When you squeeze paint out, it can pick up a grayish rim. This is quite noticeable with the whites. Lukas is not the only brand that does this, but it seems worse than most. I think you can avoid this by pulling paint out with a palette knife, or shellacing the threads …not much fun.
Blacks and grays: Payne’s gray is close to a chromatic black in masstone, a useful mix of pr264 and pg7 that makes cool grays. I hoped the Cold and Warm Gray mixes would be useful for grisailles, but they are unfortunately slow driers, unlike most of the line. Lukas seems to have forgotten to put in the driers, or perhaps too much lithopone slows the drying. They dry fast enough mixed with other colors.
In general, the paints seem to be well-pigmented with good saturation, the qualifier being that they are well-pigments relative to their rather light consistency, as I mentioned above about white. The one real surprise in the line, in my opinion, is their Green Earth. This is generally a nice color, but usually weak and easily overwhelmed in mixes. The Lukas version is by far the darkest in masstone of any I have used, and is actually capable of holding its own in mixes. It is kind of gritty, but I don’t mind that. [Update: a reviewer on Jerry’s (Brian Firth?) says this color fades quickly in tints so has to be adulterated with a fugitive color. Distressing news because it throws some doubt not just on this color but the whole color line. I hope this is a fluke from a bad supplier. It looks like they may have replaced pg23 with a mix of pr101 and pg7, which should be lightfast.]
Because the line has a lot of mixes, read the pigment composition before buying. At Jerry’s Artarama, click on the yellow box near the price to see this info or open the color chart. Lukas is perhaps being overly generous with its lightfast ratings in some cases (PY3 is excellent? Alizarin is “good”?), so buyer beware. It looks like they may only be rating permanence in masstone, so avoid pigments that fade in tints, like pr176, most Hansa yellows, Naphthol reds, po34. Dioxazine violet (their cobalt violet hue), PY3, and Prussian blue are colors that have variable lightfastness across brands, so for long-term use it is recommended to do your own lightfast testing.
Below are the paints I have, along with drying times in my warm climate.
|PY3||Lemon Yellow (Primary)||12 hours|
|py35||Cadmium yellow lemon||1.5 – 2 days|
|PY35||Cadmium Yellow Light||4 days|
|py35||Cadmium yellow||1.5 – 2 days|
|po20||Cadmium orange||12 hours|
|Po20||Cadmium Red Light||1 day|
|pr108||Cadmium red deep||1 day|
|pr255||Permanent red||12 hours|
|PR122||Magenta Red (Primary)||12 hours|
|pv19, pv23||Mauve||1 day|
|pv23||Cobalt violet imitation (dioxazine)||12 hours|
|pb29||Ultramarine Blue||1 day|
|pb36, pg7||Manganese Cerulean||12 hours|
|pb15||Studio Phthalo Blue||1 day|
|pb27||Prussian blue||2.5 days|
|pg7||Studio Viridian Phthalo||1 day|
|pg17||Chromium oxide green||3 days|
|pg23||Green earth||1 day|
|PY42||Yellow ochre||12 hours|
|pbr7||Raw sienna||1 day|
|pr101||English Red||1 day|
|pbr7||Burnt Sienna||2.5 – 3 days|
|pbr7||Van dyke brown||1 day|
|pr101||Raw Umber||1-2 days|
|PR264/PG7||Paynes gray||1 day|
|PW5/PG7/PBk7||Cold gray||7+ days|
|PW5/PY42/PBk7||Warm gray||6 days|
|Ivory Black||1 day|
|Pw4||Titanium White||2.5 days|
|Lithopone pw5||Studio Opaque White||2.5 days|
The paint line is pretty consistent in handling, with minor variation in stiffness and oiliness. (If there’s some oil at the top, I always put the paint on a paper towel for a bit.) Overall, the paint feels loose and very workable coming out of the tube. The closest description I can find is that it is a bit fluffy and light, something like heavy whipped cream that can hold its shape rather than soft butter. It’s not runny like some Sennelier and M. Graham; perhaps that is the beeswax holding it in suspension. I suspect that I will go through these tubes faster than normal because of the fluffiness, which somewhat diminishes their reasonable cost, but the tradeoff is that it is very easy to apply and move around without adding mediums or solvents. If you want paint to lay down smoothly for layering, that can easily be done with a soft brush, but its unique features show more in impasto. In its own way, it responds quite charismatically to brushwork.
It breaks fairly short from the brush, meaning that if you lift a brush up from a thick layer of paint, it breaks off quickly. It’s thixotropic (stays where you put it), but unlike some short, thixotropic paint it takes edging (creating a ridge with a brush or knife) or long brushstrokes nicely without blobbing or dragging too much along the edge. It holds brush marks and texture detail well in low impasto. (I have tried a few heavier impasto tests, up to 1/4 inch thick. They dry fast on the surface, but remain wet underneath for days in thick spots, so if you want deeper impasto, you may still want to add an alkyd medium.)
The time frame for nice brushwork is limited, of course, since Lukas starts to dry much more quickly than most paints. On the other hand, you can glaze those textures pretty quickly. When Lukas begins to dry on the canvas, it seems to have a different feel than paints mixed with alkyd mediums, which can get tacky very quickly. That may be a factor to some painters, good or bad. If you want that sticky, dragging feel of partially dry alkyd-modified paint as a step in your process, you may not get it with this. Possibly my hot climate affects this and your experience might be different.
Surprisingly, since Lukas advertises a beeswax additive, they behave with less obvious waxiness than some tubes I have of Winsor Newton and Gamblin. Somehow, the fluffy consistency counteracts a waxy feel that I find distasteful in some mid-range brands. I did a texture face-off between Lukas, WN, Gamblin, M Graham, and two high-end brands, Blockx and Vasari, all straight out of the tube. I preferred Lukas of the four midrange paints. M Graham texture melted away and WN and Gamblin both had a waxiness that made long brushwork and edging unattractive to me. WN burnt sienna was extremely short and waxy. It held brushwork spectacularly, kind of like cool butter as they say, but the range of texture was quite limited by its shortness. It’s hard to like that once you know what long paint can offer. Lukas isn’t long, but its fluidity allows textures that kind of simulate long paint.
The high-end paints justify their cost in being denser, giving a nice feel of weight off the brush, flowing smoothly and easily while retaining brushwork and holding edges. There’s a reason they cost what they do. But in pure results rather than luscious tactile feel, Lukas compared favorably for the cost differential. Somehow Lukas achieved the end results pretty well without the substance of high-end paint. I’d love to own big tubes of Blockx and paint with nothing else, but in the real world I almost can’t do impasto in an expensive paints because I’m thinking about conserving paint all the time!
One thing I found out in the texture test is that M Graham handled pretty favorably to the high-end ones when I added some dry pigment to it. It’s quite reasonably priced like Lukas, so that might be worth pursuing. The drying time of Lukas is an advantage, though, since impasto can dry really, really slowly. Tests like these are very subjective, and I used limited colors, but it convinced me that Lukas has something to offer.
For painters that avoid solvents, the light consistency allows painting without any modifiers. Lukas has another line, the water miscible oil Berlin, that has similar handling (when used without water) with really easy cleanup. It’s more of a student line with some worse pigment choices, but its handling has some advocates separate from 1862. It has a slight granularity that changes the feel and is kind of interesting. I deal with cleanup of 1862 by adding Berlin linseed oil at the end of a session to make the paint water miscible. Then it cleans up easily with soap and water. Brushes can be dipped in the WMO oil and then cleaned with water.
The combination of fast drying and very movable, fluid paint makes this a good paint for me for alla prima painting in a single session. It is also good for indirect painting, since layers dry quickly. I haven’t tried Lukas in plein air work yet; its fast drying may be a problem out in the air and wind.
I’d probably place this as a mid-range artist quality paint, better than student quality but held back by its sometimes poor color choices. In that range, I’m fairly impressed at what it offers, especially at the sale prices that occur regularly at Jerry’s. Many colors are available in 200 ml tubes, which lowers the cost even more.
Lukas is worth considering for people who want fast drying paints but don’t want to use alkyd mediums, and for people who want a movable, light paint that can be used straight out of the tube. If impasto and brushwork is your thing, I’d definitely recommend trying a tube to see if its consistency appeals to you.
On the negative side, it’s not for anyone who insists on knowing exactly what’s in the paint, since Lukas (along with most other manufacturers) isn’t telling. And it’s not for anyone who wants their paint to have the substance and heft of Old Holland; you’ll feel like you’re trying to paint with whipped cream.
Postscript about Lukas 1862 in tempera/oil emulsions
I stumbled across an interesting study about Arnold Bocklin’s oil emulsion paintings and the chemical identification of emulsion paints and their unusual chemistry. In a discussion of additives that help create stable emulsions, they discuss siccatives as a possible agent: ” This would mean that oils containing lots of siccatives would reveal considerably different properties with regard to the addition of aqueous binders than oils that were prepared without siccatives. If this were true, though, it is unclear why this difference has not been noted before. ” Lukas paint contains siccatives, so maybe this has something to do with why it goes into emulsions well.