How to Store Oil Paints, part I: Those Tricky Tubes

February 11th, 2009

Being an artist is not the easiest way to make money; the people who most rely on having their paints in good condition are typically the ones who can least afford waste. Reliable paint storage is not a glamorous topic, but the more serious you are about being an artist, the more important it becomes to do it right.

The screw top paint tube is an important invention and it might seem simple to use, but it is not trivial. Every time paint is removed and the top is screwed back on, a bit of paint will find its way between the plastic top and the metal screw part of the tube. As this paint builds up, and time passes, bad things can happen. There are two basic categories of bad things. One is that the paint builds up in a way that makes it hard to close the tube properly. When this happens, there is the danger that the paint in the tube will dry, as in this photo.

When paint dries in the tube, it is worse than throwing money out of the window. It wastes time, it makes me feel stupid, and I’m stuck with the tube (who knows, maybe there is some good paint in there somewhere).

Not being able to put the top on is bad, but even worse is not being able to get the top off. This tube looks innocent enough, but notice the thin layer of paint between the top and the tube.


This tube will not open by ordinary means.

A friend of mine in Amsterdam told me how she learned to deal with this situation in art school: use a cigarette lighter to soften the plastic cap. Now there is a very intelligent idea! Nothing like using an open flame to vaporize cobalt or cadmium in the studio while trying to open a tube! [Irony] Putting the top in warm water might be a better approach. But who has time for that when inspiration strikes? If you need your colors, you typically need them NOW. The tube below was also glued closed with old paint. I tried to force it, and now I have to live with the results: a messy ripped tube that periodically exudes green goo.


But it gets worse. The tube below is something horriffic. It looks like it has received the attention of an American interrogation team somewhere overseas. Now this tube is a cadmium smeared mess that I don’t want to throw away but don’t want to deal with either.


.  .  .

The Happy Ending
All of this pain can be avoided by the simple expidient of wiping off the mouth/neck of the tube with a rag or paper towel before putting the top back on on the tube. The tube below is an example of good treatment over the life of the tube: it is almost empty (the paint employed to the delight of the art world), but the last little bit of paint inside is still in perfect condition. No waste! It makes me feel happy. It’s so easy, and it works. So don’t forget, wipe every time!


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