Clove oil - something to be aware of

I posted on the MITRA forum (Material Information and Technical Resources for Artists) which is populated by Art conservationists, paint makers from companies like Golden, and other people in the field:

  • I have a query regarding the section in the MITRA documentation on Solvents about Clove Oil for Oil painting:

    "Essential Oil of Cloves or Clove Oil has been used as a preservative in emulsions and as an additive to mediums to substantially slow down their drying rate. There are far better preservatives available today. The use of clove oil as a drying retarder is greatly discouraged as its addition tends to substantially weaken the dried paint film.

    Other Essential Oils and Extracts are also periodically used in art making. Oil of rosemary sometimes served as a substitute for clove oil and as a component in the creation of complex oil-hard resin mediums. Like clove oil, artists should forgo the use of these materials as their dangers far outweigh and perceived benefits."

    I and many other painters I know use Clove Oil to extend the drying time and I have never read anything negative about using it before.

    Please can you tell me what evidence led to the conclusion that clove oil weakened dried paint film.

    What were the numbers for the control, clove and rosemary in the studies that were done?

  • Moderator Answer

    ​Actually we would LOVE it if someone in the conservation field were to conduct a study to look into concrete numbers regarding paint I will just leave this statement here for my conservation science colleagues to read (and hopefully someone will become inspired!). The information in our document is based on actual experience with cleaning works of art...both from our own experience and anecdotal evidence provided by other conservators. Every so often we will encounter a painting by an artist who is known to have used clove oil or a painting that lists clove oil on the reverse as an ingredient in the paint. Many of these paintings have proven impossible to safely clean, meaning the yellowed, degraded varnishes used to coat the surface cannot be removed without causing irreversible damage to the paint layer. Clove oil is an attractive additive BECAUSE it hinders drying...but adding too much can create a film that remains sticky and does not form a cohesive, healthy paint film, one that will remain sensitive to even the mildest of solvents. Most likely adding a drop or two to a substantial amount of medium is not the end of the world, but artists often add far more than is necessary in order to combat the drying processes. As with anything that is potentially problematic we simply request that you record your use of any materials/additives on the reverse of your painting so that your work of art can be properly cared for later on down the road. It may be possible in some cases to remove a degraded surface coating from your painting using aqueous methods, for example (should your painting require such a treatment...remember just because you might use a stable varnish does not mean that someone else will refrain from re-varnishing your painting later on down the road), something that a conservator would know to look into if they know that an artist used something like clove oil as a paint additive. 

    Kristin deGhetaldi

  • User Comment

    ​Thank you Kristen for your reply.

    I (and many others) are using Geneva paints made by Mark Carder which are a very highly pigmented and fluid consistency made with linsead oil and with added clove oil. They are so fluid they don't need to be thinned with solvents and I believe there are no stabilisers or other fillers added.

    The paint (and other commercial beands with a slow-dry clove oil based medium) have been used by many artists on Mark's forum ( for many years and there doesn't seem to have been any problems with a sticky undrying layer or varnish issues. So not sure why we haven't seen these issues?

    Mark's website for Geneva paints is here if it helps:

  • Moderator Answer

    I would not expect you (or others) to have ​experienced any issues with varnish least I certainly hope not at this stage! It is far too early in the lifetime of a painting to attempt to remove a varnish unless absolutely necessary. What may be problematic is varnish removal further down the road as I stated above. I suspect that Geneva does not add driers to their paints and probably adds just enough clove oil to create the desired effect (and therefore avoids the creation of unwanted "sticky" fillms)...but without additional testing it is hard to know what kinds of problems may occur during future varnish removal. Again I emphasize that the field of conservation would be well served to look further into such can find similar claims made by artists who are wetted to Maroger mediums...that they are stable and will withstand the test of time. However we know full well that such paint films remain soluble for many, many years and are sometimes impossible to safely clean (again, the problem of varnish removal comes up). I suspect it is much less of an issue with clove oil but I would still recommend recording the brand and/or material you use on the reverse so that future conservators will know to tread lightly (even though trained conservators ALWAYS read lightly ;) ). 

    Kristin deGhetaldi


  • edited April 2017
    Very interesting, @RIchard. I imagine that the amount of clove oil used in Geneva paints is so small that it does not prevent a durable paint film from forming.
  • edited April 2017
    Good to know for those of us who are mixing our own paint. It pays to give special attention to ratio in ingredients that I use and be careful not to over do anything in the mix. Mark's method of mix is basically the same as Geneva paint, I don't think a durable paint film will form.
  • @Mark_Carder Is this anything you found when adding larger amounts of clove oil in testing for Geneva paints?
  • Maroger mediums mentioned above in the context that a lot of artists believe them to be stable is disputed in an article in Wikipaedia on the subject. The Maroger mediums have been in use a long time in the old lead white and linseed or walnut oil but 20th century artists have been calling a mix with varnish Maroger medium too. These new gel formulations haven't proven themselves like the ones used by Da Vinci, Rubens and Velasquez. Ad some conservators have found problems.  No matter what we do there is a risk but I know MC did his research and trusted in the studies of other recognised experts like Ralph Mayer. So I think we who use Clove Oil should continue using it. I agree with @tassieguy but I also think we should wait a very long time before varnishing our finished paintings so as not to let the varnish combine chemically with clove oil that may still be a semi-liquid film on the paints. Thanks @Richard_P for posting the info.
  • Hi everyone! Glad I stumbled upon this (I'm not normally in here very much)! We use a really minuscule amount of clove oil in Geneva paints, just to influence the dry-time, and have never tested Geneva paint with more than a minuscule amount due to the reasons listed above by the OP. 

    @Mark_Carder did have a conservator look at his paintings and paint when he was using his slow-dry medium formula (I believe) years ago and they okay'ed it, and I'm pretty sure that had a small amount of clove oil in it too. He'd be able to elaborate on that, though. 
  • Thank you Gamble! That's reassuring :)
  • Hello, total newbie on this forum.  I've been using clove and poppyseed oil in my oil monotype "medium" for years.  I do painterly oil-based monotypes with multiple panels printed simultaneously on a single sheet.  I had to find a retarder because by the time I painted up the 4th or 6th plate, ready to print, the 1st ones would be dry. :(

      This only happened with larger plates, (11 x 14) or larger series of plates, like 6- 8.5 x 11.
    I have not had any issues with the clove or poppyseed oils.  

    I use it so sparingly.  
    I try to use as much litho/block printing ink as much as possible (vs. oil paint) because the ink is designed to sit on the paper (Rives BFK) without rotting it, or blooming all over the place.  I'm embarrassed to say that some of my earlier all OP monotypes have bloomed terribly.  
  • Seems to me that while most colours mixed with MC's SDM get moderate-to-low amounts of clove oil, EXCEPT for the Burnt Umber. According to Mark's mediums/mixing video, the Burnt Umber gets a full 15ml of clove oil to a 37ml tube of paint, PLUS additional SDM which has more clove oil in it as well.Seems that the math for that particular colour would equal close to 46-48% clove oil for the Burnt Umber. Depending how much Burnt Umber or dark colours you use on your painting, this could result in a finished painting with a lot of clove oil in it.

    What I don't understand is that clove oil is supposed to evaporate from the painting, so why would it cause problems 100 or 200 years from now. Is the main longevity factor more to do with how long we wait to varnish our paintings? Or is there a certain type of varnish that conservators prefer for use on clove-oil paintings?

    More info would certainly be nice to have, but according to the original responses on the MITRA forums, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of studies that were done on this topic, so the info is quite limited.
    [Deleted User]Rosanne
  • I think that's right, @movealonghome. My understanding is that oil paint dries through oxidation rather than evaporation. Clove oil is an antioxidant that slows the oxidation process but it too will eventually oxidize. That's why even paints with clove oil in them will eventually dry. 

    If any of this is incorrect I hope someone will set me straight. :)
  • @tassieguy is right, but there is more to it if you look deeper, which is true of anything.  This article is worth a read:
  • As far as I understand it, clove oil evaporates and does not oxidise. It is an antioxidant and all antioxidants will damage the polymers of the paint film to some extent. When it is just the smell of the clove oil (the evaporated vapour) then this affects the surface of the paint, however when mixed into the paint it will affect all the paint structure.

    That is why too much clove oil can weaken paint films to a dangerous level. However bear in mind that other drying oils besides linseed oil will also supposedly form weaker paint films.. So it's a matter of degree I suspect. 
  • Am a total newbie here with a question: Is clove leaf oil what one should be using in a slow drying medium, as opposed to clove oil made from the clove, stem, and leaf?  I notice Mark Carder mentions clove leaf oil as what he uses.  
  • In one of his older videos on YouTube, posted in 2012, Mark Carder puts 3 teaspoons (15ml) of clove oil for each 37ml tube of raw umber (plus some slow-drying medium). That is a huge amount of clove oil. Can we really believe that he now adds just a tiny amount of it to his Geneva paints without proof? Who is the conservator who okayed his use of clove oil? Either clove oil is absolutely safe or people  using his paint will have some very bad surprises. Forgive my very straightforward questions, I have sincere respect for Mark Carder, but I believe this issue should be clarified further. Thank you.
  • After reading above I am concerned about the Gamvar I have been using over dry (to the touch) Geneva paints. Should I be concerned?
  • I'd be very interested to know about the clove leaf oil/linseed oil ratio in Geneva oils. Also wondering if the venice turpentine is included. This is the only reason I'm concerned about using these paints. How long does it take for the clove oil to evaporate and how long should one wait before varnishing? I want to purchase the complete set, but need my concerns addressed first. 
  • Naomie

    I have no information about the components of the Geneva product, except that it has linseed and clove.
    Clove oil is quite volatile and should have vaporised out of the paint within a few days. You can test the drying rate by placing a drop of clove oil on your glass palette, should quickly evaporate with no residue.
    Varnishing can safely be applied in six months. Though, the drying rate is temperature and humidity dependent, thickness of paint is also an important factor. Keeping a ‘thin’ painting on the warm side 24/7 would be dry in say, four months.


  • Mark has instructions for making your own slow dry mediums and give instructions on how to add it to your paint at

    You can see that burnt umber gets a large amount of clove oil, but all other colors get a very small amount.  Titanium white gets none.

    Mark doesn't disclose formulas for the Geneva Paint, but it is almost certain that his method of manufacture is very similar to his posted instructions.

    The MITRA  warnings are based on an "abundance of caution" due to a lack of evidence.  The anecdotal information is not useful except perhaps to identify a topic that should be researched further.  This would be a good topic for a Master's Thesis.  It's impossible to draw an accurate conclusion based on a lack of evidence.

    Regarding burnt umber, I've been mixing my own from the three primaries and I can come very close to the burnt umber that Mark makes.  I also mix my own black the same way.  Once I have my burnt umber mixed, I use it along with the primaries and white to follow Mark's mixing strategy and can mix almost any color I need.  

  • The amount of clove oil in Geneva must be very significant. If I squeeze a small pile of cad yellow onto the palette and don't touch it it basically stays wet forever. I've left a pile in this state for up to a month and I didn't notice any change over that time.

    As for varnish removal this is something easy to test yourself. Maybe I'll do some tests myself, as I have some paintings done with Geneva paint that still aren't varnished.

    @mstrick96 to be able to mix all colours that are mixable with oil paint, you actually need 20-25 tubes of paint. You can mix a lot with 7 or 8, but there will still be many that you won't be able to match. For example, if you want to have cad orange, you have to buy a tube of it since it's not possible to mix with other pigments.
  • I stand by my statement that I can mix "almost" ant color I "need" with just the three primaries plus white.  I almost "never" use any paint right out of the tube, but rather grey them down.  That beings most colors within the gamut of the three primaries.  That includes almost all of the 20 or 25 tubes of paint.

    The only colors I can't mix are a few oranges or purples.  By adding a carefully selected orange or purple, I can get those.  Mark adds a phthalo blue and a cad red to get those which works equally well.  For very natural greens, Mark's basic palette works quite well. 

    That said, I am only interested in "natural" colors. 

    To get back to the original question, if you are concerned about the clove oil in Mark's burnt umber, just mix it from the primaries.  That was the thrust of my original comment. 

  • @mstrick96
    You are right all color can be derived fro the primaries. Except real true earth colors which dirt.

    This is a full 12 color spectrum palette I made a couple of years ago using Geneva paint. From the top full intensity primary, secondary and tertiaries. I can make every natural (whatever the means) color that I see. You can't buy these colors.

    This is the color wheel. 

    The bottom two rows are Semi Neutral and Hue or Neutrals colors. Fast efficient inexpensive. Of course this is just mixing not understanding color. Color is not just a matching process.

    If you want to know more message me.
  • Speaking of "dirt", I did a demonstration on how artist's paints are made at the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, GA a couple of years ago.  IT turns out the the largest ocher mine in the Western Hemisphere is right there in Cartersville. Riverside Ocher Mines. I used several of their ochers in my demonstration.

    All paint is just "dirt" and "glue"!  

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