Tad Spurgeon oil paintings


about me
the work
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sound practice
black & white
putty medium
just oil
putty tutorial

general questions

Questions are an important part of my learning process. If you have purchased Living Craft, have any questions about the Refining Linseed Oil PDF, if you'd like more information about the book or purchasing a painting, have a question about the information on the site, or just want to say hi, please feel free to send me an e-mail. Also, I'm sorry if you've tried to contact me through Facebook and I haven't replied, I'm hopelessly bad at Facebook, find it over-complex and overwhelming most of the time.

technical questions

There is a great deal of technical information on the website, but exponentially more in Living Craft, which was written to tell the story in detail, and comes with free e-support.

If you have general oil painting questions, a great option is the technical support system at Williamsburg. They have a quality selection of technical information online here, a great set of technical bulletins here, and you can also contact them directly here.

There are also now several well-informed and polite forums. Some of these are on Facebook, such as the Rational Painters group, or the group headed by George O'Hanlon of Natural Pigments. A recent self-contained one with an emphasis on reconstructing historical aspects of the craft effectively is MITRA at the University of Delaware. It's great to see an American university take an interest in the craft.

the spike lavender fraud

Have you seen this ad? It conceals a fraud. Spike lavender for painting has a long history of adulteration with turpentine; this is first recorded in the De Mayerne Manuscript. The price of spike lavender is now such that the solvent sold to painters is not even an adulteration, but an invention. European companies are required to list the actual compounds in their “spike lavender,” but American companies are not. Spike lavender has three major components and dozens of minor ones. The three major ones are Linalol (26-44%), 1,8-Cineole (25-36%), and Camphor (5.3-14.3 %). These compounds occur in many other plants, or can be made in a laboratory. Adulteration of lavender, the most popular essential oil scent, is especially sophisticated. A recent paper noted that while 20 tons of fine lavender are refined each year in France, 250 tons are exported.

The European MSDS files I’ve examined show no actual spike lavender content. These materials are either a mixture of VOC solvents such as turpentine, pine oil, and D-limonene, with a little camphor and linalyl acetate to supply the specific smell, or a mixture of either synthetic or, at a higher price point, natural essential oils similar to the major components of actual spike lavender. The American companies claim their solvents are safer – presumably because VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are considered more toxic that FOCs (volatile floral compounds), but their “MSDS” files are meaningless because they do not list what is in the solvent. The consumer assumes that this is spike lavender, but the finest print does not confirm this, and the price point of these solvents makes this an economic impossibility.

So, American companies like Art Treehouse and Chelsea Classic Studios are selling something else, not genuine spike lavender, and no one knows what it is. Is this harmless? What is being hidden? A product containing VOC solvents or synthetic compounds made in a lab? It is impossible to know.

As of Spring, 2019, genuine spike lavender costs about 500-550 dollars per quart, or 26-28 dollars per ounce. Actual spike lavender can be purchased through an essential oil company that provides a GC/MS (gas chromatography/mass spectrometry) analysis sheet: for example, Lotus Botanicals in Maine. The compounds that make up spike are about half the same as those in genuine lavender, so actual spike smells like a more spicy or penetrating version of lavender, its odor is integrated, not fragmented.

The only technical reason to use spike lavender is to dissolve sandarac or Manila copal, not exactly everyday painting materials at this point. The essential oils of eucalyptus and rosemary also dissolve these resins, and may be easier to find in an unadulterated form.

spike fraud pdf

A PDF file with an overview of the Art Treehouse-Chelsea Spike Lavender Fraud is available here


I've found the craft fascinating and rewarding on a number of levels. Below are some links to more information here about how to do this yourself.


You can begin to get aquainted with Living Craft, a unique approach to oil painting based on handmade materials and traditional techniques, here.


The 20th century textbooks became very involved in the use of toxic solvents. Many painters are interested in minimizing or eliminating solvent from the studio. Various strategies for solvent-free painting are covered here.

      For centuries there has been intense speculation about the materials and methods used in older painting. This has often focused on the concept of the "lost secret." Analyzing older painting at the molecular level, modern technical art history has told us a different story. What do the actual secrets of older painting now appear to be? The following PDF of selections from Living Craft is focused on older practice.

      A condensed overview of oil painting technique that sorts out reliable facts from prevailing myths is available here.

      A more detailed look at sound practice can be found here. This explains the fundamentals of the system that has come about through a decade of research into the basic, original materials of oil painting. This is also available as a text-only PDF file here.

       The older craft was different, and technical art history has shown that the oil is the foundation of the older craft, not any resin or secret ingredient. As such, the more you know about the oil, the more informed decisions you can make for your work. This page about the oil will get you started. If you refine the oil yourself, you have the sine qua non and foundation of older practice, a genuinely non-yellowing oil that dries hard in a day or two. This oil makes several techniques available that cannot be done otherwise. No oil even close to this is available commercially, and you will never see this statement directly contradicted by anyone. You can download a pdf file with the latest version of this process and several traditional variations here.

For further information on technique or a specific painting please contact tadspurgeon@gmail.com
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