A conversation with Michael Harding (oil paint maker)


Nice interview with Michael.

Since they were first produced in 1982, Michael Harding oil paints have earned a reputation for being among the finest oil paints available to artists today. Michael Harding’s past as an artist, and his love of the Old Masters, inspired him to create oil paints that are free from fillers, extenders, and driers – allowing the unique characteristics of each pigment to shine through.

I'm sure they're good paints. But I must point out that he isn't doing anything that other high end and boutique oil paint makers do. It is not standard for these people-- eg Old Holland, Robert Doak, Wiliamsburg or Blue Ridge--to grind for uniformity.

Also, despite the romance surrounding genuine ultramarine made from lapis lazuli, artificial ultramarine is chemically identical. The only way to tell them apart would be examination under a high-powered microscope, which would reveal small impurities in genuine. Some people believe this gives genuine a slightly more sparkly appearance, but given the ridiculous cost, I doubt it's worth it.
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It is not standard for these people-- eg Old Holland, Robert Doak, Wiliamsburg or Blue Ridge--to grind for uniformity.
I think we'd have to take into consideration when and where he started his business, at the time I don't know if Williamsburg or Doak where already in business, and if they were they probably were unknown ouside NY and as small as he started. Blue Ridge is relatively new and Old Holland is too expensive (and most likely then too). Also Old Holland does have a uniformity to them, almost all of their paints being quite stiff (I believe they add castor wax, a type of hydrogenated oil), not that they are not excellent paints.

I do agree about Lapislazuli, I wouldn't get it but I think is nice some manufacturers are making it. Is a connection to the past and if you have the money and like a bit romance... why not?

For what is worth, I have a few tubes and it is excellent paint, premium at not premium prices (specially if you're in Europe) I think it belongs in the group with Vasari, Old Holland, Blockx... have to say that I'm excited about his new colors and the watercolor line.
I'm sure Harding's paints are excellent. I'm just saying he isn't alone in his approach.

Stiffness has more to do with the proportion of pigment to oil than anything else, and I'll say this for OH--their prices are outrageous, but they have an extremely high pigment load. I have a tube of their genuine manganese blue that weighs a frickin' ton (anyone else who wants the real thing will have to get it from Doak).

As for genuine ultramarine. well, if you don't have the dough for OH... I am second to none in my love for lapis lazuli. But it makes more sense to use it in jewelry than in paint. From my collection--the large piece with pyrite is the true, electric blue of the highest grade lapis. The smaller pieces are also very nice but a bit darker and not quite as primo.



I think, sorry, that Harding's rap about lapis is a little off. You can't just grind any old lapis on a stone roller mill and expect to get what Vermeer used. The process of making the dry pigment is very complicated and is described in detail by Cennini in Il Libro Dell'arte (translated by D.V. Thompson as The Craftsman's Handbook).

The pigment is available in many grades. The highest grade is astronomically expensive. If you want ten grams, it will set you back $373 from Kremer Pigments. I think it's most unlikely this is the grade Harding is using.
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Judging by the color of the lapis pigment in the jar Harding has, it's probably something like this, which would account for what he calls the "dirtier" quality compared to artificial ultramarine at his site, and the dullness of the color swatch there.

Kremer Grayish-Blue Lapis

As opposed to this. Both are from Afghanistan.

Kremer Lapis, Purest

The lapis offered by Natural Pigments (Rublev) is also obviously not top grade. Robert Doak's is the closest I've seen to the legendary Fra Angelico Blue.

I also don't see how genuine vermilion, which is indeed pure mercuric sulfide, can possibly be deemed non-toxic.

Again, I'm sure Harding's paints are excellent. They certainly get great reviews. He is clearly a conscientious paint maker. But both these things are somewhat misleading.