Blockx: Oil Colours

Blockx: Oil Colours

Hi! This time I’m looking at the very wonderful oil colours made by Blockx. These are unusual in that they are still hand-made in Belgium by a small family firm which is on its 5th generation of the Blockx family to produce paints and pigments for artists….they’ve been doing this since 1865.


Salvador Dali, said about the founder, Jacques Blockx, “This man who never painted, will contribute more to the painters of tomorrow than all the modern painters together, will have accomplished”.


Key features:

  • Blockx oil colours are made only from the best and purest pigments-they have a relatively limited colour range compared with other brands, but this is due to an absolute unwillingness to compromise on quality.
  • Because of the highest quality pigments, all the colours in the range score 7 0r 8 on the* ‘wool’ lightfastness scale, which means they can be regarded as absolutely permanent. *The Blue Wool test is the standard British test for lightfastness, and was originally developed for textile dyes, but is now used more widely-the highest possible scores are 7 or 8.
  • For blacks, iron oxide and earth colours, paints are made up using top quality Linseed Oil. All other colours are made using very pure Poppy Seed Oil, which is preferable as it does not cause colours to ‘yellow’ or wrinkle or become brittle with time.
  • The resultant paints are exceptionally pure and ‘clean’, maintaining their freshness across the colour range for many, many years to come.

In the picture above, you can see I tested a colour range of 13 colours, which make up a good introductory palette.

I used from left to right above: Cadmium Red, Crimson Lake, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Naples Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Cobalt Blue, Indantherene Blue (One of my absolute favourite colours-really gorgeous rich, deep blue), Viridian, Mixed Green Deep, Payne’s Grey and Zinc White: semi opaque and therefore good for glazes and tints, and finally Titanium White-versatile, all-purpose white with excellent opacity, and with the purest whitest white, which is great for highlights.

A note on drying times:

Oil paints dry by absorbing oxygen from the air rather than by the evaporation of water, in the case of water based media.

Colours also dry at different rates, but as a rough guide, from the colours used above:

Cobalt blue, Indantherene Blue and Burnt Umber are the fastest drying at around 2 or 3 days.

The remainder are medium drying and take around 5 or 6 days….although all drying times depend on thickness of paint application and any additive mediums too.

Palettes for Oils:

Artists use all sorts of things for palettes; tiles, plates etc…

For oils, ceramic tiles, white porcelain palettes, traditional wooden palettes or sheets of glass work really well. White ceramic palettes or plates work well if you like working on a white or light ground. Traditional wooden palettes in mahogany or dark woods work well if your preference is to work on dark grounds like reddish browns.

I usually use a sheet of glass, which works really well, and you can paint a sheet of appropriately coloured paper and place it underneath the glass to match your ground…

*Tear-Off Palettes are great if you don’t need to save your colours for a long time between sessions, and because they are so easy to clean up….just fold them together and throw away!

For this blog, I’ve been using the ILA tear-off palettes shown above, which come in a small and large size. Each one comes in a pad of 40 sheets of coated non-absorbent paper which is great for mixing either oils or acrylics. You can hold the palette pad in your hand whilst working, using the thumb hole, or lay them flat on a table next to your work, which I prefer.

*I found them really tough and durable actually, much more so than I expected. They stood up to loads of mixing with a palette knife without any problems, and the surface stayed perfect-I even found I could reactivate colour, by scraping away the dried outer layer and reworking the colour underneath.

Oil colours are messy, unless you are going to spend a lot of time cleaning up the tubes after you’ve finished work, so it makes sense to keep them safely in a box where they won’t come into contact with anything they shouldn’t.

*I keep mine in lined wooden boxes; the one above belonged to my dad and I love the continuity of carrying on using it, but you can pick them up very cheaply from car-boot sales and antiques/ junk shops, which seem to pick them up from house clearances.

*I’m very conscious of minimising fumes and strong odour when I’m working with any art materials especially oils, so I do keep solvents in jars with lids, replacing the lids in between use….I’ve also been using a product called ‘Sansodor’ by Winsor and Newton. This is a great multi-purpose buy as it works very well as a cleaning agent for brushes, palette and painting knives etc…and it also evaporates really slowly giving you a noticeably longer blending/working time, when used as a thinner. Above all though it’s a real find for me as it really does have almost no odour!!

In the samples above, I worked with Blockx combined with a number of different thinners and mediums.

In the top and fourth lines above, I used clarified Poppy Seed Oil as a thinner mixed with my Blockx colour. Poppy Seed oil maintains a beautiful fresh colour, which is very noticeable with both the blue and red above. It also gives a lovely smooth, creamy consistency which is great for blending colour.

Poppy Seed oil tends to make the colour slower to dry, but it is a pleasure to use and the final effect has a pleasing gloss finish.

The image below shows two further mediums; Flemish Medium and Medium 5, known as painting butter.

I used Painting Butter in the second row of samples shown. This medium is exceptionally heavy-bodied and therefore makes a really thick paint when mixed with oils. It also speeds up drying times and reduces problems with wrinkling, so it’s a great tool to have.

Medium 5 produces a more matt finish, but is excellent for impasto effects, such as when working with a painting knife.

Cold Wax is also a really useful medium with oils-it is especially good for opaque colour; it thickens and increases the volume of oil colour, and produces a silky matt surface…

As with the other mediums, simply mix oils straight from the tube with a little cold wax, using a palette knife. Oil and Cold wax mixtures work beautifully with a brush to create soft blended areas, as well as for rich impasto with a knife.

Flemish medium (Lead Free) was by far my favourite medium when combined with Blockx colour. Blockx are fantastic oils, but perhaps a little stiff straight from the tube… I found they have a lovely feel when mixed with Flemish Medium; rich and buttery, and a real pleasure to work with!

On the tear-off palette above, you can see my colours laid out ready to use with a large blob of glistening amber coloured Flemish Medium on the right.

Blockx combined with Flemish Medium produces lovely soft blending showing lively brush marks and a pleasing sheen finish….it also speeds drying times which can be very useful!

*All the samples above were done on 200 gsm Lana Vanguard paper, which is an unusual choice, as it has a perfectly smooth finish-I rather like it as the purity of colour shows through really well. It works brilliantly with opaque colour blends and also impasto. It’s an incredibly durable surface, putting up with a huge amount of scraping back etc…with no issues and no buckling at all. The only thing it isn’t so good for is translucent glazes, which don’t work so well on the ultra smooth surface.

This oil sketch above is on a small canvas and finished with a top layer of oil and cold wax, plus a little oil-bar mark making.

*Oil bars are traditional oil paint in a stick form, which can be used on their own or in combination with traditional oils as here. You can use them direct or with a little medium to help them flow.

The picture above shows loads more samples using Blockx in different ways:

L.H Top: ‘Dragged’ textures using Blockx + Flemish Medium with painting knife.

L.H Medium: Soft brush blending using Blockx + Flemish Medium.

L.H Bottom: Thickly textured Blockx + Flemish Medium

Centre:Indantherene Blockx + Flemish Medium applied in a smooth painting knife layer, with added s’grafitto mark making.

R.H Medium: Blockx + Lukas No 5 ‘Painting Butter’-comparison of brush and painting knife.

R.H Bottom: Further samples with Blockx and Flemish Medium

In the samples above, the richness of Blockx colour comes over really well-all colours are heavily pigment loaded, creating strong rich colour that is so rewarding to work with!

Blockx performs brilliantly with heavy impasto, and holds both brush and knife marks in a really satisfying way.

*Brushes: Obviously, Blockx will work well with any oil suitable brushes and knives. Here I’m using a range of ILA Imitation Mongoose Brushes, which I think are great: they are super flexible, hold paint beautifully, and their elasticity and flexible characteristics mean they are wonderful for defining edges. They really are great value for money.

I also used a Silicone Blade below, which I found handled Blockx with aplomb.

I loved the textures the Catalyst Blade made when dragging Blockx across the paper surface.

Above: Lovely rich colours on a tear-off palette.

For my last blog, I was looking at Jaxon Watercolours and I developed a watercolour collage shown to the right>

The collage came from a larger watercolour done outside in the Dales on a drawing trip, which was torn up and reassembled back in the studio. I often like to explore an idea in a range of different ways and techniques.

Here, I’ve explored the same composition using my Blockx oils to reinterpret the idea.

I’ve worked on an ultra deep canvas with an acrylic ground-this can be an advantage as it dries quickly, allowing you to get on with your work, but should be used fairly thinly to create a stable base.

The picture above is the result of this process and reflects the landscape layers found in the Yorkshire Dales. Blockx colours are built up *fat over lean on a thin acrylic base.

*Fat over lean-this is the principle for building oils in layers, which means for a permanent and stable base you should begin with a lean layer or layers, with oils thinned with turps or Sansodor. You can then build subsequent layers which are ‘fatter’ using neat oils and oils combined with oily mediums.

Above: landscape sketch using Blockx on oil paper. The absolute richness of Blockx colour comes over really well.

These lively sketches are often precursors of more finished pieces, they’re great for getting a feel for a medium, and for warming up too. They clearly demonstrate how well Blockx handles a loose expressive style.

These studies are about capturing an essence of a scene, especially regarding colour and shape, and they are made deliberately instinctively and quickly-in only one layer of paint surface.

The still-life above is a lively study with a loose expressive style, which demonstrates the depth and strength of pigment colour you get with Blockx.


The close ups right and left show how colour is built in layers using cross-hatched brush marks. The right hand photograph shows the area after two ‘lean’ layers, and the left hand one after building up with another final rich and ‘fat’ layer on top.





Top Tips:

  • Cover all work surfaces really well, using old paper, cardboard or newspaper. Keep some old rags for cleaning up and have plenty of paper towel to hand. Remove most of remaining paint from palettes, brushes etc…on the paper you’ve had covering your work surface-this makes cleaning up much easier to do.
  • Clean brushes etc…with a white spirit type product. You can buy low odour versions which are really worth seeking out-my personal preference is for Sansodor, which is highly effective and also great for letting down oils. Complete the cleaning using warm soapy water.
  • If you are new to oils, buy a small quantity of good quality oils rather than loads of poor ones to avoid frustration!! my limited palette here is a good starter selection.
  • Experiment with working ‘alla prima’ or in one setting, while the paint is still wet, and also building layers following the ‘fat over lean principle’-this will give you a real feel for the medium and help you discover which method suits you best.
  • Do try fast, instinctive sketches in oil colour-they are a brilliant way of building your skill and confidence with the medium.
  • Work on specialist Oil Paper or Lana Vanguard for preparatory work and sketches.


For Inspiration:

  • Look at John Constable’s large oil sketches, which have a freedom and immediacy that influenced the Impressionists.
  • Try Frank Auerbach for his amazing use of texture.
  • Look at Gillian Ayres for bright, clean, vibrant colour.


My Materials list-all available from


You also need:

  • Newspaper and paper towels
  • Washing up liquid and hand soap.
  • Old rags
  • Screw top jars to save Sansodor and oil mediums.


Hope you found this Blog useful and to see you for the next one!                            Jo York


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