Natural Resins and Balsams

Nowadays, resins are classified into Natural Resin and Synthetic resin. Natural resins are produced from some kind of trees. Dammer, Mastic and Copal are known as typical natural reisin for painting materials. Synthetic resin was developed in 20th century. Acrylic, Vinyl and Alqid resin are known as typcal synthetic resin. In this page, I describe about mostly natural resin.

Natural resins are classified into Soft resin such as Dammer or Mastic, and Hard resin such as Copal or Amber. Soft resin dissolves into Turpentine easily. The layer included soft resin have good glossy. On the other hand Hard resin doesn't dissolve into Turpentine. It's a little difficult to make it be a varnish. However the layer included hard resin is extremely strong and have good endurance against humidity.

Also resins are classified into Living resin and Fossiled resin. Living resins are puroduced from living tree. It's sometimes called Recent resin. Dammer and Mastic are living resin. Fossiled resins are produced from mostly old tree burying under the ground. Copal and Umber are Fossiled resin (some kinds of Copal are ouruduced from living tree) . Living resins are almost equal to Soft resins, and Fossiled resins to Hard resins.


Dammar or Damar is A Soft Living Resin gathered from trees in tropical Asia such as Malaysia or Indonesia. The island of Sumatera in Indonesia is known as a place of production of the best dammer for Art material. This resin is called Sumatera Damar. Damers has been used by Europian painters since 19th century. The property is similar to Mastic, but Damar varnish doesn's make Blooming Phenomenon ( Mastic varnish sometimes makes foggy effect on the surface of canvas in the high humidity and temperature ) .

Painters dissolve Damars into Turpentine to make damar varnish. Usually , the raito is 1 Dammar into 2 or 3 Turpentine. ( see How to make damar varnish) . Pure Turpentine dissolves Dammars well , but Petroreum solvents sometimes can't dissolve them perfectly. For homemade , I reccomend Turpentine as conpare with Petroreums.

Damar varnish can be used as Protect vernish, Retouching varnish, Ingredint for painting mediums or tempera mediums, etc. For Protect vernish , 1 Damar and 3 Turpentine is reccomended. The film of damar varnish as protect layer can be redissolve by solvents. So , when the film become yellow or dark , you can remove it and paint new film. For Retouching varnish, 1 Damar and 5 Turpentine. For Ingredint for painting mediums, 1 Damar and 2 Turpentine is reccomended. Dammer Varnish provides grossy and trasparency to films

And Painters can dissolve Damars into Drying oil by Heating. Damars melt around 90 degrees centigrade. ( see How to make your own medium) .

Chios Mastic
Chios Mastic

Mastic is A Soft Living Resin gathered from trees in islands of Mediterranean sea. The island of Chios is known as a place of production of the best Mastic resin for art use. This resin is called Chios Mastic. Matsic is much more expensive than Damer. And Mastic varnish sometimes makes foggy effect on the surface of canvas in the high humidity and temperature. The film tend to yellowing and cracking with age. Therefore Mastic was almost replaced by Damar in the 20th century.

Uses of Mastic are same of Dammar. Some Painters still use this resin rather than Damar because of Mastic's glossy and trasparency. Mastic can be used by dissolving in Turpentine. The way of making varnish is same as Damar ( see How to make damar varnish ) . And also , Mastic melts in drying oil around 90 degrees centigrade.

Manila Copal

Copal is A Hard Semi-fossil resin ( Some are Living resin ) gatherd from fossil or living trees.

There are various kind of copals for painters. Each has their own properties. The most hard copal is Congo copal . And Manila copal is softer than other copals.

Copal doesn's dissolve in Terpentine or Petroreum solvents ( only Manira copal dissolve into alcohol ). So painters melt copals into Drying oils by heating to make copal picture varnish. This process is called Gum Running. Copals melt at high temperature. It depend on the hardness of each copals. E.g. Manila copal melts 250 or 260 degrees centigrade. Congo Copal may needs over 300 or 350 degrees centigrade. See How to make Copal Medium ( this page is comming soon ) .

Venetian Turpentine or Venice Turpentine is exudation from Austrian larch. The tirorl region in Austria is known as famous place of production of this Balsam. In mediaval time this balsam was sold by way of Venice, therefore it was called Venice Turpentine.

Containing proper amount of this balsam provides splendid grossy , transparency and enamel like surface to the films. But films including much of this balsam hardens very slowly and it's fragile and tends to be yellow.

Strasbourg Turpentine is Balsam gathered at

Some technicalists say that the property of this balsam is rather better than Venice turpentine, And old masters had used this Strasbourg turpentine, but not Venice turpentine. Their research resolved that the film of this is stronger than Venice Turpentine.

You may buy this balsam at art supply shop specialized to traditional materials.

Author: N.Matsukawa E-Mail:
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