Liquid Or Powder: Which Gum Arabic Is Best?

We prefer liquid: here’s why

Gum Arabic isn’t essential. (Patrick Reyntiens, for example, barely uses it at all.) It’s just that, without it, our dried, unfired paint would be extremely fragile.

Also, we would not be able to shade and matt as we want to – that is, all in one firing, including oil-based paint on top.

Now stained glass painting stockists mainly stock gum Arabic in powdered form.

But I prefer the liquid, and here is why:

  1. Liquid is far easier to mix in than powder when you first prepare your basic lump.
  2. When you need (as you sometimes will) to adjust the adhesive strength of your paint, you’ll again see that liquid gum Arabic is far easier to mix than powder.
  3. To use powder, it’s best to mix it first with – water … Now when you buy liquid, you know the adhesive strength is evenly distributed throughout the solution (which it’s difficult for you to know when you mix it up yourself), so that’s one more problem taken care of for you.

Liquid gum Arabic is the same medium that water-colour painters use.

So just find a good supplier of traditional art materials, and they will help you.

Ours is made by Winsor & Newton.

Stained glass painting - liquid gum Arabic is easier to work with than gum Arabic in powdered form

Stained glass painting – liquid gum Arabic is easier to work with than gum Arabic in powdered form

Best,

David Williams of Williams & Byrne, the glass painters

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17 thoughts on “Liquid Or Powder: Which Gum Arabic Is Best?

  1. Thank you for your site. I just discovered it and will refer to it frequently and try to support it with future purchases. I have been an artist/craftsman for 35 years, supporting myself repairing, designing, and fabricating leaded glass and etched glass. I do a little stippling and line work, but nothing like you guys. Do you have a Facebook page?

    • Hello Thomas,

      Well, it’s also we who are thrilled you found us, and we hope you will find enjoyment and interest in the various posts and comments.

      When we can help with anything, please just say. And of course please also say when you can help us and other visitors with anything by way of tips or resources.

      You ask if we have a Facebook page. Well, I do. It’s right here. Right now we use it mainly as another way of bringing people to this site where you are right now. (It also gets our Twitter comments).

      Thanks for joining the newsletter. You’ll get regular techniques, photos and videos, plus thoughts on strategy and approach: all essential.

      All the best,
      David

  2. Wow! What a great source of information on this very historic and long lasting art form. I will definitely use it to give more detail to my stained glass projects. Such information has been very hard to find!

    I notice your reference to undercoating, and would like to know if the glass grinding residue from the glass grinder tray could be used to make an undercoat medium? If so, what would have to be added?

    Thank you for your information.

    I’m also looking forward to getting the DVD just ordered.
    Cheers guys!
    Glenn

    • Hi Glenn,

      Thanks for your order (your DVD is packed and ready to go with the morning post) – and also for your question!

      The best thing for an undercoat is … the very same paint you use to trace and shade. That’s we wouldn’t suggest you use the glass residue from the grinder tray.

      You’ll see it all on the DVD and also read about in in Glass Painting Techniques & Secrets Part 1: how to make a lump of glass paint, how to dilute this lump a little at a time into whatever consistency of paint you want … from the a light mixture suitable for undercoating right through to the darkest mixture you’ll ever need for silhouetting.

      I know this is a lot to take in at one go but of course you don’t need to! – because we’re here to work with you over the weeks, months and years ahead.

      Go at your own pace and do things well, and we’ll always be here to answer your questions.

      Happy 2011!
      Stephen

  3. Dear both of you!

    My heartfelt thanks for the 2 tutorials I have downloaded. I am new to glass painting and you could not have made it more simpler and addictive!!!

    God bless you and a big thank you from me!!!

    Sonia

    • Hi Sonia,

      Thanks for your message. It’s a pleasure to meet you. And as I know you already know, we like working with people over months and also years. So I wish you every success in your work and we will always be glad to have your questions and also your news.

      All the best,
      Stephen

  4. Hi, Stephen,

    I’ve received a couple of your emails, and I’m slowly building up my stock of brushes and just got some black tracing paint, and my kiln arrived last week! I’m enjoying reading your recommendations and the comments, and I can’t wait to get started.

    Gary

  5. So happy to find your site: thanks for providing such a great amount of information – you are like a glass painting and staining encyclopaedia.

    I wanted to ask about painting with oil paint on glass without firing. Is it a right process or not, and how much time does it take to dry that I can continue painting on it again, putting more and more layers of paint?

    I usually paint on canvas and this is my first project on glass.

    Best wishes,
    Ashraf

    • Hello Ashraf,

      You ask about oil paint on glass without firing and so I must immediately say how all the paints we use need firing. All of them. Without exception. They get their permanence through firing: it is the heat which fuses them to the glass. Until fired, they can simply be rubbed off.

      Which takes me to your second question. Whilst it is certainly possible to build up many layers of paint, then fire your glass just once, oil is usually the last and final layer. It is traditional glass painting I am discussing here. So whilst there are substances you can add to oil and glass paint to make them dry, then paint on them again, this is not something that we use. The reason is, the oil paint is the finish – for us.

      Maybe not for you. And I wish you well with your experiments and discoveries.

      Best wishes,
      Stephen

  6. I did not know this came in liquid form and that most art supply places sell this. I’ll try and find some when I next go into town.

    Do you have to be careful how much is added to the glass paint?

    And about what ratio would you use?

    This is a wonderful series.

    Thank you!
    Brenda

    • Hello Brenda,

      Powder is certainly fine. But (as I suggest above) liquid gum Arabic has several advantages.

      Yes, you do need to be careful how much you add. And the quantity will depend on how much paint you’re mixing up, as well as on how much adhesion you require. (Remember, gum isn’t always necessary in the first place; many glass painters don’t use it at all.)

      As you’ll find out from elsewhere on this site, we mostly work with a lump of glass paint. And say we made our lump from roughly four heaped tablespoonfuls of paint. Then we’d probably use a little less than a teaspoonful of gum Arabic.

      This is intentionally approximate. No one can get away from doing their own tests in their own workspace. Climate can also make a difference … (we’re quite near Wales, which is notoriously damp).

      All the best,
      David

  7. Just a newbie at this art form but fascinated by it. Thank you for all the knowledge and encouragement on your site! One question: does liquid Gum Arabic have a shelf-life? Found some old stuff of Mom’s paint supplies. Wondered if it would be okay to use it? Thanks again for the tutorials!

    • If it’s well-sealed in its jar – and thus still a liquid – I’m as sure as I can be (short of testing it myself), it’ll be fine.

      Just a question about its potency.

      Which is why you’ll need to test it.

      I don’t imagine it’s evaporated into greater strength. But worth finding out all the same: use a small amount to begin with – because it’s always easy to add more gum and so increase the paint’s adhesiveness (far harder to go the other way).

  8. Thank you for being clear on preference. I did however buy powdered before I saw your article. How would you prepare the powder/water mix for future use?

    Thank You,
    Jill Mullan
    Northern California,USA

    • Hello Jill,
      It’s not possible to say precisely how you should proceed, because powder will vary in strength from brand to brand.
      So you have a choice.
      Either you can set the powder on one side for now and get some Winsor & Newton gum Arabic e.g. from Amazon.
      Or plough ahead with powder and run some tests: start with just a sprinkling on top of your dry glass paint. Mix well. Add water to form a thick paste. Then see how well the dried paint adheres: does it behave as you want it to? If you need more adhesion, sprinkle on a bit more gum, mix it well in, then test again.
      It just takes a bit of time to get to know the gum you have.
      Best,
      Stephen