We have all been taught that ‘oil and water do not mix’. However, rules are made to be broken in art and water soluble paints are rebels on the scene. But, your intelligent mind is probably still pondering, “How can oil pigments possibly be water soluble?”
The answer is this: The oil vehicle has been modified to make it soluble in water, eliminating the necessity for turpentine or other dangerous solvents to thin paint and clean brushes and other supplies.
There are still some painting purists who question whether or not these pigments are true oils, but I assure you they are. In fact, I have been successfully executing my paintings using water soluble oils with professional results for over 10 years. I made the smooth transition from acrylics to the new oils in my home studio so my family and pets were not exposed to toxic fumes. With an open mind and a little time experimenting, you might also enjoy the benefits of water soluble oils. Below, I will do my best to inform you of this remarkable paint from my own personal experience and with a little help from the technically informative book, “Painting with Water Soluble Oils,” by Sean Dye.
- Water soluble oil offers greater convenience and increased accessibility. Especially to people with allergies, home studios, students, schools and those who have avoided oils because of the toxic solvents.
- Water soluble oils smell great, just like traditional oils!
- Linseed oil is contained in both new and traditional oils.
- Water soluble oils are real oils. They are water mixable, not water-based.
- The new oils were developed to be used with water in the place of turpentine, mineral spirits or other solvents!
- The vegetable drying oils have been restructured in water soluble oils which eliminate yellowing.
- Like traditional oils, water soluble oils must dry through oxidation – absorbing oxygen through the air. Once dry, they are just like any other oil painting and should be treated as such.
- Like traditional oils, water soluble oil paintings cannot be reactivated with water when dry.
- New water-mixable mediums have been developed for water soluble oils: quick dry mediums (my favorite), stand oils, painting mediums and impasto mediums, linseed oils and alkyd mediums.
- Traditional oil paints and mediums can be added to the new oils in small amounts of up to 20%-30% and still retain water solubility. Small amounts of traditional oil color can be added to these new paints affect the color or consistency.
- The new pigments blend and mix extremely well.
- When the new oils are mixed with water, it may at times appear somewhat cloudy until the water evaporates. Although I have read this complaint, it has not been my experience with these oils.
- The fast drying mediums allow for plenty of time for blending but still make over-painting easier and faster.
- Luminous, transparent glazes can be made by using the water-mixable mediums. Rich, opaque darks are easy to achieve.
- Water-mixable linseed oil medium makes the new oil more transparent.
- A loaded brush of traditional oils spreads much farther than a brush loaded with water soluble oils. This does not affect the look of the finished piece, only the actual painting process.
- Water soluble paints produce fresh, bright, strong color. It is easier to avoid making ‘muddy’ color.
- The new oils are easier to clean up.
- Those with limited or no experience with traditional oils adjust to water soluble oils more quickly.
- Depending on how thick you paint, the water soluble oils retain their elasticity and workability for up to 48 hours.
- The new oils lack of the glossy appearance of traditional oils, but a final varnish is a quick way to replicate the luster of traditional oils.
- Take care when drying your freshly painted new oil or traditional oil paintings. Avoid dark or moist areas to prevent darkening or yellowing that is caused by the linseed oil.
- Water soluble oil paints are perfect for travel, especially on airplanes. Many airlines restrict traditional and flammable solvents on commercial flights. Eliminating the need for harsh solvents makes water soluble oils easy to pack for painting on location whether by car, plane or horseback.
- The plein air painter can keep paint on the palette for long periods of time without the paint drying out. However, finished paintings dry more quickly than traditional oil paintings which make these new paints even more desirable for the plein air painter.
- Last summer, I used water soluble oils during my plein air painting workshop in France. I painted on canvas sheets which made my studies of Provence light and easy to pack for travel. In the past, I have also used 300lb watercolor paper with two coats of gesso.
- Acrylic gesso should be used as the starting ground for water soluble paints to ensure proper adhesion. For studio works, I prefer to paint on hardboard or Masonite panels for a smooth and rigid support, but I do use canvas and linen at times.
- Hog bristles are good for under-paintings, but do not let them sit in water or they become mushy. I often use synthetic bristle brushes for large areas. For fine work synthetic watercolor brushes work well.
- The new oils will remain water soluble after these specific mediums are used. Having said that, I have found that it is better not to mix water with the medium because using water makes the mediums sticky and the paint does not flow as easily. By the time I begin to add the oil medium, I usually abandon the water except for brush cleaning between color or temperature changes.
- A few drops of linseed oil on the palette restore the paints to their original workable form.
- All oil paint should be applied fat over lean to prevent cracking.
- Use water to thin the new oils for laying in washes. Build up the oily layers after the under painting is dry. The new oils will remain water soluble after the specific water mixable mediums are used.
- Just like with standard oils, the new paints can be laid down in many smooth thin layers, called indirect painting or can be applied in a thick wet single layer called direct or alla prima painting or everything else in between.
- Drying time is longer when a lot of white pigment or Naples Yellow is used.
- The dark passages in water soluble oils sometimes ‘sink’ and lack the glossy appearance of a traditional oil painting. This is easily remedied by a final varnish.
- I prefer Max Artists’ Oil Colors by Grumbacher and Artisan Water Mixable Oils by Windsor & Newton. The characteristics of these brands are consistent with their traditional oil color counterparts. They both use all of the traditional pigments in their lines including cadmiums and cobalts. These paints deliver brilliant, luminous transparent glazes and rich, mysterious opaque passages to my work.
- Holbein’s Duo Aqua Oil has a rather firm consistency which makes them ideal for painting with a palette knife straight from the tube. The Van Gosh H2Oils have a softer consistency that is similar to acrylic paint. They are perfect for detail work without the need for adding mediums. However, for palette knife work, impasto medium is recommended.
- I use non-toxic Turpenoid Natural on hard to clean brushes otherwise; “Dawn” dish soap does the job. Baby oil is also a good cleaner, followed by soap and water. After, a little petroleum jelly conditions the brushes back to their original shape.
- Rubbing Alcohol and a razor blade keep my glass palette fresh for the next painting session.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding and appreciation for the benefits of water soluble oils. They are easier and less intimidating to use and deliver the beautiful results of traditional oils. I encourage you to give them a try and let me know how they work for you.