Water soluble oils have arrived! Actually, they showed up in art materials stores over 20 years ago, but are just now becoming known and more frequently used. They are also called “water mixable” oils. Either will suffice, though I prefer water mixable because soluble can imply that the paint, once dried, will dissolve if it comes in contact with water.
I began working in water mixable oils in 2002, having been introduced to them at a plein air workshop. At that time, only a few brands were available. The most reliable and consistent was Duo by Holbein. Having come from 15 years of working in watercolors and a few years with pastels, I had not spent a lot of time with traditional oil paints. Hence, I dove in without much bias toward regular oils.
As an aside, I must add that many oil painters would look down their noses when I mentioned my love of water mixable oils. Granted, the first attempts in manufacturing these oils paints were less than satisfactory and they were known to be fugitive or not light-fast. However, paint manufacturers, through the ingenuity of chemistry, have developed paints that feel and act like oil-based paints yet dry much more quickly. They have taken the same pigments used in all professional grade paints and developed a formula with a different oil base. Its water solubility comes from the use of an oil medium in which one end of the molecule has been altered to bind loosely to water molecules, as in a solution.
What Are the Benefits of Water Soluble Oils?
I love them because they:
- Do not dry as fast as acrylics which allows time to manipulate the paint.
- Dry faster than oil paints, which means I can usually apply additional layers within 24 hours. Of course the thickness of the applied paint impacts drying time.
- Clean easily with soap and warm water. I have found Murphy’s Oil to be very good for cleaning my brushes.
- Do not require toxic ingredients, such as turpentine.
- Do not carry an odor in my studio.
- Are less expensive than traditional oil paints, though I see this is starting to change.
- Are available and easy to purchase online.
- Maintain color integrity. In other words, they do not dry lighter or darker than when applied.
During the past 10 years or so, more and more paint manufacturers have jumped onto the water mixable band wagon because of their popularity. I have even heard that some college art programs are requiring them because no toxic fumes or odors exist. This, in turn, has legitimized these wonderful oil paints. Sadly, they are still not well known among artists.
As in all art materials, each brand carries its own physical characteristics. I recommend trying a few tubes of color in each brand if you can, to determine which you prefer.
All the major paint manufacturers such as: Holbein Duo, Grumbacher Max, Artisan Winsor & Newton and Lukas Berlin carry a water soluble oil paint line. Cobra by Royal Talens is the newest and the most expensive.
For a quick comparison, Duo paints tend to be thick like toothpaste. Artisan are creamier and sometimes runny. Cobra paints are buttery and can be thin. Cobra offers more transparent colors. My favorite overall is Lukas Berlin because of the consistency of the paint — not too thick and not too buttery. I also have a few of Daniel Smith’s.
Generally speaking, you will not find as many different tubes of paint or colors with water mixable oils. However, there are more than enough, in my humble opinion, from which to choose to satisfy any painter’s color desire.
It is important to remember that water soluble oils are water mixable, not water based. You can mix water with them while painting, though I rarely do this. I prefer to use a medium by Grumbacher Max called QuickDry. There are several different mediums now available and more are being created as the popularity of these paints increase. As with any medium, it is best to try out several to see which works best for you. I apply thin layers of paint and discovered that the QuickDry served my purpose best. Linseed oils are also available for water soluble oils. Oh, and don’t worry about using different brands of paint with the various mediums.
Here are couple of my paintings using water soluble oils.
IMPORTANT TIP: To keep my paints alive, I put them in the freezer every night. This prevents them from drying up too quickly. My palette is a porcelain butcher tray and I use a cover from an old watercolor palette. It goes into the freezer like a pizza box.
Are you tempted to try them? Or perhaps you have tried them. What do you like about them?
Please spread the word about these wonderful paints. Don’t let tradition get in the way of trying a medium that just might be for you.
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