Learning Water Soluble Oil Paints

Oil Painting skull - monochrome

I taught a painting class this semester and one of the materials that were used was water soluble oil paints. Having never used the paints before, I was a little intimidated by the possible learning curve. I actually bought a set for myself and because of this intimidation factor, I never touched the paints for almost a year. Ridiculous, right? This was the perfect opportunity to jump right in!

Oil Painting skull - monochrome and complimentary

Water soluble oil paints are oil paints, but they have several advantages. Since the paint can be thinned by water, you don’t have to use solvents to clean or thin the paints, which can be a health concern for many artists. It also saves a huge studio concern, not having to worry about getting ventilation and what to do with fire safety (that is if you don’t use any oils at all, there are water soluble linseed oil/mediums specifically for these paints) with the rags. This was a big concern for me, as I have a home studio and I don’t want to deal with all these added concerns.

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When it came to the paints, I was curious if they would compare favorable with regular oil paints. While it’s been forever since I used oil paints, I didn’t find to much difference between the two. There is a bit of a learning curve to figuring out how to use the water to get the right consistency. I was a fan of mixing acrylic glazing mediums to the water soluble oils (something that I read Camille d’Errico does in her book “Pop Painting.” This does speed the drying time, but not to the rate that acrylics dry.

Oil Painting portrait - mixed media and grisaille technique

I found that there was big difference between brands/grades of water soluble oil paints. For the class, I was just using the same student grade paints that the students were using. These paints were fairly buttery and easier to mix and thin.

Oil Painting portrait - masking techniques

The professional grade paints that I use in my studio were Holbein Duo Oils which have more pigment (so brilliant!), but boy are they harder to mix and thin. They are fairly “dry” and I have to add a lot of water soluble painting medium to get a good consistency. I still haven’t quite caught on to it yet, but I think it will be mastered after a few projects.

I do love the paint and the process has sped up my painting quite a bit. I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself switching over completely by next year. Be on the look out for future oil paintings!


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