Water Soluble Oil Paints – Facts, Tips & Why I Use Them

©2009 Lori McNee OLD CHINESE FLASK WITH HUMMINGBIRDS oil/board

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.

 

Facts:

  • 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.

Tips:

  • 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.

PS. I have just switched paint brands to Cobra water soluble oil paints by Royal Talens, and I am so impressed! They are the best water soluble oils I have ever tried!!!

lori3 Lori :-)

You might also enjoy reading :

On My Easel #2: The Challenge of Painting the Illusion of Blown Glass

How I Destroyed a Painting & Made it Better

Tips for Painting Water and Reflections

About Lori McNee

Lori McNee is a professional artist who specializes in still life, and landscape oil paintings. She is an exhibiting member of Oil Painters of America, Plein Air Painters of Idaho, serves on the Plein Air Mag Board of Advisors, and is an Artist Ambassador to Arches/Canson/Royal Talens. As the owner of FineArtTips.com, Lori blogs about fine art tips, marketing, and social media advice for the aspiring and professional artist. As a social media influencer, Lori ranks as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women on Twitter, has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and named a #TwitterPowerhouse by The Huffington Post. She is a keynote speaker, has been a talk show host for Plum TV, writes for F+W Media publications including Artist’s Magazine, Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market, Photographer’s Market. Also, Zero to 100,000: Social Media Tips & Tricks for Small Businesses.

Comments

  1. Great post Lori! I’ve never tried these paints, but it might be time for me to make the switch. Are the water-solubles much more expensive than the regular oils?

  2. Absolutely agree with you Lori, I use the Artisan brand in all my oil paintings, with the Artisan Linseed Oil for thinning my paints. Also, I read this in a magazine – I can’t lay claim to the idea, you can mix them with water to create some wonderful watercolour paintings, but in oil!

    I also use canvas paper as it’s cheaper than buying box canvas and is much easier to frame when fully dry.

    And the tip of using a glass palette is also great, I used to use a wooden palette but the paint never truly comes off it, ALL paint easily scrapes off glass with a razor blade.

    Keep up the good work Lori!

    • Ronnie, please accept my apologies for the delayed reply. I truly appreciate your thoughtful comment and hope you are enjoying the tips you have learned. Please visit again soon. Lori :-)

  3. Bernard Victor says:

    I also changed from acrylics to water soluble oils, but I’ve now moved on to proper oils, which I find have a better feel than water solubles. It is hard to describe but they are just more luscious to paint with INMHO

  4. Hi, I’ve created a forum for artist who paint with water soluble oils and it would be great if you could come and have a look : http://watersolubleoils.forumotion.com

    • Hi Janet- I have been traveling for a few weeks and just returned. I plan to check out your forum this week. Thanks for the invitation and for visiting my site. Lori

  5. I’ve only ever painted with Acrylics, since oil paint intimidates me. I’ve been thinking about trying out water-mixable oils and this article has been a great resource. Thanks!

    • As I mentioned in the article, I painted with acrylics for years. I love water-mixable oils and encourage you to try them. Let me know how they work for you, Claire. :-)

  6. Lori, Read your article on watermixable oils on the Empty Easel site. I’ve been trying out the Artisan Windsor Newton brand paints a few times over this past year. Worked on canvas as well as 2 coats of acrylic gesso on paper. My one disappointment is that they have a sticky/plastic feel and look to them after they’re dry. I admit that I haven’t invested in the brands varnishes…would that solve the problem?
    I live in Santa Fe and other artists here have had a similar complaint.
    Do have any suggestions.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and time.
    Raya

    • Hi Raya, I am catching up on comments. I apologize for the delay… I have not had that problem and I live in dry Idaho. It sounds like you might not be using a medium with your paints. I use the Quick Dry medium and find it gives my paints a rich feel. Try using a medium with your paints after you lay in the underpainting with water. Reduse the water from that point on. Then you can varnish with Liquin by Winsor & Newton when the paint is dry to the touch. This might help, but let me know! Thanks for taking time to read and comment on the article. Good luck – Lori

  7. Hi there,
    I was wondering if it is okay to finish a half-finished traditional oil painting with water mixable oils on top. Would that cause any cracking? I really hope not because I love these paints and I really don’t have proper ventilation for using turpentine.
    Thanks!

    • Yes you can use water soluble oils ontop of tradition oils. Is the painting dry already??? If not, you can use the new oils just like any other oil with mediums…do not add water at this point except to rinse out brushes. If your painting is already dry, I suggest adding a layer of ‘retouch varnish’ before you paint with water soluble oils…then again, do not use water at this point, only mediums. I hope this helps! Let me know how it goes for you and we can share a post about it here…please keep in touch! Lori :-)

  8. Another through and informed article Lori. Thanks. I got some black and white water solubles so I can practice painting just in gray scale and snag a couple of minutes’ painting time without the big clean up.
    However, this particular black paint happens to smell like asphalt. One is tempted to don a hard hat in the studio.

    • Karia, I just noticed that I never responded to you comment! I agree with you about the scent of black paint. It isn’t my favorite fragrance either! Being an artist isn’t for sissies – lol. Thanks for the visit and I hope to see you again someday.
      Lori

  9. Which of the paintings shown on your website are done with water-soluble oils? Your work is truly amazing, like Vermeer! What brand of water-soluble oils do you prefer? Thank you!

    • Hi Meisha – thanks for the nice words about my work! I only use water-soluble oil paints, so all the paintings you see displayed are of that medium. I use either Artisan, Grumbacher or Van Gogh…which ever brand is easy to get my hands when I am at a store. They all work well, but Van Gogh might be the creamiest – however their paint names are different, so that throws me off a bit. I have used Artisan and Grumbacher the most.
      Hope that helps. Thanks for the comment!
      Lori :-)

  10. Hi Lori. I just bought my first set of these yesterday, so I was very glad to find your site this morning. I’m a pastelist and mixed media artist and have never tried oils of any kind… and it’s been a while since I have even done any pastels. So, I’m excited to try these! Thanks.

    • Dianne, I think you will really enjoy these paints. Of course, as with any new media, there is a learning curve…
      Keep in touch and let us know how they work for you!
      Best-
      Lori

  11. Hi Lori, Love your informative site, and thank you so much for the generous information you share with your fellow painters. I, too, am a water soluble oil painter and have just posted a bunch of tips on my site here: http://www.artforthesoulofit.com/2011/02/03/why-i-use-water-soluble-oils/

    My goal is to not only be a solvent-free oil painter, but also toxic-free (eliminating cadmiums and cobalts) and cruelty-free (synthetic brushes). I realize this isn’t for everyone, but in case anyone is interested in how I am doing it, please stop by.

    And keep up the amazing sharing, Lori, kudos.

  12. Hows it going.. Have you found any of these paints that you can work with by having water be the medium but not having the dramatic value shift? Also have you used holbien. They claim you can mix acrylics with there paint.. I would assume that if this is possible acrylics could go over there paint? They dont have a tech line. thanks matt

    • Hello Matt-

      I have not tried Holbien, but have heard good things about that brand. The value shift can be increased by adding a medium such as a linseed or Liquin water soluble equivalent. I add a medium after the underpainting. It really helps with the depth, and luminosity of the oils.

      Although, I paint over acrylic based gesso, I have not heard about mixing the oils with acrylics during the painting process. I am skeptical of this because, once the water soluble oils are dry, they are just like any other traditional oil…and we all know that ‘water and oil don’t mix’…I worry about the longevity of this combination. I would suggest calling the manufacturer of another oil company until you find the answer.

      Best-
      Lori

  13. Hello, I am pretty new to painting and I feel a little overwhelmed by all I need to learn. I am planning a mixed medium project, with construction paper, tissue paper, and oils. I just bought a couple of water soluble oil and thought I might try those. Any hints to help?

    • Hi Sarah-

      I know how you feel. So many people don’t understand how much we have to learn in order to create a work of art! Kudos to you for doing it!
      My first reaction to your comment is, it sounds like a great project for acrylic paints. Acrylic paints work really well with mixed media projects. The adhere well to paper and dry quickly. You can get vibrant colors, rich transparent glazes or opache passages.
      I use to paint with acrylics for many years…and love them. But, now I specialize in water soluble oils. They are wonderful to work with. You can try them for your project, but I have not used them like that before. They will take longer to dry, which might be what you are looking for. Just make sure that you wait until any glue or gesso is dry before using the oils. And…I wouldn’t glue onto of the oils. You might run into some adhesive problems. That is why I think acrylics might work out better…

      Does this help at all? Let me know if you need anything else.

      Good luck!
      Lori :)

  14. Laurel (Lori) Schmitz says:

    Lori, I use the Artisan Watermixables…because of my copd. I am painting a picture as a gift for a friend, but the bottle of varnish says to wait 6 months to a year before doing this. I don’t have 6 months…it’s a GIFT. Also, it’s a ocean sunset of san simeon beach in california, and I just can’t seem to get the beautiful reddish orange glow from the lowering sun…nor the haze surrounding it. It getting dangerously close to a muddy look from overworking it. It’s either too purple, lavender, blue or gray. Please help…
    thank you
    Lori Schmitz

    • Hello Laurel, I apologize for the belated reply….I have been traveling with a broken laptop and just got back home.

      It is tough for me to help you without seeing your painting. However, I will try. When mixing colors to mimic the sunset, it is best to keep all earth-tones out of the mix. Keep your colors clear. Also, do your best NOT to add white. Use your lightest yellow instead, like cad lemon or pale. Purple is the opposite of yellow and will dull it down and make it muddy looking. Isolate the reds, oranges and yellows to mimic the lowering sun and only blend the warms and cools together where the meet in the sky. This should help you keep from getting muddy. I hope this helps! If not, we could do a consultation on Skype if needed. :) Let me know.

      Lori

  15. Lori, I have just started working with water soluble oils, coming from a background in acrylic painting. When I complete an acrylic painting I use a couple isolation coats to protect the surface before I varnish it. Since you have to wait six months to varnish the water soluble oil paintings, just like regular oils, is there anything you use to protect it from dirt, etc. while it dries? I was told that with regular oils I would use retouch varnish until I use the final varnish (not sure if that is true). There doesn’t seem to be a comparable retouch varnish for the water soluble oils. Any suggestions or hints. Also I have been using the water soluble linseed oil and was told to make sure the paintings are in not stored in the dark as they dry or it will yellow. Is that also true? Thanks for the help.

    • Hello Deborah, I am a bit late with my reply – it’s been a busy time with the holidays. To answer your question, yes…you can use a re-touch varnish as a temporary varnish. I do this all the time. Also, I live in a very dry climate and my oils dry more quickly than 6 months…so, I sometimes will put a final varnish on them when they are dry to the touch. This is not necessarily archivally correct, but I have never had a problem. I would start with the re-touch idea first :) Also, oil paintings should never be stored in dark places. It’s true they will darken…Good luck.
      Lori :)

  16. Hi Lori,

    I have been using water soluble oils for the last 5 years and I love them. I started using them as the smell of turpentine really bothered me when using traditional oils. I use Holbein water soluble oils and I have never had a problem. You have mentioned some tips above that are new to me. I look froward to trying them.
    I love your site its very informative.

    Nicole.

    • Thank you Nicole! I appreciate your comment and nice words. As far as the water soluble oils go, I have never had a complaint – they are great!

      Happy painting-
      Lori

    • Hi Nicole, thanks for taking time to share a comment. I am so glad I was able to teach you a tip or two! Let me know how it all works out.

      Happy painting!
      Lori

  17. Hey Lori, I have a few questions but I would like to say first that your work is VERY GOOD!!! I’ve been painting with acrylics for probably five years and I’m thinking on trying something new. Like you, I’ve been going for realism in my work. I have found however, being that I go crazy on detail, that I need more time for my paints to dry. I was thinking on trying the water soluble oil paint you use. What I was wondering was does this paint blend better than acriylic paint? Do you think that it looks smoother, and more professional than acrylic on the canvas? Okay, and one last question. Why exactly did you switch from acrylic? Thanks for your time, and God bless :)

    Noah

    • Hey Noah, thanks for the comment. I love water soluble oils! Yes, these oils are smoother than acrylics, blend more easily and have a longer drying time. I switched from acrylics for a few reasons…one, because most of the time art collectors prefer oil paintings over acrylics, two, because they are REAL OILS and the blending time helps with my techniques and effects, and thirdly, I like the feel of oils. That said, I have recently gone back to painting with acrylics primarily as an underpainting to my oils.
      Give them a try! I hope this helps.
      Cheers,
      Lori

  18. Hello Lori!
    I love your still life paintings, the colors, the birds and your site is very informative.I also changed from acrylics to water soluble oils. I use the Artisan by Winsor & Newton and i like them a lot but i have a problem. I paint on cotton canvas ,in layers using linseed oil and sometimes my painting cracking in some areas. I let each layer to dry. Why is cracking? and if a painting it doesn’t crack at all , it is possible to crack in the future? I also can i use Artists Varnish by Winsor & Newton (for oil color) or only varnish for water soluble oils?
    Antigoni

    • Oh, I am glad this post was helpful to you. Cracking??? Yikes. I don’t use the linseed oil, so I have not experienced that problem. I would call the manufacturer and ask them. Are you painting fat over lean. Maybe your are painting to thickly at first and the top layers are drying more quickly than the underpainting?
      You can use any regular varnish, your painting should be treated like a traditional oil painting.

      Good luck-
      Lori

      • Antigoni says:

        Hi Lori!
        I doesnt have problems now with cracking, i leave my painting dry more days to paint the next layer.I buy Artisan fast dry medium and i find it sticky and the paint does not flow easily on canvas.Can you suggest me another medium? Have you use Cobra water mixable oil? All brands of water mixable oil can mix together? Also i want to try to paint on hardboard panel. I have Galeria acrylic gesso from Winsor and Newton to priming the surface .Is ok this gesso ?or i should buy another one? I also read your article “I turned aTV stantd into Artist Taboret” ,great idea!!! and the painting on the easel is fantastic!!!
        I’m looking forward to hearing from you

        Antigoni

        • Hello Antigoni,

          Yes, you can mix these oils together with other water soluble oils…and even traditional oils. I would wait until you are finished working with water to mix in the traditional oils though.

          I like Grumbacher’s Quick Dry Medium better than the Artisan medium. It is more fluid and not as sticky. I think you will like the flow. I have just ordered Cobra paints and can’t wait to try them.

          Yes, use gesso to prime hardboard…use at least two coats because the board is absorbant. Thank you for your nice compliments. Great to see you here.

          Lori :)

          • Hi Lori!

            I notice that you have tried Cobra oils. .I think that have more pigment strength than Artisan and more buttery but when you open a tube , the paint finishes quickly .I also try Cobra painting medium , I find it sticky. Can you recomend me a medium that works well with cobra oils? I read that it is not advisable to mix different brands off water mixable oils or mediums together . Do you agree ? I wish you happy holidays and happy new year!

  19. Faisal Tariq says:

    Hi Lori,

    I like what you are doing with water soluble oil. I love your paintings, very nice. I used to run into tacky paint, one thing I do is not use water any more and I use stand oil and thinner and that did the trick for me. What do you do to solve this problem?

    Thanks

    Faisal Tariq

    • Faisal Tariq says:

      Oops! sorry. I should have re-read before posting. What I meant was that the paint on my brush became tacky during painting, and this was because of the water I was using, I have solved this problem by using standoil and thinner and I avoid water as much as possible. If I do have to use water, for example, to clean my brush, I dip it back into the stand oil and wipe my brush before resuming. Did you run into the tacky paint problem? If so what did you do to fix this issue. Also, how do you prepare your color mixture, i.e. what medium do you use.

      • Hello Faisai, it sounds as though you are primarily using the water soluble oils like traditional oil paints. You can use water in the place of stand oil, but mediums really help with the flow and luminosity of these oils. I prefer the quick dry mediums. Let me know what you think.

        Happy painting-
        Lori

  20. Lori,

    How long do I need to wait before I can varnish after finishing my painting?

    Janet

    • Good question Janet. This is a much debated topic. Generally oils are said to take about 6 months to cure completely. There are variables to consider. How thick is the paint, what mediums, are you in a hot or dry climate or are you in humidity? WSO dry more quickly…find the thickest part of your painting and stick your fingernail into the paint. If you can easily push the paint, it isn’t dry. I have varnished paintings after only 6 weeks, and others I have had to wait longer.

      I hope this helps,
      Lori

  21. Hi Lori,
    I’m a painter & art teacher who has gone from regular oils (30 years ago!) to acrylics, and am now starting to incorporate water-soluble oils as well as other mixed media into my paintings. I’m doing some research before purchasing more supplies to use with the water-soluble oils. I wondered if you’ve ever tried using regular linseed oil, or if you feel it’s necessary to use the water-modified linseed oil. Also, I’ve heard that walnut oil works very well with these new oils. Have you ever tried this?
    Thanks for your time!
    Adrian Baker

    • Hello Adrian,

      Yes you can use any traditional mediums with the WSO, however the oils will lose much of their water mix-ability…thus making them like any other oil paint. I have tried walnut oil and have been happy with the results. Still, I prefer to stick with the WSO mediums when using them.

      I hope this helps,
      Lori

      PS. Thanks for your patience with me! I’ve been traveling a lot lately and behind on replies.

  22. Hello Lori:
    Really appreciate your article on WSO’s. I’ve done a few paintings with them but wanted to compare to regular oils, so purchased some M. Graham oils since they only cut their paints with walnut oil and I’m sensitive to solvents. My question is, do you think it would be okay to do my underpainting with WSO’s and then use the regular oil paints over that? I much prefer WSO’s over acrylics to do an underpainting because they’re easier to work with for me.
    Let me know what you think.
    Thanks again for your wealth of information and sharing!

    • Hello Mearced,

      Yes! You can use traditional oils over the top of WSO. You can even mix them together while they are wet. Just make sure to stop using water if you do this. Once the WSO are dry, they are treated just like any other oil paint.

      I hope this helps,
      Lori

  23. Dear Lori,
    What do you use to clean your brushes WHILE you paint? That has me stymied. I was using walnut oil, but it still leaves the brush too oily and makes my paintings take too long to dry. Want to only use something nontoxic.

    And do you use ws thinner mixed with your oils for your underpainting? or just water?

    Thanks for your informative blog!
    Joanie

    • Hi Joanie,

      I use water! Yes, water cleans your brushes and then wipe the excess oil out of your brushes with a paper towel. It works great. For my underpainting, I also use water! I don’t add any mediums until the top layers. I hope this helps.

      Good to see you,
      Lori

  24. Ken Shipman says:

    I have painted off and on for about ten or so years. Sometimes I have time and then life catches up with me and I may go many months before painting again. I started with traditional oils and then switched to acrylics. Acrylics took some time adjusting to them but there were many characteristics of the paint that I loved. However, it it harder to blend on canvas as it dries quckly and it is a little more difficult to work and paint soft edges. I bought water soluble oil paint about six months ago and this weekend I plan to do my first painting with them. My question is have you ever used acrylics to lay in your values and basic color schemes and then finished the painting using water misable oil paints?

    • Hello Ken, yes I often use acrylic as an underpainting for my oils. It helps speed up the whole painting process, and gives added texture and interest. Thanks for stopping by for a comment. I hope this helped you!
      Lori :)

  25. Shannon Finger says:

    Lori, just stumbled on this site tonight and I love it. I have been using W N Artisan paint for over 5 years and I love it. The toxins and solvents associated with traditional oils became a real problem in the past. I find the Ampersand Gessobord to be really easy to paint on with the Artisan paints. Sometimes I use an acrylic thin underpainting to kill the white and provide a medium value base. I use the Artisan brushes and very little water. Just enough to dampen the brush. I hope this site encourages more artists to try the Artisan paints and experience oil painting without the toxins.

  26. John Fenwick says:

    I am new to painting and I am using, or trying to use water soluable oils by Windsosr and Newton. Your article has bee very helpful. Thank you.

    How do I shade colors to depict say a sphere rather than a flat disc. Adding more water does not seem to make a lighter shade only a more transparent wash.

    Thank you.

    • Hello John, use a lighter color like white to create a gradation in value. Keep your darks clean without white or light colors, and your darks will be believable. Add white to create light – but not too much or it will look chalky. Experiment!

      Cheers,
      Lori

  27. was searching for a site that could help me with the water soluble oil paints. I’m looking for a mixture that I could mix up to make a “slow drying medium” as some of the painting will take over a week to complete, and I don’t want to mix up more than one pallet. Any recommendations. I have read about stafflower oil, but not sure if there is more that I can do to make it more slower drying.

    • Hello Danny,

      Artisan Safflower Oil is slow drying, but be warned – it should not be used under faster drying layers. I am not aware of any other retarder. You can call the oil manufacture themselves, and they will help.
      Happy painting!
      Lori

  28. Hi…….I do mostly portraits, and all my layers are mostly thin, like retouching skin….I tend to work on my paintings day after day, and they can be tacky, and color can lift up at times, but it still works out, but I do notice my paintings stay sticky after I am done, for a longtime, is this normal? I have not noticed any cracking. Is it ok to work on semi dry paint? When I worked in regular oils they would feel dry to touch the next day, but like I said I work thin…..Thanks

    • Hello Ann, have you tried using a ‘quick drying’ medium? This will help you with the tackiness. I have noticed different brands dry differently too. One would think that water-soluble oils would dry quicker than traditional oils, but that isn’t always the case. Try the mediums. Good luck! :)

  29. Angus Stuart says:

    Dear Lori,

    I share your passion for water-miscible paint.
    Cobra is my favorite brand as well (and I used the predecessor Royal Talens H2Oils before Cobra arrived).

    For me, I feel I have all the versatility of acrylic medium with all the benefits of oil.

    I really have found no downside whatsoever, only modern convenience with traditional oil feel and look.

    I still use acrylics for underpainting at times, as they dry so quickly, and I will use traditional oil too (as I have a lot of paint), but as my paints is used up, I am becoming a water-miscible artist.

    • Hello Angus, I really like your name! Anyway, I often use acrylics as an underpainting for my oils too. But, I am careful to keep the acrylics on the thin side because the oil wont adhere as well if the acrylic underpainting is too dense.

      Like you, I have been using up my traditional oils in favor of the water solubles. That said, there are times when I will use a traditional tube mixed in!

      Thanks for sharing!
      Lori

  30. Hi Lori,

    I have read some reviews that claim it’s harder to clean brushes after using the Cobra brand of WMOs. Do you find this to be an issue yourself?

    • Hi Alison, all the water soluble oils seem to be harder to clean than traditional oils – at first. I have a system that works really well for me. I soak the brushes in water with a bar or Ivory soap at the bottom of the jar. Then after, I use Dawn dishsoap to washout any remaining oils. It works great! Thanks for giving me a blog post idea…stay tuned!

  31. DickPelles says:

    Lori, I an brand new t os. Have just laid in some Holbein Duo water mixablepaints and a studying their use. I have been a watercolor artist for many years, however. Can I use watercolor paints straight from the tube to color these new oils?

    • DickPelles says:

      Lori, I an brand new t os. Have just laid in some Holbein Duo water mixablepaints and a studying their use. I have been a watercolor artist for many years, however. Can I use watercolor paints straight from the tube to color these new oils?

      • You can mix traditional oils and water soluble oils together, but the more traditional oil paint you add, the less water mixable the paint becomes. You will have to experiment to find the ratio that works for your paints.

    • The watercolor paints will not mix with the water soluble oil paints. Although water and oil are mixing together using the water mixable paints, they are not formulated to mix with watercolor pigments.

  32. How do I slow down the drying time of the water soluble oils. I just finished a two day plein air workshop and my paint was drying in 15 minutes. This was almost worse than painting with acrylics. I was using Lucas and Grumbacher paint.

  33. Dick Pelles says:

    How many coats of gel is needed? How long does it take to dry before painting? Keyboard issues hence the garbles mess that was my prior attempt.

  34. Dick Pelles says:

    Gesso: how many coats? Drying time before painting?

    • Hi Dick, I normally use 2-3 coats of gesso and let it dry between coats. Complete drying time will vary according to your climate, etc. I live in the dry mountains, so my boards are usually dry within a couple of hours – maybe less. Hope this helps…

  35. Lori, thank you for posting this & promoting water miscible oil paint. When I started painting again in 2012, I had too many choices of oil paint to choose from in the professional line; but I am so glad I found M Graham oils and the Cobra oil paints by Talens. I love their vibrant colors and the easy clean up with pure M Graham Walnut oil. I think it is easier on my brushes as well. Sometimes, I use the Alkyd Walnut Medium and the paint dries within a few days as well as retaining the paints’ vibrant colors. Having a cat and a 4-yr old son, I too, do not want to use any toxic solvents nor do I want to expose them to those chemicals.

    • Hello Lisa, I appreciate you sharing the added water miscible tips! I have seen a lot of artists turn away from traditional oils in favor of these friendlier oils. Glad you enjoyed the post! ~Lori

  36. Hello! I enjoy your posts. My question is can you use regular sable or hog brushes to paint wso. Or do I need to purchase special wso. With? Thank u !:) niki* oh also can I use linen canvas with wso? :)

    • Hi Niki thanks! I do appreciate your feedback. The answer is yes to both questions. I use natural brushes and have better luck with them. Just don’t let them sit in the water, especially the bristle brushes because they soak up the water and lose their shape and flex. Linen works great, just don’t use oil primed! Hope this helps…
      ~Lori

  37. The water mixable paints have won me over. Having painted in many different mediums I have found this is my favorite. I have experimented with different brands. My first purchases were W&N Artisan and found them gummy and reluctant to come out of the tubes. I have also tried Holbein’s Duo and Lukas and both are quite good. As I need to replace colors I will probably buy Cobra colors as you seem to like them. I also use a glass palette and use a razor blade and Fantastic for cleaning. I use Dawn dish detergent to clean my brush between colors but I have recently discovered “Fast Orange” hand cleaner for my final cleaning. It is gentler on my hands and it can be found at auto parts stores. Now I will look for Grumbacher’s Quick Dry Medium as you suggested. Thanks for all the helpful tips…I shared a few of mine, too.

    • Hi Carol, thanks for sharing your added tips and enthusiasm for this water soluble oils. I hope you like the quick dry medium. It works well for me. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.
      ~Lori

  38. Lori. Big thanks for this. I have only just found out that water mixable oils exist and am excited about trying them out [previously have been unable to use oils due to the problem of fumes in the house] so this is brilliant. just researching so this post is invaluable. Thank you.

  39. I’ve never read so much information on water mixibles. Thank you.
    I’m a traditional oil painter and have the same issue as you regarding not being able to wait around for the six month drying time. Very briefly, I have dried and more or less finished oil paintings and I wanted to add thin drips/lines of diluted paint (very faint marks, not essential to the detail of the painting, but just to add interest). Trouble is in traditional oil I think that would take longer to dry than I have and might smudge during transport, also I wanted to avoid toxicity since I’m working in a small space, they’ve already been moved from my main studio).

    1. Do you think I can use water mixible with a quick drying agent over traditional oil?These are really faint almost hairline impressions just for vertical interest, so I don’t mind if everything didn’t adhere long term, but ideally a lot of it would.
    2. I paint in an almost matt technique, so I also thought to apply gouache, acrylic or other water based over it. Not minding if some was lost, but prefering that most stuck. I often sign in acrylic and it doesn’t cause a problem. And since these are such faint marks. I usually don’t varnish, but I wonder if these marks would need varnish or other medium to bind them to the oil surface?

    Thanks so much for any input you may have.

    • I would not paint another medium over the top of WSO paint. Acrylic will not adhere. If you want a matt finish, I would suggest using cold wax medium with the oils. It gives a matt looks. I am not sure about adding a drying agent. I only recommend using the manufacturers’ mediums for each specific oil painting brand. I hope this helps…

  40. Great site and most interesting comments. I have been using Artisan water based paints for several years and thoroughly like them. I have been using W&N retouching varnish and gloss varnish once they are dry rather than the special varnish and remover they advertise. Is there any downside to this? It looks absolutely fine.

    Also, I always carry a small bottle of washing up liquid to mix with water to clean up the brushes and palette immediately I finish, and that works fine.

    • Glad to hear you are enjoying this thread. It is ok to varnish soon after the painting is dry to the touch, otherwise it is best to wait at least 6 months. Thanks for adding your tip about carrying fresh water!
      Happy painting,
      Lori

  41. Hi Lori,
    I am new to oil painting and have only used traditional oils. Since I currently only have traditionals on hand I am curious about mixing WMO with them. Can i also mix Artisan WMO fast drying medium with traditional oil colour? what will happen if i do?

    • Yes you can mix the traditional oils with WSO. The only problem is using water. It is best to use the medium without water. Or, only add about 25% traditional oils if you still want to dip into the water. I hope this helps…

  42. Diane Hernandez says:

    Hi Lori. I used to paint in watercolors. Too many times I would stop painting and start again months later. Meanwhile I have enjoyed looking at oil paints but didn’t want to have to use turpentine. I decided to try wso, but couldn’t find any classes or information like you have provided, which was wonderful. I now have my paints and I am ready to go. I will keep checking your website for more info and after a while I will let you know how I a doing and will probably have questions to ask you. Thanks so much for all the info.

    Diane

    • I bet you will be happy with the WSO paints Diane. I really love them and haven’t found them to look any different once dried. I hope this post inspired you!

  43. Diane Hernandez says:

    Forgot to say, “Your work is beautiful”!

  44. Hi again Lori. Before I start painting, I would like to know how you are supposed to store your paints between the times you paint. I want to keep them soft and creamy. Should I cover them, and if so what should I cover them with? How long can you let them stand between painting sessions? Thanks so much Lori. Diane

    • Hello Diane, I live is a very dry climate. If I plan to paint the next day, I leave my paints out on the palette. However, I give them a squirt of water first. Otherwise, I might suggest covering them with some plastic wrap. I am ruthless with my paints and use them after they are a bit stiff and stale. I just dig under the dry layer…lol. Have fun!

  45. Lori, do you have any teaching videos? I know you are very busy, but have you had any time to do a video. I would be interested in purchasing one. Thanks again, Diane

  46. Thank you Lori for your information, tips and responses. I feel much more comfortable starting to paint with water soluble oils now and am ready to go. You are special to share all this with us.

  47. Dear Lori, it is wonderful to read about the growing band of users of water-soluble oil paints. I read through the strings of comments and hope the product will become popular in South Africa as I always have to order and wait for my paints. I put a link to your article on the last line in my latest post so that people can read and decide on the merits of the paint. http://artistmarietheron.blogspot.com/2013/11/one-thing-leads-to-another-first-ball.html

    Regards from Cape Town
    Marie Theron

    • Hello Marie, I am happy to hear that you paint with water-soluble oils. I bet the shipping is expensive! Thank you for sharing my link on your site. I do appreciate it :) ~Lori

  48. once the water based oil paints have been applied on a surface like converse rubber shoes . will the paint fade away if it gets into contact with water ,,….pliz reply to my email
    regards

    • This is a little outside of my expertise, but I know you will need something flexible. Epoxy or oil based are just that. Once the water is dry, the oil is just like any other oil based paint. It should work the same, but it will dry more quickly. Thanks!

  49. Robert Whitehead says:

    I only paint once or twice a week so I put my leftover Cobra paints in a shallow dish with a plastic cover and put it in the freezer. They will keep well for over a week this way. I hate to waste paint.

  50. Hi Lori, I have used traditional oils in the past then switched to acrylics simply because I refuse to inhale toxic fumes from turpentine and other chemicals associated with painting in oils. I am now using Cobra water mixable oils. My question is I’d like to make the paint thicker for impasto painting technique and the like. What should I mix the paint with to achieve this effect?

  51. Lori,
    I hadn’t painted in 3 years and just took a lesson today with my water-soluble oils (Daniel Smith and Holbein.) My teacher is a traditional oil painter and had me use Liquin to mix with my paints. The results were great but my question is, can I clean my brush with soap and water. Or should I use the other fast drying medium that is recommended for WS oils to get that nice creamy feel?

    • Hello Lynn, well you are sort of defeating the purpose of using WSO/solvent free paints if you are using the toxic Liquin medium. I would suggest using one of the mediums that are made for your WSO paints. I have been really happy with the results. :)

  52. Hi Lori, Just finished my first piece using WSO paints. I was wondering if the different brands of these paints can be used and mixed together or are they proprietary in their compounding? Thanks for the great tips on using these paints!
    — RPC

  53. Linda Howard says:

    I have just completed my first oil painting as a lesson. I have just finally acquired brushes and oils. This has taken months. Now I really want to go toxic free. I have been really excited about some youtube lessons I have seen and should have started painting on my own today but now I am confused as I found you by searching out about toxic oil painting. Can I follow most of the lessons for oils (and maybe even the acrylic lessons) with the water soluble oils? Is the only trouble knowing which colors to use since water soluble may not have the same names of oil colors? Also, would I still be able to follow the lesson to paint a rose with a palette knife? I guess I could try to sell my unused paints.

    • You can use the same exact techniques for WSO as traditional oils. The only difference is you will be using water instead of turps. The names of the colors vary from brand to brand. You will be able to paint a rose with WSO paints. They are oil paint!

  54. Linda Howard says:

    Thank you for taking time for people like me. While I am waiting for a reply, I might as well ask some more questions. Why do you not paint on canvases? Do I need to keep certain colors of my traditional oil paints to fill in gaps that wso don’t fill?

    • I do paint of canvas, especially when painting larger pieces. Boards get very heavy. The WSO paints should come in almost all the same colors available as your traditional oils. Yes, you can substitute with your traditional oils if needed.

  55. Lori…do you find that they take “forever” to dry ? Ferg

  56. Hi Lori – very new to oil painting. I just got a set of brushes to use with regular oil paints, can I use these same brushes with water-sol oil paints?
    Thanks.

    • Hello Feheeda, yes you can use the same brushes. Just don’t let the natural bristles sit in water too long because them will fray and get limp. Be sure and wash them with a good soap after. :)

  57. Linda Howard says:

    Thanks so much for answering my questions!!!!!

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