Pro Tips for Painting with Water-Mixable Oils

For nearly 20 years, I have been painting with water-mixable oils. Before that, I primarily painted with acrylics as a wildlife artist. Although I loved acrylic paint, I was ready to loosen up oil paint, but I didn’t want to use solvents.

Once I discovered water-mixable oils, and I have never looked back…

@2018 Lori McNee “Evergreen Mist” 24×48, Oil on canvas

Since then, I have tried almost every brand of water-mixable oils (WMO) on the market. There are definitely some similarities and some differences between the different solvent-free brands.

Here are my pro tips and other helpful information for painting with water-mixable oils:

  • Without getting too technical, WMO are just like traditional oil paints except they use an emulsifier which enables water and oil to mix. This emulsifier is a modifier which eliminates the necessity for turpentine or other dangerous solvents to thin paint and clean brushes and other supplies.
  • Some popular WMO brands use a detergent as the emulsifier which, in my opinion, causes them to feel a bit sticky. It might take traditional oil painters a little bit to get used to this feeling. This is why I prefer painting with WMO by Cobra of Royal Talens. Cobra uses a vegetable emulsifier which easily allows the linseed oil and water to mix.

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  • The vegetable drying oils have been restructured in water-mixable oils which helps to eliminate yellowing.
  • Like traditional oils, water mixable 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.
  • I suggest you try the different water-mixable oil brands and decide what works best for you.
  • WMO are often miscalled, water-soluble oil paints. These oils are mixable with water, but not soluble. Watercolor is soluble.
  • WMO are REAL oil paints; they are NOT a water-based medium. They are just like regular oil paints except that they are made with linseed oil modified with an emulsifier that enables the oil paints to be thinned with water and to be cleaned up using only soap and water.

  • Wonderful water-mixable mediums have been developed for water-mixable oils. There are quick dry mediums (my favorite), stand oils, painting mediums, impasto mediums (which add body), linseed oils, and alkyd mediums.
  • Like traditional oils, water-mixable oil paintings cannot be reactivated with water when dry.
  • Traditional oil paints and mediums can be added to the new oils in small amounts of up to 30% and will still retain water mix-ability. Small amounts of traditional oil color can be added to these new paints without effecting the color or consistency.

@2018 Lori McNee “Winter Trail” 24×24, Oil on canvas

  • 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.
  • The new oils are easier to clean up with only soap and water! No need for harsh solvents.
  • Those with limited or no experience with traditional oils adjust to water-mixable oils more quickly.
  • Depending on how thick you paint, the water-mixable oils retain their elasticity and workability for up to 48 hours.
  • 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 crackin
  • Use water to thin the new oils for laying in washes. Build up the oily layers after the under painting is dry.
  • Acrylic gesso should be used as the starting ground for watermixable paints to ensure proper adhesion. For studio works, I prefer to paint on linen panels, canvas panels or handmade hardboard panels for a smooth and rigid support.
  • “Dawn” dish soap does a great job of cleaning oily brushes. Baby oil is also a good cleaner, followed by soap and water. After the cleaning, a little petroleum jelly conditions the brushes back to their original shape.
  • Rubbing Alcohol (kinda toxic though), or vegetable oil (safer choice) and a razor blade keep my glass palette fresh for the next painting session.

***Discover how to create Luminous Landscape Painting in Water-Mixable Oils in my new video/DVD! Use the prerelease promo link (good to 4/29) to reserve your copy now…

One Comment

  1. Jen Kirby April 16, 2018 at 6:24 am - Reply

    I love water-mixable oils too. My favourite medium is Schmincke Medium W Gel, which turns any oil colour into water-mixable oil. I like some of the colours in the Rembrandt oils by Royal Talens range, and I can use them along with the Cobra paints using the Schmincke medium gel.

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