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Painting Tips for Using Water Soluble Oils in Place of Regular Oil Paints
Painting techniques are pretty much the same when using water soluble oil paints to replace your regular oils, with a few minor adjustments.
You're probably saying; "Then why would I choose to use the water-soluble ones when I love how the regular oils respond?"
Well, some of us artists have breathing problems and cannot tolerate the fumes from the turpenoid or odorless thinners you use to thin the paint and clean up afterward.
Even with switching to water-miscible oils, there are still some problems with people sensitive to things such as linseed oil and alkyds like I am, so you have to test it out for yourself.
Alternatives to Traditional Oil Paints
You have several alternatives; switch your medium to acrylics, pastels or watercolors. Or, if you want to stick with your favorite oils, then the water-soluble oils are a great alternative.
These paints are called by several different names which makes it a little confusing, but they are all really the same thing.
- Water-soluble oils
- Water-miscible oils
- Water-mixable oils
Thinning With Water or Oil
The manufacturers tell you that you can thin the paints with water, and this is true. But, what they don't tell you with some brands is that the paints are very tacky when you only try to thin them just a little bit.
If you thin them a lot to make a wash, the water works very well, but not if you are thinning it only a little to blend things such as in a sky.
Windsor Newton has a thinner for their water-soluble Artisan brand which I have just started using. So far, I like it better than using water, it works well with other brands of paint, and It doesn't seem to bother my breathing.
For fatter layers, as you progress in the painting, you should use water-mixable linseed oil if you plan to thin a little bit. The only thing I found was that there was still the smell of the linseed oil, and you have to use quite a bit of it to get the fluid effect you are looking for. That tends to slow down the drying process more than usual.
In both cases, I have used the term, "thin" whether it be with water, thinner, or oil. Further down in this discussion I will talk about the "fat over lean rule" and clarify what is really happening when you add something to make the paint more fluid.
I have found a solution for the water-soluble linseed oil problem which I am thrilled with, so read on...
A friend told me about using walnut oil to make the water-soluble oils flow more easily.
The walnut oil does make the paint more fluid, but also "fatter," so you must keep this in mind in regards to the "fat over lean" rule
With this oil, the paints flow just as smoothly as regular oils, There is no stickiness when I try to blend it. In addition, there are no fumes from linseed oil, traditional thinners, or turpenoid. I can still wash everything up with soap and water.
I am painting without any of the negatives of messy cleanups and fumes that constrict my breathing.
I have also found that I only need a very small amount of walnut oil to make the paint flow easily. Using the water-miscible linseed oil requires a lot more to get past the stickiness before the paint will flow easily.
Additionally, I am sensitive to linseed oil even when it has been modified to use with water-soluble oils. Replacing the linseed oil with the walnut oil has definitely helped me.
More information from people who use water-soluble oils is available on the forum, watersolubleoils.forumotion.com
Fat Over Lean Rule
Just like painting with traditional oils, you must still abide by the "Fat over Lean Rule." This means that if you add more oil to a paint to "thin" it down, it actually becomes fatter so you must consider what you are applying it over.
With water-soluble oils, you can 'thin' with water or water-soluble thinner. This makes the paint leaner since there is no fat in water or thinner. Thinning it this way is best used for under painting and early thin layers where it will dry fast. Since it is lean, you can paint over it without so much concern.
The Windsor Newton Artisan water-mixable oil thinner works really well instead of water. As with water, it also makes the paint leaner and is best used in the early layers. I never use water at all.
Because different colors have different drying times, I have written a page on my website which is a good resource for you to use at www.filarecki.com/oil-paint-drying-times.html
Oil and Acrylics
A common question asked is if you can paint over a dry oil painting with acrylic paints? The answer is "No."
Even though these are water-soluble oils, they still contain oil. Just as water would bead up on an oily surface such as a waxed table, so will acrylics bead up on oil paintings.
Can you paint over a dried oil painting with water-soluble oils? "No Problem."
You are maintaining the Fat over Lean Rule by doing so, but you should put a thin film of walnut oil over the area to help adherence of the new paint layer and make it go on smoother. If you are not sure, do a small test on a sample painting first before you chance to ruin the one you want to work on.
Can you paint oil over acrylics? "Absolutely."
Most pre-primed canvases, or ones you prime yourself, are primed with acrylic gesso. Gesso does have special properties which help the water-soluble oils to adhere. More information about gesso can be found on my website,
If you use acrylic paints for your background and want to paint with oils over parts of it, it is recommended that you put a very thin layer of the oil you use over the entire canvas. Wipe any excess off with a clean cloth but maintain the glaze. This thin oil film will act as a binding agent for better adherence of the water-soluble oil to the acrylic under painting.
If you are looking to speed up the drying time of your paintings, there are fast drying mediums that work well. I have used Windsor Newton Artisan Brand fast-drying medium. The earlier version of it tended to be very thick and hard to work with, but my understanding is that it has improved.
Lukas Berlin makes a fast-drying medium that is watery and tends to dry very fast. It is also very lean so you have to be careful about trying to follow the fat over lean rule. It is a good choice for under painting since it is lean.
The Windsor Newton Artisan brand contains oil so it is fatter. They state that the drying time is decreased by 50% when using their medium. This would be a good choice for layered painting over the under painting since it is lean. You must be careful when using any fast drying medium that it is only used over completely dried layers or you may get some cracking of the paint. It is best to use it in the early layers only.
Walnut Alkyd by M.Graham
My choice has been to use Walnut Alkyd by M. Graham which is made from walnut oil and alkyd. Very small amounts make the paints blend easily and are "touch dry" within a day so you can put on another layer of fatter paint. If you do not paint over the fast-dry layer, it will have a fine gloss finish which I really like.
For people with breathing problems, you may have a reaction to the Alkyd so test it out carefully. I find that if I use walnut alkyd over a period of days, indoors, I tend to start wheezing. My solution has been to paint outdoors with it whenever possible to limit my exposure.
Alternative to Alkyd
David Clemons shared this information on the forum I am active in. He is very knowledgeable in many technical areas so I would recommend that you take a look at his website.
"To make an egg yolk & oil medium mix equal parts yolk, oil, and water. Break the yolk membrane in a bowl as though making tempera, slowly add the same amount of oil to the yolk while stirring, and then add that same amount of water and stir. Store this in the fridge, or if you want to keep it for longer than a few days add a few drops of white vinegar or a couple of drops of clove oil. All these mediums are water soluble and also speed up the drying time."
What Brushes to Use with Water-Soluble Oils
We all tend to have our own preferences, but I will explain some of the choices I have been told about or tried for myself.
I use a mixture of brushes.
My Favorite Brushes
Winsor Newton makes a fantastic brush called the Eclipse that I have absolutely fallen in love with. It is natural hair made from Russian Black Sable. They describe it as being a "perfect balance between stiff and soft hair . . . more body than red sable and softer than hog bristle."
I'm really pleased with it because it holds a good chisel edge, blends without brush lines and keeps its shape after cleans up with soap and water.
Bristle Paint Brushes
I like bristle brushes for laying down large areas of color that will be smoothed down later, such as the sky. They are also good for high-texture areas such as foliage and for dabbing in tree leaves.
They load with paint well and flare out to produce some very effective leaf patterns. They are also good for adding texture to the foreground of landscapes. I load them with multiple colors and then hold the brush vertically while tapping on the canvas to do this.
An example of multiple loading can be seen in this corner of my fisher boy painting. The slope texture and shadow were a result of randomly loading burnt umber, yellow ochre, and white onto the bristle brush at the same time. The full painting can be seen at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-fisher-boy-judy-filarecki.html
I have heard people who are used to regular oils state that they feel the bristle brushes become "mushy." This can be avoided by not using water except for cleaning. Use warm soap and water but do not leave the brush standing in the water. Dry it immediately and place it on its side to continue drying.
There are some synthetic bristle brushes that I have used and been satisfied with. They tend to be a little less expensive than real bristle and work just as well.
Synthetic Paint Brushes
I like synthetic brushes for smoother areas. They don't leave the brush ridges as much as the bristle brushes unless you want them there. They wash up well with soap and water and are not so sensitive to standing in water briefly as you clean a bunch of them.
The one thing I did find was that paint builds up in the brush causing the hairs to splay out once dried. When I first started using the WS oils, it didn't dawn on me that I was getting paint buildup. Those brushes that had that happen, however, do come in very handy because of the fact that the bristles fan out so much that they can be used to dab texture and color in without big blobs of paint.
To prevent this from happening, I add a little extra walnut oil to the brush before cleaning and work the paint out. Then I clean with warm soap and water. I actually use a commercial brush cleaner for the soapy part because it also conditions the brush afterward. One woman said she uses baby oil to do the same thing with good results.
A Complete Overview of Painting with Water-Soluble Oils
Water-soluble oils are becoming more widely used as a replacement for traditional oils. They work very similarly to traditional oils but are better tolerated by people with allergies and breathing problems.
They do take some time to get used to because they handle slightly differently in certain situations, but are well worth the time to experience them. I used Sean Dye's book as my learning tool when I started using water-soluble oils quite a few years ago. At that time, that was the only book available on the subject. Now there is a wider selection available which I'm sure will increase as the popularity of water-soluble oils continues to grow.
Becca on May 01, 2018:
Hello - I think I have a more unusual reason for wanting to paint in oils on paper. I do woodcut prints, and I've been playing around with oil pastels. I use oil-based ink to print my woodcut - and then I've been applying oil pastels over the print once it's dry (cured). The oil-based ink I use to print my woodcuts is able to be cleaned up with water and detergent. I use Walnut oil to blend the oil pastels after applying the colors to the paper. I really like the effect so far. Then I did further research and according to articles I read, I need to prime the paper first (with gesso or acrylic matte medium) before printing my woodcut, and then apply the oil pastels. The paper will degrade if I don't prime it. And I really do use quite a bit of Walnut oil too, as I like to get a more "washed" effect (like watercolor), when using the oil pastels, and since it is a woodcut print, after all. Any comments or further tips/advice are welcome. Thanks.
Lena on January 22, 2018:
Thank you for all of this info! I'm just starting to try getting into oils. I find the fat-over-lean rule very intimidating and confusing when I'm actually in the creative process. But another question I have is, how do you clean your brushes in between colors using water (coming from an acrylic background) or do you NOT clean your brushes inverts colors, just wipe? Another blog said water during painting would make the paint look cloudy so I'm wondering how I should clean my brushes if that's the case? Thank you!
Sue on March 19, 2017:
Best blog I have read about water soluble oil paints! Thank you.
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on June 13, 2016:
Sorry I have taken so long to respond, but have been traveling with limited internet access. WSO's work very well wet on wet just like traditional oils. Yes, you can apply a thin coat of WM linseed oil and apply directly from the tube if that is your style of painting. A landsacape done with WSO is comparable to one done with tradition oils. It is not recommended that you use WSO over a tradition oil paint, since the WSO would beed up just as if you had put a drop of water on the traditional oil.
VSL Narasimham on May 12, 2016:
These WOils...do they fit into the wet on wet type of painting? Can I apply a thin layer of water mixable linseed oil to canvas and then apply WOils directly from tubes like we do in regular oil painting? Can landscape paintings using WOils be comparable to landscapes using regular oils? Please elucidate. Thanks.
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on March 10, 2015:
Thank you for your inquiry. You can find a link to the water-soluble oil for above the comments and ads in a gray box. Click on that link or type in http://watersolubleoils.forumotion.com/ You can register there for free or browse the site without registering. If you want to comment, though, you will need to register. I am deleting your comment because it contains your e-mail address, but I will send you a response at the address
Anna from chichester on May 14, 2014:
These are all so beautiful! I'll have to give it a try, though I'm sure the results wont look anything like the pictures you've displayed here!
sha-ron on April 03, 2014:
What a beautiful informative lens. Very Helpful
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on February 10, 2014:
@Pat Goltz: Me too! I had a lot of fun chasing the roadrunner back and forth across the street in front of my house to get hi to put his tail up for a reference photo.
norma-holt on December 25, 2013:
Nice study into this medium. I still like the normal oils and will probably not switch as I have too much invested in them. Great to hear the views of others. Well done.
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on October 17, 2013:
@Pat Goltz: I had a lot of fun chasing that roadrunner across the road to get him to put his tail up for me so I could get a reference photo.
Pat Goltz on October 16, 2013:
This wonderful lens is just packed with useful information! And I like your roadrunner. :)
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on July 17, 2013:
@Mary Stephenson: The water-soluble oils are very similar in feel to the oils but don't have the amount of linseed oil and clean up with soap and water so that really helps. The only I found was that I had to stay away from quick drying mediums with alkyd in them. I'm doing all of my painting these day with Corel Painter 12 so I have no allergic reactions, no clean up and no supplies to buy. I paint with all my traditional techniques and love it. If you didn't see the demo I did in my Lens, "Painting Clouds," you might want to take a look.
Mary Stephenson from California on July 16, 2013:
Great information. I had to reluctantly give up oils a number of years ago. I got ill when using them only for 20 minutes even with windows and doors open. But I did get to paint a great cat portrait of 3 of my cats on an easy chair on a sunny afternoon. Gone to acrylics and Photoshop for my creations now. Nothing is quite as good to work with as the flow of oil paint. Information that would be extremely helpful that wants to learn what to paint with.
mcsburlea on June 27, 2013:
the flower painting looks like a dream, a very beautiful dream.
jennifer421 lm on January 01, 2013:
Wow!!! That is wonderful and amazing..
Maria Burgess from Las Vegas, Nevada on December 09, 2012:
Judy, your paintings are beautiful and your instructions are very helpful! Thank you for sharing! Happy Holidays!
Vilja from Helsinki on September 01, 2012:
Oh dear, painting is complicated! Fantastic lens, but I am so discouraged about this whole painting malarkey.
anonymous on August 16, 2012:
Enjoyed your lens
TTMall on August 14, 2012:
Very good information. Thanks for sharing!
Justinleon LM on August 09, 2012:
The work must be appreciated.
pawpaw911 on July 17, 2012:
Beautiful work. Shows how little I know. I didn't even know they had water soluble oils.
spids1 on July 07, 2012:
Wow I did not know all that awesome stuff, thanks.
cmadden on July 04, 2012:
An informative lens, and beautiful art!
WriterJanis2 on June 27, 2012:
So very beautiful!
Laraine Sims from Lake Country, B.C. on June 26, 2012:
Judy, what an informative and beautiful lens. I would like to add this lens to my lens .. 'Squidoo Artists and Their Art'. Please drop by.
ForestBear LM on June 13, 2012:
Your artworks are wonderful. Thank you for a lovely lens
Richiewest from Devon, United Kingdom. on June 03, 2012:
Go Judy! Great lens on this topic.
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on May 05, 2012:
@SteveKaye: Thanks Steve, All my first painting attempts were of birds in their natural setting so I rally enjoyed your lens on birds.
SteveKaye on May 05, 2012:
Your paintings are absolutely fantastic. Your ability to capture the beauty in the subjects is amazing. Thank you for publishing this.
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on December 18, 2011:
@anonymous: Thank you, Collette. I'm enjoying WS oils more and more as I experiment with them.
anonymous on December 18, 2011:
I am like you I love painting with all mediums, as well as doing up furniture and everything else, it is all just one big adventure and I wish that I had more time. Your work is beautiful
AnnaleeBlysse on December 12, 2011:
Wish I'd known more about this years ago. Talking to people 20 years ago, no one talked about water soluble alternatives. But, I do like oils better than acrylics. I don't really have place to paint these days, but someday...
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on December 10, 2011:
@desa999 lm: Thank you so much. I love watercolor also, but am not very skilled at it. It is on my list of to-do's.
desa999 lm on December 10, 2011:
Nice content with a use of paint I hadn't seen before. I am more familiar with watercolour but I love the effects you are referring to. Well done.
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on December 09, 2011:
@Johanna Eisler: Thanks so much. I hope it gave you some alternative ideas for painting. Also thanks for the congrats for making it to the front page. It is exciting and really brings a lot morepeople to you lens.
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on December 09, 2011:
@Dimplefree: Once you start putting the paint on the canvas, you'll quickly stop missing the fumes. Holbein Duos have been my favorite for having the feel of traditional oils. Windsor Newtons tend to be stiff, but flow well with a little W/N thinner for early layers or walnut oil for later layers. Cobras have a real good feel also.
Dimplefree on December 09, 2011:
Very interesting, I've never had a problem with the fumes but it sure fills the house! Everyone knows when I'm painting. I might have to try these water soluble paints. But there's something about the smell of oil paints and turpentine, I think I'd miss it.
Johanna Eisler on December 08, 2011:
Thank you for a very enlightening lens. I'm bookmarking it, because I love to paint but have problems with scents.
And congratulations on making the front page!
waterlily78 on December 08, 2011:
@Judy Filarecki: That's great to know, thank you Judy!
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on December 08, 2011:
@anonymous: Glad you enjoyed the lens. Hope you both give them a try.
anonymous on December 08, 2011:
I have actually heard about these before, but I only just realized that my friend who works with regular oil paint could give these a try as well. I'll be sure to pass on the information in this great lens to her. Thank you for creating this lens!
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on December 08, 2011:
@waterlily78: I'm sure the sunflower seed oil would work fine. I've never tried it because I am so satisfied with the walnut oil. It would be worth getting one tube of WS Oils and trying it. The WS oils can be mixed with traditional oils if you decide to stay with the traditional ones. It just would not be water soluble anymore.
waterlily78 on December 08, 2011:
Good tutorial, I'd never heard of the water-soluble oils until now. They sound like something to look into, as I love working in oils but hate the smell of turpentine (it tends to give me a headache also).
I usually use sunflower seed oil to thin my paints, I wonder how it would work with the water-soluble paints?
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on December 06, 2011:
@pawpaw911: Thanks so much.
pawpaw911 on December 06, 2011:
Very nicely done.
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on December 05, 2011:
@LiteraryMind: You are welcomed. It has been a life saver for me. It is the only thing that doesn't trigger my allergies.
Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on December 04, 2011:
Thank you so much for the informaiton. The walnut oil idea is an eye opener.
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on September 16, 2011:
@anonymous: Thanks so much for the blessing. It is always appreciated.
anonymous on September 16, 2011:
A wealth of knowledge. Blessed!
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on August 15, 2011:
@MariaMontgomery: Thanks so much. I love watercolors also but I enjoy not having to frame my paintings under glass with the water-soluble oils. I hope you try them sometime and if you do, don't forget to check out the WSO forum I have included a link to.
MariaMontgomery from Coastal Alabama, USA on August 15, 2011:
I love your lens on Aqua Oils, and will definitely try the walnut oils. Right now I do mostly watercolors, and love them, too, but sometimes miss the oils. I, too, had to abandon traditional oils due to headaches from the fumes. Thanks for a great lens.
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on August 14, 2011:
@chezchazz: Thank you for the blessing and for considering my lens for "wing-ing it on Squidoo. I really appreciate it. I look forward to perhaps someday becoming a Squid Angel so I can returnthe favor to others.
Chazz from New York on August 14, 2011:
Water soluable oil paints sound like a perfect (and safer) solution for those of us bothered by chemicals and fumes. Blessed on the Squid Angels Epic Back To School Bus Trip Quest. Your lens will be featured on âWing-ing it on Squidoo,â our lensography of some of the best Squidoo has to offer, as soon as the quest has been completed.
Light-in-me on August 10, 2011:
Very informative and beautiful paintings.
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on July 20, 2011:
@dfishbac: Thanks for your comment. I am constantly learning new things about it and try to share as many of them as I can.
dfishbac on July 17, 2011:
Very nice lens!. I learned something new about water soluble oil paints.
kimpaul on July 07, 2011:
you are truly gifted!
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on July 04, 2011:
@sukkran trichy: Thank you for your blessing.
sukkran trichy from Trichy/Tamil Nadu on July 04, 2011:
lovely oil painting lens. i enjoyed my visit. ~blessed~
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on July 02, 2011:
@anonymous: Thanks Shirley
anonymous on July 02, 2011:
Great Lens Judy, I'm going to add a link in my Outstanding Zazzle Artists Lens. Thank you so much for your visit and support for my Photographers Lens, truly appreciated!
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on June 27, 2011:
@Lee Hansen: Most of the people I've gotten to know have switched from oils to WS oils because of issues with the solvents used with traditional oils. I'm asthmatic so they definitely affect my breathing. Now with the WS Oils, I paint and breath without a problem. I love them
Lee Hansen from Vermont on June 27, 2011:
Hi Judy, water soluble oil paints are new to me. I'm sending a link to this info to my husband who's been painting since he was 9 years old, mostly in oils. He may find using walnut oil more appealing, too, thank linseed. Love you artwork ... best wishes, Lee
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on June 27, 2011:
@anonymous: I enjoy teaching and sharing things as learn myself. It just adds to the exciting of accomplishing new things.
anonymous on June 26, 2011:
Excellent tip on oil painting techniques. I like how you share as you learn new things, as with the walnut oil, that's very generous of you.
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on May 28, 2011:
@ArtsyIndie: Thanks, So glad I could help. You might want to look at a forum I am active in for more information from artist using water-soluble oils:
ArtsyIndie on May 27, 2011:
Oh my gosh, I have problems with turpentine fumes. This will be so useful. Thanks, you're a lifesaver :D
Judy Filarecki (author) from SW Arizona and Northern New York on March 18, 2011:
@livelong29: Sorry for being so long in responding. Thinning with water does create a good wash but do not use so much water that it run. If you want to do a water-color effect, place the canvas on a surface so it is elevated no more than 15 degrees. This will allow the wash to settle in place with just a small wet edge at the bottom. You can use this edge to add another color so they blend into a soft edge. If you don't want to go beyond the wet edge, then blot the edge with a clean brush which will pick up the extra accumulation of the wash. I use a minuscule amount of walnut oil to make the paint flow better for details. I clean by first removing the excess paint with a paper towel, wash it with dish soap such as Dawn, rinse it real well and the do the final cleaning and conditioning with "The Master's Brush Cleaner and Preserver."
livelong29 on February 13, 2011:
Thank you for the tips on water soluble oils. I have been having a difficult time. If use just water to thin, it's too thin and runs down on a vertical canvas. If I use the Artisan water/oil medium, it's too thick for details and dries too quickly, and any water from my brush changes the paint into the consistency of Vaseline. What do you use to clean your brushes while you are painting? Which brand is your favorite? I have Pelikan, but there are Holbein, and Windsor and Newton.
anonymous on July 02, 2010:
Thank you sooooo much, this is really helpful.
anonymous on August 02, 2009:
Thanks for all the info, Judy. I tried the water soluble oils and didn't like their stickiness. Will try some of your suggestions and see if I like them better.