Water Soluble Oils Using Oil Painting Techniques
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 to 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 the 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 flows 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 the 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 has 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 in 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 one smoother. If you are not sure, do a small test on a sample painting first before you chance ruining 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.
Fast Drying Mediums
If you are looking to speed up the drying time of your paintings, there are Fast Drying Mediums which 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 which 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 when ever 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 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 preference 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
- Bristle 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 the my fisher boy painting. The slope texture and shadow was 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
I have heard people who are use 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 it's side to continue drying.
There are some synthetic bristle brushes which 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
- Synthetic Brushes
I like synthetic brushes for smoother area. 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 build up. Those brushes that had that happen, however, do come in very handy because of the fact that he bristles fan out so much that they can be used to dab texture and color in without big blobs of paint.
To avoid 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 after wards. One women said she uses baby oil to do the same thing with good results.
A Complete Overview of Painting with Water-Soluble Oils - Answers to Many of your Questions
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 allergy and breathing problems. They do take some time to get use 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.
No Experience Required
The book, "No Experience Required" is a good learning tool for the complete novice.
It goes into a lot of basics. It also has paint-along chapters to help you develop your skills.
More by this Author
Where do you start to painting a landscape? Plan it out using a limited gray scale of three values. Gives you flexibility to adjust composition, create interesting shapes, and establish tonal values.
Painting landscapes successfully is a learning process. I learn best through visual means. So, I have shown things that will help you succeed and also provided some videos to help you learn.
Having problems mixing colors when you paint? Understanding color theory will simplify color mixing for you. We start with the basics and move to the more complex including some video demonstrations.