By now, it’s likely you have heard of water mixable oil paint. And even if you haven’t, I’m guessing you’re interested in finding out more about them and do not enjoy the thought of using solvents to paint with or to clean the brushes.
If so, I can relate because after painting with traditional oil paints for a couple of years, I loved oil painting but, I just really disliked (and was worried about) working with toxic solvents. In this post, I will share how you can enjoy oil painting without a solvent by using water mixable oil paint.
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Traditional Oils and Solvents
The first painting I ever did was an oil painting. I quickly became passionate about it. There was something very satisfying about mixing the colors on the palette, gliding the brush across the canvas, being in control of working and blending the paints and being able to relax and take your time to create the art piece.
The issue with traditional oils is that people believe that they require the use of solvents. The solvent helps thin viscosity of paints and helps them to flow nicely as you paint with them
Therefore, some oil painters will use solvents such as turpentine, turpenoid, mineral spirits, odorless paint thinner and the like to thin the paint and clean the brushes with them.
But solvents are all toxic to one degree or other. Their fumes (even the odorless solvents) are toxic if breathed in as well as being toxic if gotten on the skin or accidentally ingested. Not to mention, it really is complicated and time-consuming to use solvents – using, storing, disposal, safety/fire hazard concerns, etc.
Still, many painters successfully use the solvents and minimize the exposure to toxins by applying common sense – opening a window when using them, covering solvent containers, don’t eat while painting, wash hands well or use gloves for clean-up, etc. More power to ’em.
And I’m sure many are diligent about safely storing and disposing of solvent soaked rags and containers. But in my opinion, there is room for human error and therefore there is still a risk and worry. I prefer not to take that risk nor have that worry. Just saying.
It is probably one of the best kept secrets that in reality, you do not have to use solvents at all to paint with traditional oils. Linseed oil can be used to help the paint glide better and master brush cleaner or even baby oil can be used to clean the brushes.
But since this is a post about water mixable oil paint, I’ll leave it up to you if you would like to research that and wouldn’t mind the extra material necessary to have on hand, use, transport, etc. (Water is much simpler, though, in my opinion.)
Here is a wonderful resource on Water Mixable Oils. This book contains 15 different artists’ styles and techniques to learn about.
So What is Water Mixable Oil Paint?
Oil and water aren’t supposed to mix, right? True, but the manufacturers of water mixable oil paint got around that by modifying the binder (the linseed oil) with an emulsifier that allows the paint to be soluble with water.
Thus, this is a medium that is not water-based but rather is water-soluble for solvent-free painting. These paints are also sometimes called water miscible or water soluble as well.
They are real oil paints but are special in that they can be thinned and cleaned up with just water. When you’re painting with them, it would be hard to tell the difference between them and traditional oils. Once dry, they cannot be reactivated with water.
Many Advantages to Using Water Mixable Oils
The main point I’d like to assure you of is they do perform like conventional oil colors. You can use all your oil painting techniques with these oils the same as regular oils. I did. Check out my oil painting done with these paints.
They dry faster than traditional oils but still allow for plenty of time to work with them on the canvas. Really they are a happy medium for those who don’t like how fast acrylics dry and but also don’t like how long it takes for conventional oils to dry.
These truly can be thinned with just a little water which will maximize the flow of the paint.
The only “fumes” would be the linseed oil (not toxic) in the paint. (If you don’t like that smell, then I wouldn’t recommend these paints as they smell the same as regular oils).
If you are a plein air painter, these are so convenient when not having to lug the solvents around. And much safer in that respect I might add.
Clean up with water. The brushes can be cleaned with water alone, which is time-saving, less messy and a lot safer than having to clean with a solvent. This is optional, but I like to use Murphy’s Oil Soap mixed with water to clean my brushes. This cleans them well and leaves the brushes conditioned.
Note: I did watch a video on cleaning brushes used with conventional oil using just baby oil (no solvents). Although it works, it seemed very time-consuming and laborious.
These are great to use in a group or a classroom since no one is bothered by solvents.
These paints would be especially great for beginners oil painters since the process of painting and clean up with them is simpler using just water.
Your painting will look the same as if you had used conventional oil paints. Here is one of my paintings in water mixable oil.
Watercolor artists who would like to try oils would have an easy transition in using these water mixable oils since they can use just water to paint with them as they are accustomed to.
If you prefer to use an oil medium with these paints, there are compatible oil mediums for use with these paints to help the flow of the paint. (I never have used the mediums, I’m quite satisfied with just using water.)
After I made the switch, I realized water mixable paints were the perfect solution to my dilemma of loving oils but wanting to get away from the chemicals and greatly simplify how I paint. And I’m all about keeping it simple if you haven’t already guessed that :).
My Go-to Brand
The brand I decided to try when I made the switch from traditional oil was Winsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Oil Color pictured here. I have completed many paintings using this brand. And it was not a hard adjustment at all to these from having used traditional oils.
Likewise, in comparing my paintings done in water mixable oil with traditional oil, I did not notice any difference between them.
Windsor & Newton Artisan Water Mixable Oil Paint comes in 40 beautiful colors which are every bit as vibrant as traditional oils. Also, they are delightful to work with, having a soft but thick, smooth consistency.
How to Work with Water Mixable Oils
Working with these paints is really easy. You can thin them with water just like you would thin conventional oils with a solvent thinner.
You simply dip your brush into a little water, then I like to blot so it’s not dripping before going into the paint. (Only use just enough to get the paint to flow).
You then pull out a little paint with the brush, which thins it because the brush is wet. You can then, of course, pull from another color to mix.
This paint flows very nicely. I really do not notice any difference in the performance of these paints compared to their traditional counterpart.
You can also use an oil medium in lieu of water to make the paint flow if you prefer. I’ll discuss that in the next section.
But just as with any means you use to thin, you don’t want to use too much water so that it changes the integrity of the paint and causes the pigment to separate which can in turn cause the painting to crack.
If you thin the paint with water, then notice that the paint becomes slightly lighter when you apply it to the canvas, there’s a reason for that. Since light refracts off water differently than other surfaces, the light going through the water will make the paint appear a little lighter at first. But not to worry! The paint will return to the true color in a week or so after the water evaporates.
Other Compatible Products
Brushes – Hog hair or traditional oil brushes will not work well with water mixable paint since they don’t work well with water. Rather, with these paints you should use synthetic brushes – they hold water and retain their shape.
Winsor & Newton Artisan Brushes are designed to use with these paints. They are available in many sizes in rounds, short flats/brights, long flats, filberts and fans, in long or short handles. They are dissimilar to hog bristle brushes in that they are synthetic and easily spring back, keeping their shape and offering you the best painting performance.
Mediums – Winsor & Newton offers Water Mixable Oil Painting Medium should you desire to choose oil to thin the paint or make it flow nicely. There are several to choose from. Again, avoid using too much oil, though, as this will cause problems, too.
Varnishes – Winsor & Newton also offers 3 different varnishes compatible with their water mixable paints. They come in Matte, satin and gloss.
Color Mixing Guide – Great Resource
Honestly, I haven’t used mediums or varnishes in my work and they’ve held up just fine. The originals of my paintings included in this post date back several years and look just as good as the day I finished painting them.
This is a true testament and proof enough for me that the way I choose to paint simply – solvent and medium free – works well and stands the true test of time!
I completed this painting over 15 years ago.
Clean Up is a Breeze
Ok, who really likes to clean brushes no matter how simple it is, am I right? For me it’s definitely my least favorite thing about painting. BUT, with water mixable paint, all you really need is water as the color is completely soluble with water.
Having said that, I still use a little Murphy’s Oil Soap mixed with water to clean, then rinse them. I believe the Murphy’s Oil Soap keeps the bristles conditioned.
Recommend Water Mixable Oil Paint
I highly recommend your give water mixable oil paint a try to be able to enjoy oil painting without a solvent. I know you’ll be glad you did.
There are other bands, of course, besides Winsor & Newton you can try. But, I’ve had tremendous satisfaction with the way Winsor & Newton performs for me so I’m sticking with them.
Thanks for stopping by to read this post. Comments and questions are always welcome.
Have a colorful day!