Oil and Water


Oil painting has always been intimidating to me. Every time I've wandered into the oils section of the art store with the aim to try them out, I have no clue what to make of stuff like linseed oil, turpentine, impasto – all as smelly as they are expensive.  

I've said it before because it influences a lot of my artistic endeavours, but I live in a small apartment and my supplies cupboard is precariously ready to burst whenever I open the door. The last thing I need is to accidentally kick over a tub of turpentine that will eat a hole in my floor and drip onto my crazy downstairs neighbour. 

But then I found that Winsor & Newton make water soluble oil paints - they can be mixed and cleaned with just plain water. I'm guessing they don't behave quite like traditional oils but I've really enjoyed experimenting with how these work. I haven't been using any mediums, so eventually I might add that to my supplies list but I'm not in a rush at this point. 


The first experiment 

I had vague knowledge that you should always start a by first underpainting, and without doing any research whatsoever, I just painted a thin layer of “reverse” colours to see if they would shine through. Right away I noticed a huge difference from acrylic, watercolour, or gouache, as it the paint was still wet hours later. At first I hated this because I just wanted to keep painting and finish up in an hour or two.

Seagull Reverse

I came back to my painting 24 hours later. The paint was still wet, but the new colours slid over the underpainting instead of instantly blending. I still couldn't paint too much at a time without the colours mixing too much so I had to wait another day to get the white to be nice and bright. That dark blue “reverse” I painted was challenging to cover up with white but I really like the blue tones coming through.


The second experiment 

For my next painting, I wanted to try a still life of a taxidermy kingfish I got for Christmas last year. Taking what I learned during my first experiment, I started by painting the values in grey, then laying the colours over later on. Between each painting session, I waited two days so the paint underneath was still sticky.

Here's an example of how I started with a basic layer of greys, then started building up the colours of the kingfisher's feathers.

Here's an example of how I started with a basic layer of greys, then started building up the colours of the kingfisher's feathers.

Overall, the six layers I ended up doing did not individually take long (maybe 10-15 minutes each) but I found myself getting very impatient that I had to leave the painting on my easel for a week and a half. 

Sorry for not having pictures of each layer - I need to get better at documenting my process!

After the final layer!

After the final layer!


Let's finish this blog post with a quick review. If you are starting out, I highly recommend the water soluble paints, just to see if you like how they work before investing in all those mysterious chemicals. Oil paint goes on smooth and creamy, blends like a dream, and layers on gorgeously. Just remember to be patient!