My painting journey began with watercolors 4 or 5 years ago, and after only using them for about a year I switched over to acrylics and never looked back. Now, having used acrylics for 3.5 years I decided to give oils a try and see what else could be achieved.
Since I began doing videos speaking about using oil paints, I have received a lot of questions regarding how I use them. My process is actually very similar to how I do my acrylic paintings.
1. I first start out with thinned down paint for the sketch – composition & lights/darks. Whether I use water-mixable oils or traditional oils the process is still the same. The only difference is whether I use water to thin or odorless mineral spirits [some artists use a citrus thinner]. Every artist is different – you can skip this step by sketching with charcoal or by using other drawing methods, instead of paint.
2. I then start painting with paint straight from the tube or paint with a small amount of thinner but less thinner than in step 1. I continue doing the entire painting using paint straight from the tube.
3. If needed [almost never], I will then use linseed oil or some kind of medium with the paint. I haven’t experimented much with mediums as of yet – but plan to do a little of that in the future. With my small paintings, I do not see a need for it.
Using the oil paints in the this manner, I’ve realized that the paint can be dry to the touch within the next day or two. Although if medium is added [step 3] the painting can take much longer to dry.
There are many different options available when it comes to oil paints but I would like to share some of my experiences of the brands I’ve used thus far.
Winsor & Newton Artisan Water-Mixable Oils – I found these to be quite intuitive to use when switching from acrylics because they are almost used in the same manner. These paints are what helped me understand oils in general and how to use them. Probably most useful for plein air painting since you only need to bring a small jar or bottle of water with you.
Gamblin Art Sketching Oil Paints – The first oil paints that I tried. Since I technically didn’t know what I was doing, I cannot fully speak on these but I do plan on using these in the future and eventually reviewing them.
Blue Ridge Oil Paints – Ordered these just the other day and have done one small painting with them. Enjoying the smooth, thick consistency. These are made by an artist – Eric Silver. Plan on doing a review of these as well after using the paint a bit more.
Geneva Oil Paints – I recently made a video reviewing these paints. These paints are also made by an artist – Mark Carder. The consistency is different than any other oils out there that I’m aware of. They were tricky for me to use at first, just like any new material but I enjoy using them and the effects they bring. See complete review video here.
Compared to Acrylics
The feel of oils is completely different than acrylics and can be hard to explain in words. Oil paints tend to go a lot further, for example if I load my brush with acrylic paint I can probably get anywhere from 1 to 3 good strokes from it before having the reload the brush full of paint again. However, with oils the paint goes a long way – especially when thinned down.
The drying time is the most known difference. To acrylic artists, oils are known to take “forever” to dry. It is true that they take longer to dry but sometimes it can be useful for blending and other situations. Since I have started using oils there’s been a few times where I completed a small painting and then decided it was terrible so I wiped it down and started over. Doesn’t happen too often but it saves me money on buying another panel and I don’t have to paint over anything – quite useful.
Oils are smelly compared to acrylics but they aren’t terribly stinky. The only smell is from the paint and linseed oil – be sure to use odorless mineral spirits as thinner. If you tend to use mediums with your oils and don’t mind a slightly longer drying time, add one drop of clove oil to your paints/medium and this will give you a more pleasant smell.
Oils have a lot more glare than acrylics but since oils take longer to dry the color stays true for longer [values & intensity]. With acrylics, once the entire painting is dry the colors go flat and look different than when wet. This is why varnish is used and helps to bring the true values back to those colors. Glare can be quite an annoyance especially when trying to photograph your work but there are some ways around it.
Those are some of the main differences that I have noticed between oils and acrylics. Feel free to post in the comments down below any differences you’ve noticed that I did not post here. Also, if you have any questions please post those as well and I would be glad to answer them if I can.
Check out my latest plein air video showing some finished paintings and nature images and video clips.