Archive for November, 2013

Oil and Water: A Viable Combo?

Friday, November 15th, 2013

As I wrote last time, I set out to learn whether oil paint might be a viable alternative for me to use. In my initial efforts using water-soluble oils, I struggled a bit with how to proportion paint, water, and additive. Sometimes I forgot to incorporate the additive, and I wasn’t sure how that would affect the overall drying time.

130801 Coco Plum Sprig

Being used to watercolor, my first attempts tended to be thin and watery. Overpainting, wet into wet, often lifted the underlying layer, much as it did with acrylics. One attempt failed so badly, I held the canvas under running water, squirted on some handsoap, and, by merely wiping it with my hand, was able to wash off virtually all the paint I had applied earlier in the day…stripping it all the way down to the canvas. Who would have expected that that could be possible with oil paint? It cleaned up almost like acrylic. (I did find, though, that it was more difficult to clean residual oil paint out of brushes to prevent them from becoming stiff and non-pliable.)

It was clear that I needed to become more familiar with the specific characteristics of the water-soluble oils and to keep track of drying times and the effect of additives on them. So I began taking notes and charting the progress and drying time of each painting I made.

Used to working quickly with watercolor, my tendency was to work quickly with the oils, as well. But oil layers need more time to solidify before subsequent layers can be applied. This required a longer period for trial-and-error experimentation. I also needed time to discover in what situations it was advisable to pre-blend colors on the palette, when it was preferable to blend them partially on the canvas, and when it was more artistically effective to allow them to blend optically without any physical mixing at all.

The oils took longer to dry than acrylics – even the comparatively slow-drying Open acrylics I’ve been using. But, to my surprise, the additive allowed my moderately thin applications to firm up within a few hours in my air-conditioned studio so I was able to apply additional layers the same day.

The texture of oil feels somewhat smoother as it’s applied, but the finished product looks very similar to acrylic. I have developed little preference, at this point, for one medium over the other. On canvas-covered panels, the drying oils remain tacky for a few days and are dry to the touch within a week. On canvas paper, thin but opaque applications of paint are tacky the next day, feel waxy after another day, and are touch-dry after that.

Perhaps because I used water instead of mineral solvents to thin them, the paints did not require as prolonged a drying time as I had anticipated. I decided to try them without the benefit of the fast-drying additive to compare drying times. Once again, the next day found the paint tacky; the following, it felt waxy, … There didn’t appear to be a great difference at all. Varying humidity levels and other climatic conditions would certainly affect the drying rates. For thicker applications, such as impasto work, I expect drying time would be considerably longer in any case.

I expect to continue using all three mediums–oil, acrylic, and watercolor–through the foreseeable future.

Shifting Gears

Friday, November 1st, 2013

As you’ve read in preceding blogs, watercolor drew me back into art after a three-decade hiatus. Acrylics allowed me to shift gears, providing a transition to a different approach toward paint application. This past summer I felt an almost irresistible urge to shift gears again and try my hand at oils. Yet I remembered using oil paints in my youth and being overwhelmed with the pervasive odor of turpentine and the mess of cleanup. I was also leery of using mineral spirits of any kind because of my husband’s sensitivity to so many different types of solvents.

130817 Shifting Gears

But there have been many changes in the art world since I last used oil paints. Among them are virtually odorless solvents and even water-soluble oil paints. I was still leery of the odorless solvents, since it was the chemicals themselves, rather than the odors, that concerned me most. So the water-soluble oils seemed to be a better alternative for my use.

Online research provided mixed reviews for water-soluble oils. I asked my artist friends about their experiences using the w/s oils, and again I received mixed reviews: Reportedly, they required as long to dry as the regular oils (one of my concerns, due to storage space needed during the drying period—reportedly, as long as a year for full curing), and they didn’t provide the lovely, buttery feel of traditional oils. I decided that, being used to the less than buttery feel of acrylics, I could forego the luxury of that tactile experience. I was also assured that the slow drying time could be reduced by mixing an additive into the paint. So I bought a small trial set of the water-soluble oils to experiment with, threw in a bottle of fast-drying medium, and set about to investigate their advisability for me.

Check again next time to see what I learned.