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Water Soluble Oils

Learn to Oil Paint without the Fumes and Solvents of Traditional Oil Paints

Water-soluble oils go by several names:

  • water-soluble
  • water-thin able
  • water-mixable
  • water-miscible

Each means the same.

These are oil paints made just like regular oils by finely grinding up pigments into a vegetable drying oil.

The difference is, the linseed oil or other vegetable oil used has been modified to be water soluble. This means you can clean up your brushes and your hands with soap and water just like you would with acrylics.

Below, I have included some Recommended Reference Books that I have found helpful in understanding water-soluble oils.

The manufacturers also say that you can mix these with water to change their consistency.

There in Lies the Controversy About How Well These Mimic the Regular Oils.

When you add a little linseed oil or turpenoid to regular oils to make them more spreadable, you accomplish just what you want.

When you add a little water mixable linseed oil, some brands give you the same smell that you get from regular oils, which bothers my breathing, but the paints are more spreadable.

Adding just a little water to make a leaner, spreadable mix, makes some brands very sticky and unpleasant to work with.


    Two Solutions: WSO Thinner and Walnut Oil

    There are two ways to make your water-soluble oils more fluid.

    • The first makes it leaner for use as an under painting and for early layers.

      Windson Newton WSO thinner medium is an example. It makes the paints more spreadable and also leaner.

    • The second makes it fatter for the upper layers of the painting.

      Using walnut oil, for example, makes the paints more spreadable while making them fatter. There are other oils that can be used, but I just prefer walnut oil because I know it does not bother my allergies. if you have nut allergies, you might want to consider another oil.

    Depending on the brand, some paints are stiffer than others so you have to try different brands or different mixtures to get them to where you want them to be. You must always keep the "Fat Over Lean Rule" in mind no matter how you make the paints more spreadable, just like with traditional oils. If you do not, there is a potential for the upper layers to crack.

    Making the Mixture More Lean

    There are thinners made specifically for water-soluble oils. I'm familiar with the one made by Winsor/Newton.

    Photgraphic Prints


    This painting of a mother loon and baby was based on a photograph by Joseph Woody.

    I started out with a thin wash of cobalt blue and magenta using the W/N thinner. I allowed that to partially dry for a day and then I started adding more pigment with only a minimal amount of thinner.

    By the third layer, I used paint right out of the tube without any thinner. For some of the highlighting I either used it right out of the tube or mixed a small amount of walnut oil into it.

    For minor adjustments to color, I added a small amount of walnut oil to make a glaze for over the areas where I want changes in hue.

    Looking at the whole process, you can see that I maintained the "Fat over Lean" Rule.

    Making the Mixture Fatter

    I met a women from Canada on FaceBook and she told me that she mixes walnut oil into her water soluble oil paints with great result. She focuses many of her paintings on the wide expanse of skies in the prairies of central Canada. To view some of her wonderful paintings go to nclacey.com

    The walnut oil has no smell to it and the paints go on the canvas as smoothly as with regular oil paints.

    The best part, is that I just clean up with soap and water and there is no gumminess or strong odors in the process. I'm painting with water soluble oils with all the wonderful properties I love about oils without any of the negatives of messy cleanups and fumes.

    Walnut Alkyd

    The water soluble oil paints still dry very slowing, but there is a water mixable oil fast drying medium that you can add to them if you need to.

    My preference is walnut alkyd.

    It is walnut oil with a fast drying additive in it. It does bother my breathing if I work with it too many days inside. I try to use it outside as much as possible and allow it to dry in a room where I do not go into very often.

    You will have to see how you respond to it, yourself.

    The following is a painting where I used M. Graham's walnut alkyd. It enabled me to do multiple glazes over different areas of the painting in a relatively short time.

    Normally the paints were touch dry within 24 hours so the next glaze level could be added. Without the alkyd, glazes would have been about 5 days apart.

    Because I have so many allergies, I found that the alkyd did bother my breathing. To reduce this problems, I was able to do the glazing outside or in a very well ventilated area. I also made sure that the layers dried in a place where I do not stay for any length of time.

    On thing you should be aware of using a fast drying medium is that if the top layer dries faster than the lower layers, there is good potential for cracking. Keep this in mind. It is probably best to only use it on lower layers.

    I made that mistake with the pine trees on the left. The browns of the trunk had alkyd added to them, but I put paint on too thick and then did another layer of alkyd glaze over it to change the color slightly. The resulting cracks developed between 5 and 10 days later.

    To correct it, I put walnut oil on the trunks and let it soak in to soften the pint, and then scrapped as much off as I could and re-did the trunks.

    To see other cactus paintings I have done, click the link and then scroll down to the third line.

    Below, I have included some Recommended Reference Books that I have found helpful in understanding water-soluble oils.

    Reference Books

    The following are several reference books available through Amazon. When I first started, the only one available was by Sean Dye and I found it very comprehensive. "Bold Strokes includes a section on water-soluble oils and talks about some of the different brands.




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