I got inspired to try water-soluble (aka water-miscible) so researched which brand had artist quality paints made with real, archival pigments that performed most like regular oils. From my reading, Holbein Duo Aqua Oils was the answer.
I bought 3 colors (Cad Yellow, Napthol Red, and Ultramarine Blue) and white and gave them a go with this happy little painting above from a photo and watercolor sketch. I really, REALLY enjoyed working with them.
Indeed they worked exactly like oils, but with no solvents, no odor, and brushes clean up with water! To thin the paint you can use a little water or Duo Linseed Oil. The consistency was nearly perfect but I used a tiny bit of water because I like my paint smooth. Next time I’ll try the oil.
After working with the Golden Open Acrylics for several months I became frustrated with the way they dry darker and how sometimes the paint gets tacky or dry in minutes (outdoors) and other times stays sticky for days.
When I paint, I like trying to match the colors and values I see, so I’m disappointed when I paint with Open Acrylics and the painting dries to look completely different. Supposedly they only shift 10% but I just don’t seem to be able to guess right when mixing (and don’t want to have to guess!)
With the Duo oils I loved being able to mix colors and have them not change, and to not worry about the paint getting sticky during a painting session. I spent about 2 hours on the painting above last night and it’s still wet today. And, because I could clean the brushes with a swish of water while I worked, I only used a few. Clean up was quick and easy, with a little Masters Brush Cleaner for the brushes and a spritz of water and a paper towel across the palette.
Holbein Duo paints are more expensive than the other water-soluble brands because of their higher pigment load and use of more expensive pigments. Their prices are about the same as regular artist-quality oil paint. From my research and my first experiment with them, they’re worth it. I’ve ordered a few more colors and look forward to trying them out for plein air painting too, where I think they should be ideal.
P.S. I know you can use regular oils without any solvents, and that you can clean up regular oils using walnut oil followed by soap and water. But it means painting with thick paint and spending even more time in the clean up process.
13 replies on “Marin Headlands: Water-Soluble Oil Painting Experiment”
lovely softness to the painting
As someone experimenting with oil paint for the first time (I started a few months back but had to abandon them to do some other commission work) I find this fascinating. There’s so much more work in prep/clean up than acrylic, but I love the lusciousness and the fact that the paint DOESN’T DARKEN. Anyway, I am now totally curious about the Holbein paint and wondering if it’s the best compromise between the two. I considrede the Golden Open acrylics but decided to go with oil (Gamblin and M Graham) but am thinking that, in winter months when I can’t open the windows, this might be the ideal compromise. No budget for it just now, though. 😦
Hi Andrea, I’m hoping it is the ideal compromise with the best of both. It’s soooo expensive to keep trying different media and challenging to learn each one’s quirks and figure out the best practices for using them. These just felt natural to use, no learning curve that I could see, beyond what I’ve already learned about oils. More will be revealed I’m sure as I continue working with them. Jana
I’m looking forward to see how you feel about these paints with some more use. I got the open acrylics and have been satisfied with them, but only used them for one painting so far. I have oils, too, that I haven’t used in about a year…..hate the clean up with them, but don’t mind the smell of the mineral spirits (odorless, even though still an odor) much. But to get the oil paint lusciousness and clean it up with water could be a very good thing!! I’m not a plein air painter, but your accounts of it inspire me to try it.
Beautiful painting! Water-soluble oils are so much fun. Interesting to read your comparison with open acrylics. I had debated between the two myself and ultimately went with ws oil. I’ll look forward to seeing more oil paintings from you!
Love the luscious colors, especially in the water, very impressive 🙂 I tried the Winsor Newton Water Misicible oils but they seemed to dry and toothpaste like (of course they have been sitting in my closet for about 5 years so that may have something to do with it ;))
So I tried the regular oils & hate the clean up & prep but love everything else about them 🙂 I found the opens still frustrating as you have to work so quickly before they tack up then I have to wait forever for them to dry fully. I did a great underpainting with them and was really happy with it. Until I tried to glaze of what I thought was dry paint the next day and lifted up several areas, darn 😦
Hi Tracey, Thanks for comments and I completely agree. I tried the Winsor Newtons Artisan Water Miscible oils years ago too and it was a total disaster. The paint was indeed like toothpaste and dried chalky and horrible. These seem to be exactly like regular oils so far. You also exactly nailed the problem with the opens — work quickly before they tack up and wait forever for them to dry fully. Also had the same problem of trying to glaze but lifting the previous layer instead. Although I’m sorry for your troubles, I’m glad to hear it wasn’t just me! Jana
Hi Jana, Cool painting! I like the mood and color of this painting. Interesting reading about the water miscible oil paints. I’m wondering how long it will take for your work to dry. And, how do you store them? I look forward to seeing more!
This is beautiful, Jana – you are turning into such a wonderful colorist. Thanks for the tip about the Holbein paints – I did try some cheaper water miscibles when first starting and didn’t much like them, but it would be great not to have to deal with solvents, etc. I use essence of orange, which sounds nice, but the smell still keeps my family (and cat) from visiting my studio very often. I will definitely switch once I’ve used up all the paints I’ve already bought.
Hi Casey and Jana: Glad you are both into the water soluble oils. I used them a little for my class, but didn’t have but one tube of the Holbein Duo’s. Still prefer my real oils. Just as an FYI, you don’t have to wait to use up your old oils, these can work with your regular oils, but of course, then you lose the clean up advantages. Just thought I’d mention it. Happy Fourth weekend, Jana!
This is beautiful Jana! I really need to try the ones that I bought, over a year ago! If they are really this easy…
Lovely painting. I am considering water-soluble oils and wonder if you know how archival they are. I hesitate to work with paint that may, ten years from now, fall apart. I would appreciate any info.
Hi Barbara, Holbein says they’re archival and have done testing, but you might want to investigate what AMIEN.org has to say. I sold one of my water soluble oil paintings and recommended that it be framed under glass or plexi to protect it, which they did. People had the same concerns about acrylic paints which have turned out to hold up well. I think Holbeins are the closest to real oil paints — well they are real oil paints, just the oil has been modified — and of the highest quality, if you’re trying to decide which ones to try. They’re also more expensive. I hope that helps a bit.