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Oil or Acrylic Paint? Use Both and Improve Your Painting Quickly

By Malcolm Dewey December 20, 2022 Lifestyle

Over the years, a popular question from new artists was, “Why paint in oils? After all, we perceive oils as more expensive and bad for your health. Plus, the solvents are dangerous. Oil paints are also difficult to use. Paint in acrylics and remove all these worries.”

More Options, More Safety

There was some truth to the health issues, but this is no longer a concern. You can remove all these issues and still use oils. This is due to the new water-based oil paints now available. There are even water based solvents for regular oil paints.

Are Oils More Difficult to Use?

The short answer is no. The slow drying time is an advantage since you can scrape off errors and paint over them. Even rework the next day without losing the flexibility of soft edges. Watercolor on the other hand is fiendishly difficult by comparison. Yet the perception is that watercolors are easier for beginners. Not so.

Are Acrylics the Sensible Compromise?

I started painting in acrylics in graphic design and illustration. The quick drying time and opaque color made this a plus. Acrylics are fantastic for abstracts or other large graphic work too.

I used to worry about a lack of vivid color compared to oils. Acrylics have improved over time so this issue is no longer a problem. But top quality acrylics are not cheap. It seems then that acrylics are the answer. But not so fast.

Are Oil Paintings Preferred by Collectors?

Here is the debate that can lead us in circles. The answer depends on perceptions. For knowledgeable collectors there will not be a difference. But it does seem that oils are still perceived as a better investment. This is a bias built up over time. This bias will erode over time as well.

I do prefer oils for representational painting like landscapes and portraits. For more modern graphic or abstract work, acrylics are my first choice.

The Benefits of Combining Oils and Acrylics 

There is another option where acrylics can be a massive help to new artists who also want to paint in oils. Painting in layers with oils is a scary prospect to new artists. Muddy paint is a frustration. But try using acrylics to begin and develop your painting. Once dry you can go over parts or the entire painting in one layer of oils.

This approach saves time, gives you all the perceived benefits of an oil painting and teaches you new oil painting skills.

Also, this approach leads to a complete oil painting within hours instead of days. Plus using transparent oil color over the acrylic under-painting can result in wonderful paint effects. I also find that the darks in oils are stronger. Darks are important for bold painting.

Your Painting Skills Develop

Your acrylic under-painting can be as detailed as you like. But over time you will find that your acrylic stage becomes more abstract with bigger shapes and less detail. Your oil painting stage becomes more adventurous as your confidence grows. You may even leave acrylics to focus on oils. This is a personal choice and there is no right or wrong option.

See this Method in Action

In the end, your painting is the winner. You have options that are safe and will make your painting experience more fun. If you want to see this method in action, try my free course: From Acrylics to Oil Painting in 5 Easy Steps. It is filled with useful information. You can follow the easy method even if you are a beginner. It’s perfect for the holiday season.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you prefer to use water-based oil paints or acrylics? Or do you perhaps work with them together? Have you taken more of an interest in painting as you have got older? Please join the conversation.

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The Author

Malcolm Dewey is a professional artist and writer. He is passionate about painting in oils and watercolor. Malcolm loves landscape painting. He teaches painting to artists of all levels. Working online on his website and in personal lessons Malcolm helps other artists paint better with structured painting lessons. His Facebook page can be found here.

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