Water Mixable Oils

Yorkshire Artist Jo Sykes

My progression and development in painting changed dramatically when I discovered water mixable oils. Water mixable oils – well that sounds like an oxymoron!

Yorkshire Artist Jo Sykes

Here’s the science bit! Water mixable oil paints have an emulsive additive so that the oil creates small droplets when added to water forming an emulsion. You can mix a little water with the oil paints to paint with but oils dry in a very different way to water based paints and if too much water is used with the water mixable oils there could be issues with the paint not adhering to the surface properly.  I made the mistake of trying to use too much water with the oils at first, in my ignorance, and it really is not that nice to paint with. The beauty of oils is their very nature, using thicker paint application and being able to layer and blend the oils. So now I very rarely use water to thin the oils, instead opting for specially adapted mediums and even then not in any great quantity – mainly just when I want to paint very fine detail or in glazing.

Yorkshire Artist Jo Sykes

The key thing for me with the water mixable oils is the ability to wash brushes and palate with water and not having to use harsh solvents. It took away the fear of using oils and allowed me to experiment and discover their wonderful properties, and in doing so, it completely changed the way I paint.

Yorkshire Artist Jo Sykes

There are several different brands of water mixable oils on the market now, but my personal preference is for Royal Talens Cobra Artist water mixable oil colour. The paint itself is consistently soft and buttery and a joy to work with, the colours are bright and strong and come in a wide range of 70 transparent and opaque colours with a high degree of lightfastness. I find the odour of these paints very low and no problem at all for me, and although I often have skin that is sensitive to various products, again I have experienced no problems with Cobra oils even when using my fingers to paint with. Cobra also produce a range of mediums to work with the oils including a glazing medium and a painting medium.

Yorkshire artist Jo Sykes

Of course using oils, even water mixable ones, still means that a painter has to be aware of the unique nature of the oil paints in the way they work, following the fat over lean principles, considering grounds on the canvas or paper, and being aware of adequate drying times. But a little bit of research and learning is more than compensated for by the wonderful way oil paints layer on the surface and can either be blended to produce soft, graded effects, manipulated to create texture or applied with a palate knife or still brush to produce sharp marks.

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