Water-Mixable Oils vs Traditional Oils for Solvent-Free Oil Painting (Video)

Water-Mixable Oils vs Traditional Oils for Solvent-Free Oil Painting (Video)

You like the idea of trying oil paints but the practicalities of cleaning up your brushes with solvents is out of the question.

It could be you paint in a small room without good ventilation or you’ve had to stop using traditional oils due to skin sensitivities or asthma.

So what’s the alternative? Acrylics? Watercolour? or go old school with some Egg tempera?

How about a real oil paint that can be mixed with water or natural drying oils and cleaned with soap and water. Long working time, soft blends, buttery consistency, no solvents and a super easy cleanup.

Mmm, sounds too good to be true, so what’s the catch?…

What are Water-Soluble Oils and how are they Water-Mixable?


Water soluble oils (also known as water-mixable oils or water-miscible oils) are oil paints that can be diluted and cleaned with water, rather than solvents. They contain dry pigments (colour) an oil binder (usually Modified Linseed or Modified Safflower Oil) and an additive used in the manufacturing process that acts as an emulsifier.

The additive helps form a stable blend of tiny oil droplets within the water. In essence, it’s a bit like traditional Egg tempera, which is also made by mixing a binder and water with dry pigment to make a paint. It consists of dry pigments, egg yolk and water. The egg yolk acts as an emulsifier to create the vehicle binder for the paint.

Are Water-Mixable Oils real Oils?

Yes they are, water-mixable oils are real oils, they are water mixable, not water based.

They can be mixed and applied using the same techniques as traditional oils but whilst wet they can be removed from brushes and palettes with soap and water and I’ve found Masters Brush Cleaner works a treat!

How do they Dry?

When water is used to dilute the paint it dries in two stages. The first stage is evaporation of the water, it will then start the second stage, a further curing process, drying by oxidation, which is exposure the air, just exactly the same as conventional oils.

If used straight from the tube or mixed with natural drying oils, water-mixable oils dry through oxidation.

Water-mixable oil paintings cannot be reactivated with water when dry.

How long do they take to Dry?

When diluted thinly with water they can dry within 5 – 10 minutes, when used straight from the tube or mixed with drying oils, they can dry within 1 – 3 days, depending on how thick you paint, the water-mixable oils retain their elasticity and workability for up to 48 hours.

Also, the more drying oil medium you add into the paints, the longer they take to dry. Many whites use Safflower oil rather than Linseed oil as a binder because it is a paler oil, but this takes even longer to dry.

How do you prepare a surface when using Water-Mixable Oils?

If you intend to use very watery washes at the underpainting stage, then Acrylic Gesso should be used as the starting ground to ensure proper adhesion and absorption. You can also use canvases labelled as ‘universally primed’ (suitable for oil and acrylic). 

It is possible to paint on canvases that have been prepared in the traditional way using an oil-based primer if you use the paint neat or mix it with a drying oil medium.

What are the handling properties when mixed with Water?

Thin Washes

Good when diluted with water to a thin consistency, water-mixable oils tend to feel and behave more like watercolour than oil paint thinned with turpentine.

The watery layers are best used when ‘working-in’ an underpainting stage onto an absorbent ground, so the paint ‘grabs on’. The more water you use the quicker the paint dries and it dries very matte.

Because of the inclusion of water, you’ll find the pigments tend to temporarily lighten in colour and then dry matte as the water evaporates. The principle is similar to when you cut through traditional oil paint with turpentine for the first few stages of a painting which also creates a matte surface. Remember, it’s the oil within the oil paint that creates the glossy sheen so the more you dilute it, whether it be with turps or water, in this case, the less glossy it will become.

This is easily remedied by applying a final varnish, once touch dry, they are just like any other oil painting and take about 6 months to cure before you varnish with traditional varnishes (With Gamvar from Gamblin, you can varnish when the oil paint is touch dry).

Problems with the thin layers

When you’re painting an in-direct method (multiple layers) the first block-in helps you to establish your tonal range and get an idea of your colours within the scene.

When you’re only thinning the water-mixable oils with water to a thin layer, it’s harder to get a solid tone established in comparison to if you were to do the same thing with artist quality acrylics or traditional oils.
The paints behave more like a student grade acrylic in their coverage and they are not as opaque at this stage.

Pro tip: If you also use acrylics you can block in the first layers with watered down acrylics to establish your tonal range and then switch to the water-mixable oils to work on top.

A few drops of Water for a thicker layer with Water-Mixable Oils

You’ll find if you want to paint thicker than a wash and thin the paint with just a few drops of water, the mix becomes a little bit stickier to work with and I’ve found it’s harder to get a nice flow.

This is when I introduced a medium or drying oil to dilute the paint and extend the drying time.

A whole range of water-mixable mediums are available to achieve a good flow and desired consistency.

So if you think of the paints as water cleanable, solvent free, rather than a paint you only use water with you’ll achieve much better results.

A Painting of Two Halves

In the video below, I show the different handling properties between water-mixable oil and traditional oil and demonstrate techniques using water and mediums. I’ve approached it in the same way I would build up a painting with traditional oils or acrylics to see how they compare to my current work flow.

I start with a very watery wash to see how far I can push it, then use the paint neat, straight from the tube with no dilution at all and then make a jump to using a medium to get past the stickiness.

Some artists mix water and a water-mixable medium together to dilute their paints but I found this mix to be cloudy and it didn’t give me the feel under the paintbrush I was after.

I demonstrate with Duo Aqua water-mixable oils from Holbein.

  • Holbein Duo Aqua Permanent White
  • Holbein Duo Aqua Yellow Ochre
  • Holbein Duo Aqua Burnt Sienna
  • Holbein Duo Aqua Ultramarine Light

Traditional Oils

  • Winsor & Newton Titanium White
  • Winsor & Newton Yellow Ochre
  • Winsor & Newton Burnt Sienna
  • Sennelier Ultramarine Blue Deep

Video Comparison Review: Water-Mixable vs Traditional Oils

What Mediums can be used with Water-Mixable Oils?

Confusingly, artist’s use the word ‘medium’ to describe different paint types, such as an acrylic, watercolour or oils.

However, in this context, the word ‘medium‘ is used to describe substances that add flow and transparency and change the consistency of paint. The other benefit of using a medium is that the paint mix stays wetter on your palette for longer.

Mediums for traditional oil paints are usually a mix of a thinner (turpentine or odourless mineral spirits) with a drying oil (linseed or walnut oil).

When working in layers, the traditional rule of “fat over lean,” or “flexible over less flexible” apply, so you would progressively add more oil or ‘fat’ but the underlying layers must dry first. For the later stages of the painting, thicker oil (stand oil) or resins (dammar) can be mixed in to create a more enamel like finish.

Water-Mixable Linseed Oil


The same principles apply to water-mixable oil paint, your leaner layers would be mixed with water and then your fatter layers on top would be mixed with a medium.

Holbein produce a special range of mediums that are designed to work with their DUO range and you’ll find all manufacturers of water-mixable oils do too:

Walnut Oil Based Medium

Water-Mixable Oils vs Traditional Oils for Solvent-Free Oil Painting (Video)

M Graham & Co – Walnut Alkyd Medium

I prefer to use a walnut oil based medium because I can dilute the paint with it, a little goes a long way and I already use it in my studio practice.

Because you need such a tiny amount, I can still wash out my brushes with soap and water without using any solvents.

Walnut oil has been used in paintings for centuries, many Renaissance paintings use Walnut oil as their medium. It’s harder to determine if a turpentine was used initially due to the turpentine evaporating from the picture surface.

You can also use walnut oil to clean your brushes and then an oil soap cleaner (Murphys Soap cleaner gets good reviews)

Water-Mixable Oils vs Traditional Oils for Solvent-Free Oil Painting (Video)

It’s paler than linseed oil and less likely to yellow, doesn’t quite have the same viscosity so can feel a little slippy under the brush but is slower drying. This M Graham Walnut Alkyd Medium makes the water-soluble oils flow more easily with only a tiny drop and the alkyd addition counteracts the slow drying nature of the walnut oil.

With traditional oil paint I find the walnut alkyd medium can be a little too glossy, but as the water-mixable oil leans towards the matte side, they balance each other out nicely.

Pro tip: An Alkyd is a resin that can be mixed with oil to speed up the drying process (often by 50%). This is why Alkyd oil paints are often known as ‘quick drying oils’ because they dry with 24 hrs.

What is the Paint Consistency and Opacity straight from the Tube?

Water-Mixable Oils vs Traditional Oils for Solvent-Free Oil Painting (Video)

Pretty good, they’ve got a nice flow from the tube but Holbein Duo Aqua isn’t as buttery, thick or opaque as some artist quality oils, for example, if you’d been working with Old Holland you’d notice a big difference, the consistency is similar to a student grade oil.

Can you mix them with Acrylics?

Yes, Duo Aqua is the only brand I’m aware of which says it can be mixed with acrylics, watercolour and gouache as well as with traditional oil paint.

Can you mix them with Traditional Oil Paints?

Yes, amazingly with every brand of water-mixable oil paints you can even add a small amount of up to 20%-30% of traditional oils paints in with your mix and they still remain water soluble.

Can you mix them with Thinners?

Winsor & Newton make a water-mixable oil thinner – Artisan Water Mixable Thinner, that can be cleaned with water. It will give you more working time than if you dilute only with water. Here is the description from Winsor & Newton:

This thinner (Artisan Water Mixable Thinner) has been specially developed to maintain the oily feel & keeps Artisan colour open longer than water. Although water is suitable as a diluent for the colour, its speedy evaporation can make the colour thicken upon the palette much quicker than conventional oil colour would when used with turpentine. As Artisan thinner does not form an emulsion with the colour, there is less colour change than there would be with water.

Are Traditional Oil Paints Toxic?

Water-Mixable Oils vs Traditional Oils for Solvent-Free Oil Painting (Video)

There isn’t anything inherently toxic about a tube of oil paint. It is just dry pigment suspended in a binder, usually a drying oil such as Linseed oil (from flax seeds) Safflower oil (from Safflower) or Walnut oil (from erm..Walnuts)

It’s the thinner or solvent, usually Turpentine, that you mix in with conventional oil paint that can cause issues.

Now there are certain pigments such as Cadmium, Lead and paints containing heavy metals that are hazardous but these are always labelled as such on the tubes and they’re at their most risky when in a dry powder form. (These are labelled as Elite colours in the Duo Aqua Range)

It’s also worth noting that the modern manufacturing process mill Cadmium pigments to a larger size than cannot be absorbed into the skin.

What are the most Toxic Solvents used with Traditional Oils?


The strongest smelling, most toxic thinner used in the traditional oil painting process is distilled turpentine.

Distilled Turpentine

Often called ‘turps’, is considered toxic because some of the species of pine trees from which it’s distilled, can produce a solvent that causes skin irritation and allergic reactions in some people.

By adding turpentine to oil paint, you cut through to create a ‘lean’ paint. This dilutes the paint and dries quickly evaporating into the air, so isn’t recommended if you’re working in a small space without any ventilation.

White Spirit 

White spirit is a petroleum distillate and often used for cleaning artists’ brushes rather than diluting the paint as it evaporates quicker than turpentine.

Because it has high levels of “aromatic hydrocarbons” present….it’s got a harsh aroma but is a strong solvent good for cleaning dried on paint.

Mineral Spirits/ Odourless Mineral Spirits


There are more modern solvents like OMS (Odourless Mineral Spirit) that also cut through oil paint to make it leaner, they not as strong smelling as turpentine but should still be regarded as solvents.

Sansodor (Winsor & Newton) and Gamsol (Gamblin) are two common lower odour mineral spirits.

Here is a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for Gamsol which shows that it has an Exposure Limit Value higher than most solvents available to artists, which means you can be exposed to it longer. However, it’s still not recommended to keep unlidded pots of the solvent in confined studio spaces and it’s not advisable to eat and drink in the same area when painting with mineral spirits.

It has a very low ‘aromatic hydrocarbon‘ content.

“Gamsol is a petroleum distillate but all the aromatic solvents have been refined out of it, less than .005% remains. Aromatic solvents are the most harmful types of petroleum solvents.

Gamblin Artist Colours

When solvents dry, they release Volatile Organic Compounds (or VOCs) into the air, the lower, the better.

  • Gum Turpentine –  VOC 865 g/litre
  • White Spirit – VOC 795 g/litre
  • Odourless Mineral Spirit – VOC 767 g/litre
  • Acrylic Gesso can also release VOCs but are much lower, for example, Liquitex Acrylic Gesso has a VOC of 49.3 grams per litre

Can I really just clean up with Soap and Water?

Yes, Masters Brush Cleaner (also make a nice hand soap) Fairy Liquid (I personally love Platinum) or more commonly available in the USA – Murphys Oil Soap (can also be found on Amazon)

What are the best Water-Mixable Oil Paint Brands?

How do they compare to Alkyd Oils?

  • Alkyd paint dries much faster than water mixable oil colours, touch dry and able to repaint over in 24 hrs.
  • Solvents are necessary to thin and clean Alkyd paint
  • I’ve found Alkyd oils tend to have a thicker consistency and better opacity
  • Alkyd paints dry at the same speed
  • Some Alkyd mediums contain 2-Butanone Oxime, which is used as an anti-skinning agent in the formulation of the mediums and can cause irritation.

How do they compare to Traditional Oils?


Pretty well.

Drying times for the water-mixable oils are a couple of days quicker than traditional oils but much longer than Alykd quick drying oils and the main huge benefit is the ability to work without any harmful solvents whilst still experiencing the longer working time available with oils.

Water-mixable oils don’t have the same ‘spread’ as traditional oils and Holbein Duo Aqua isn’t as buttery, thick or opaque as some artist quality oils. With traditional oils, a little goes a long way and a small amount of paint can cover a larger surface area without having to add any medium.

I found the biggest handling difference with the paints are the flow and opacity and it was all about finding the right medium to mix in with them to suit my style of painting.

Although water is okay to dilute the paint, it’s best used for an underpainting that you want to dry quickly and for cleaning your brushes in-between mixes.

You can get a water-mixable thinner (you can see a comparison video here) which will give you more similar handling properties to turpentine if you wanted longer working times in thinner layers or you could use a Quick-Drying medium for the first stages instead of water.

To make the paints behave as similar as possible to traditional oils, you’ve really got to use a combination of mediums which gives you a more viscous mix so you can work and adapt techniques even closer to traditional methods.

Finally, there can be a disparity in the drying times between layers if you paint the first with water and the second with thicker paint, it’s difficult to achieve a smooth smokiness you’d get between 2 creamy texture paints.

You can, of course, remedy this by painting a thicker background with less water dilution to start with, but if you’re adding water to blend, it will cut through the paint layer and can sometimes pull it off the canvas.

So water-mixable oils give you the opportunity to paint with an oil paint but with the ability to wash up with soap and water and work in a non-toxic painting environment.

If you think of them as ‘water-cleanable’ oils and use water-mixable thinner and a water-mixable oil medium you will get the best paint flow and handling results.

The best way to give them a go is to grab a starter set and give them a tryout!

You Might Also Like:

  1. 5 Key Differences between Acrylics & Oils
  2. How to Paint a Simple Still Life Oil Demonstration 
  3. Oil Painting Glossary for Beginners

This Post Has 131 Comments

  1. Thanks for the info will give a try

    1. Cheers Nuala, hope you enjoy experimenting with them.

  2. Thank you for your in-depth investigation and comments on these paints. I have only ever used water based oils so I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference (I have an severe intolerance to turpentine and other similar solvents). I was stuck with watercolour and acrylic for years before these were devised and I absolutely love them. Also, cleaning up is fabulously easy :)

    1. My pleasure Jennie, pleased you’ve been enjoying working with them in your portraits.

  3. Will,

    Very wonderful write up on the topic. I’ve learned a lot from your site, and while I’m not experimenting with oils (let alone water soluble oils), my acrylics are being more intense and beautiful. With time and practice, I’ll get there.

    Keep up the good work, we all appreciate it.


    1. That’s very kind of you to say John, pleased your acrylics are coming on well.

  4. Hi Will,
    Very interesting post indeed.
    Could you mention something about prices of the water-mixable oils? Are they easily obtainable?

    1. Hi Mario, the Duo-Aqua tend to be more expensive in the UK, here’s a rough guide based on a few brands with Titanium White:

      Water-mixable Oil

      Holbein Duo Aqua – 50ml Titanium White – £10.70 (0.21p ml)
      Daniel Smith – 37ml Titanium white – £8.90 (0.24p ml)
      Cobra Water-mixable Oils – 40ml Titanium White – £4 (0.10p ml)
      Winsor & Newton Artisan – 37ml Titanium White – £4 (0.11p ml)
      Jackson’s Art – 56ml – Titanium White – £3.40 (0.06p ml)

      Traditional Oil

      Old Holland – 40ml – Titanium White – £6.90 (0.17p ml)
      Michael Harding 40ml – Titanium White – £5.90 (0.14p ml)
      Winsor Newton – 37ml – Titanium White – £5.80 (0.16p ml)

      Hope this helps,


  5. Hiya Will, thanks for the informative article. I haven’t painted in ages (I like acrylics) but am now very inspired to try oil painting. The water mixable alternative might be a good intro to oils for me. I see a lot of email questions in your future!


    1. Ha, ha, pleased you found it helpful Maria.

  6. Having spent a number of years painting with powdered lead-based paint on porcelain,
    I purchased Holbein paints and switched to canvas painting…a safer product in many respects. They work just as you’ve described. As time went by, I purchased oil paints and you can mix the two but you do need to treat as oils using Gamsol and I love Daniel Smith Oil Painting Medium in the tube. It stands up on your palette rather than runs like Liquin.
    Holbein dries faster than oils but slower than acrylics and doesn’t emit any odor when drying. I love Gamvar Varnish…self leveling and beautiful results. Not too shiny and not too dull.
    Thank you, Will, for your careful attention to detail.

    1. Hey Kare, thanks for the info on the Daniel Smith Medium, good to know. Yes, Gamvar is a real revelation isn’t it for being able to varnish oils when touch dry. Pleased you enjoyed it.

  7. What a great write-up! This “If you also use acrylics you can block in the first layers with watered down acrylics to establish your tonal range and then switch to the water-mixable oils to work on top.” is so useful to me. Thank you!

    1. Hi Celina, yes this method can be very effective (it works with alkyd and traditional oils as well) as long as the acrylics are diluted slightly with water so the layer of oil can create a good bond.

  8. EXCELLENT… GREAT NEWS..can you suggest a short list of products to use as a beginning test of these water-mixable oils.

    1. Hi Anndell, the paints I use are listed above the video and the brushes and canvas board I demonstrate with are also mentioned in the video.

      A quick list would be:

      Canvas or Canvas Board
      Acrylic Gesso (Golden Brand)
      Water-mixable oil starter set
      Synthetic Brush (a round and filbert)
      Either a water-mixable linseed oil or I demonstrate with a Walnut Alkyd Medium.
      Paper towel


  9. hi Will,
    thanks for the very nice written and video paint comparisons. I also switched to water soluble paints because I was worried about solvents but I didn’t like their feel (sticky) or their coverage, except for Duo- which is pricey. When I learned that I can easily clean regular oil paint from my brushes with rag and a jar of safflower oil I switched back. I can underpaint with acrylics or casein or just with oil paint if I add a touch of medium to the next layer. I think artists can easily use regular oil paints totally solvent free if they want to.

    1. Hi Jeff, nice to hear from you, pleased you enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing your techniques and glad you’ve found a method that suits your painting style, yes traditional oil can be easily adapted, the acrylic underpainting can work a treat.

  10. Thank you so much for the emails I do love receiving them and appreciate all the information they contain, everything I do at the moment is a learning curve as I only started painting last year and as a very mature student with no art school training I find my progress very slow. I purchased your portrait course and as yet have to have a go, but I will and will let you know how I get on, once again, thank you very much Will
    Kind regards

    1. Hi Sue, lovely to hear from you, often it’s a case of starting a painting that can be the hardest stage, once the first ground is on and then a little drawing the enthusiasm to progress through the harder stages comes, but yes, it can definitely seem like a lot of information to take in. Hope you enjoy the portrait course.


  11. Thank you for answering so many questions I had about water mixable oils in a very easy to understand format of demo and writing! All painting mediums are fairly new to me and I have only tried pastels and acrylics so far but have been wondering about oils. It was the smell and toxins that I was concerned about and hadn’t even given a thought yet to how they would differ in application to the canvas. So, thanks for anticipating and answering even more questions that would eventually occur to me.

    1. My pleasure Frieda, really pleased it helped to answer some of your questions about trying oils, hope you enjoy experimenting!


  12. Hi Will

    Thanks for this write up!
    It’s a real good read . . . .


    John – Carlisle UK

    1. Cheers John, pleased you enjoyed it.


    1. Ha, ha, thanks Cheryl, so pleased you learnt about some new painting mediums.

  14. Very informative, thanks for your hard work! Lately, I have tried Lavender spike oil, a solvent said to be a low-toxic substitute for turpentine(https://www.naturalpigments.com/spike-oil.html). The outcome for me is that in a small, closed room, it seems to be not better than OMS. So the water-mixable oil is worthy to consider.

    1. Hi Ping, I find Lavender spike oil can have a very strong smell when working in a small space, it really cuts through paint and can sometimes even go through an upper layer of paint to the one below. If using it you only need a really tiny amount on your brush.

  15. Hi Will, thanks for your clear demo. So well organized in the vertical. I’m interested to know what to use to do the original drawing onto the canvas. Many thanks, Syl

    1. Hi Syl, pleased you enjoyed it, I used an acrylic marker, Liquitex makes a good range.

  16. Hi Will
    Your output, both in quality and quantity, amazes me. Thank you.
    This question may be a bit off-topic:
    House paints are engineered to resist wind, sun, salt, heat, cold … Surely they are now good enough for use by artists (unlike Pollock’s paint which is now falling apart).
    In particular, I have just ‘inherited’ several large acrylic paintings, rejects which were destined for the bin. On Belgian linen, clearly expensive. I would like to repaint them. I’m happy to incorporate the existing textures but would like to cover them in white. Money being the root of all evil, I would like to save by overpainting with an acrylic house paint (quality brand, probably a paint designed to be a primer/undercoat).
    Is this a good idea?
    Thanks again for all your hard work.

    1. Hi Alan, mmm, it’s a tricky one because in theory, yes acrylic house paint could be used as an undercoat and I know of many framers who use an acrylic based paint to create a traditional gesso effect on wooden frames, the only thing is the archival quality and yellowing of the paint that can happen over many years as they aren’t designed to last for longer periods of time. You might find this article of interest, it’s got some info from Mark Golden, founder of Golden Paints: Is it Okay to use house paint for Art?
      Hope this helps,


  17. Hi, Will,
    I have used the Artisan Windsor & Newton paints for 10 years now and like them. I have not tried the Duo Aqua. Do you prefer one over the other, or how do they differ?
    thanks, L.

    1. Hi Lydia, I find the Duo-Aqua tend to be a little thicker and better tinting strength and they have a wider colour range, but are more expensive than the Artisan range.

  18. Thanks Will for another informative posting. Can you find the same range of colors with water-mixable oils as with oil and acrylics? I paint with a limited pallette but sometimes reach for a tube of teal or Chrome green.



    1. Hi Dave, yes different brands have different ranges, I think Artisan have about 40 colours, Holbein has about 90 colours.

  19. Great info and demo Will. Thanks for taking the time to demonstrate the differences! It’s good to know that if I develop and allergy there’s an alternate choice now. I did have problems with using the strong smelling turpentine, but have since changed to the low odour turpentine which solved that problem.

    1. My pleasure Janet, pleased you’ve been enjoying working with the OMS.

  20. As ever, nice work Will. Great to see your info on oils in recent times. Acrylics are brilliant but there’s still something magical about oils and your calm, highly informative and enjoyable videos are in a class of their own.

    1. That’s very kind of you to say so Gary, really pleased you found it helpful.

  21. Hi Will,

    Thanks, the article is so informative.

    I use Gamvar varnish and am always keen to do so, watching the colour fade/dry from a painting is so disheartening. I never realised I could apply Gamvar when touch dry, I’ve been waiting months before applying! Brilliant… that’s my weekend sorted! :)

    Keep up the good work


    1. That’s brilliant news Darren! happy varnishing!

  22. Hello!
    This is just the video that we need! During a Yes-R I use watermixable paint and my busbanen acryl. We try to convince eachother and have lots of reasons bit iT is hard. Now you have put the hamer om the nail….
    Thank you Will , we love you.
    Frances and Karel

    1. Sounds like perfect timing Frances, pleased you both enjoyed it.

  23. Thank you so much for this great demonstration. Someone gave me a set of “water mixable oil colors” a while back and I have been sort of terrified to try them. Now I can’t wait.

    One question: you talk about “smoking” the edges of the image. Perhaps because I’ve mostly watched your demos on acrylics, I haven’t come across this term before and don’t understand the purpose. Can you explain further?

    1. Hi Beverly, smoking the edge is another way of saying blending the edge, it comes from the Italian word ‘sfumato, translated into English means soft, vague or blurred.
      Hope this helps,


  24. Great issue, Will!
    Have you ever tried the Medium W by Schmincke to make your traditional oil paint water mixable or has anyone any experiences using this particular medium?
    Thanks Will
    Cheers Stef

    1. Hi Stef, hope you’re well, I’ve read about the ‘Medium W’ in the past but completely forgot about it for the article, I haven’t personally used it but would also be interested to see how it works with traditional oils. You might find this article on Jackson’s Art Blog of interest where they review the Medium W

  25. Will, I am most grateful for the generous sharing of your extensive knowledge of painting. I have wondered about the water soluble oils, but needed your explanation and demonstration in order to give them a try. These will give me a better option for painting when we visit the beach. Thank you.

    1. That’s great to hear Austine, so pleased they will help with your paintings at the beach.

  26. Thanks for your very informative article Will. I am reluctant to return to oils now that I have got so used to acrylics, and enjoy using them. Having read all the information and watched the video, I may add a starter set of water based oils to my Christmas wish list!
    All the best, Peter B.

    1. Hi Peter, my pleasure, glad you’ve been enjoying the acrylics and hope it’s helped to give an overview to the water-mixable oils.

  27. Thank you Will for sharing. I have only worked with watercolor and acrylics. I think I will soon try the water-mixable oils, thanks to your very helpful information..

  28. Great side by side demonstration, love the comparison especially of the blending/mixing/smoking differences.

    As always, brilliant video.


    1. Thanks Connie, hope you’re keeping well, really pleased it helped.

  29. Hi Will, Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate this very comprehensive
    Video .I started using the water based oils a few months ago and you answered many of the struggles that I have noticed ! I haven’ found much info on this subject, so was really delighted to find your Video !
    By the way, I have painted and taught in water colors and pastels for years , just wanted to learn something new … But intended it to be a love- affair, not a struggle.
    Thanks again !

    1. So pleased it helped Dana, that’s great to hear and hope your new experiments with the paints will go really well.

  30. Thank you so much for the information… as usual it is very helpful . I wanted to try those but did not know what to expect or how to use them… i will try them.. thanks again Will

    1. Good one Nicolle, really pleased you found it helpful.

  31. Hi Will,
    since artist’s grade oil paint is characterized by consisting more pigments and less fillers, how would you judge the water mixable oil paint from that particular pointof view. I know that talens offers two, an artist grade and a student grade version of their cobra oil paint. But I am not sure whether espacially the cadmiums have the same pigment load and color intensity like traditional oil paint. Water mixable oil paints are in common cheaper than traditionals with the exeption of the Holbein Duo Aqua. Thus, if you would chose a water mixable brand on your own, what brand will you get?
    Cheers Stef

    1. Hi Stef, coverage-wise about the same as student grade oils, Holbein a little better, I like the Holbein Duo Aqua and Daniel Smith.

      1. Thx , Will

  32. Hi Will
    Thanks for the info, very helpful. I have been painting with WSO (Cobra & Holbein) for a while, and while they are very good I do miss the regular oils (a bit richer colour and more “spreadable” I think) and am switching back to them. I have quite a lot of water soluble linseed oil and am wondering if it is ok to use it to mix with my regular oils and also use it to store my brushes in an oil bath. Thanks again for the generous information.
    Kind regards

    1. Hi Peter, mmm, good question, if switching back to traditional oils I’d be tempted to use standard linseed oil as when you’re using solvents again the water soluble linseed oil might change the handling properties if you’re using a lot in the mix.

  33. Makes sense, thanks Will.

  34. Great review Will, as usual. I think is important though to consider water soluble oil “water cleanable” and not “water mixable”. If you use water only for the clean up and specific w. mix. mediums and thinners for painting you’ll have much better results. Also the notion that w.m. oils can be mixed with acrylic and watercolors is dodgy to say the least, and I’d consider it only an advertising stunt.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Lorenzo, pleased you enjoyed it, yes exactly, water cleanable is definitely the way go with them.

  35. Great stuff. Thank you for sharing. Beautifully produced and edited your video.
    At the end I don’t see a great difference between the two paints except if you mix the water mixable oil with water. Having said that do you find that the blending of the two paints when diluted with Walnut Alkyd medium you can achieve the same results?

    1. Hi Franciso, pleased you enjoyed the article. I find that traditional oils have a greater spread and blend-ability when working in thinner layers, even with the walnut alkyd medium.

  36. Hi Will,
    Thanks for your article on water mixable oils using walnut/ alkyd oil as
    a medium.
    Can I ask if paint mixes will last long on the palette as for portrait work,
    or will mixes on the palette dry out quickly .

    thanks again for your articles they are so help full . cheers Alex]

    1. Hi Alex, really pleased you found it helpful, both the water-mixable and standard oils dry by oxidation and they will both stay wet for long enough for detailed portrait work. The larger amount of paint you squeeze out the longer the paint will stay wet.

  37. Hello Will – thank you so much for this – very helpful as usual. I have started experimenting with my new W&N water mixable oils (have never used oils before) and I’m confused about when I am supposed to thin the paint (I am using their recommended thinner instead of water), when to use it straight from the tube and when to use it along with the linseed oil. I’m also wondering what type of painting would require certain layers to dry before moving on to the next step – is it only when you cannot finish something in one go? I would imagine there are circumstances that require under layers to dry but I have no idea what those might be. Can you provide guidance?
    Thanks very much.

    p.s. I am so looking forward to working on your flower painting tutorial. It looks splendid!

    1. Hi Helle, the type of paintings that requires multiple layers are called in-direct painting and many renaissance paintings were created in this way. Most of the teaching on this site focuses on the in-direct style of painting. Painting in one sitting is known as ‘alla-prima’ where you can just use one medium with the paint. Really hope you enjoy the flower tutorial, the courses goes through the steps on building up an in-direct painting.

  38. Looking forward to trying some of these ideas!

  39. Hi, I just came across your informative website. I am mixing egg tempera with the Holbein h2O oils. I like the ease of the wet “oil” pigment on the palette and not dealing with water based media (which dry much to quickly– I paint in the landscape often) or powdered pigments. I dip my brush into the egg and mix with the h2O oils on the palette.I paint on a very thin chalk ground on linen, using many layers of paint. The problem is that the paint never seems to fully dry. Even after several months it comes off easily with the old finger nail test. Any idea’s about what’s going wrong here?
    Many thanks,

    1. Hi John, does your egg tempera dry to a tough film just when using dry pigments?

      1. Well not tough, but it does dry harder than the layers of H2O oils plus egg T. I also mix water in with it. John

        1. And how hard is it when you test the water-mixable oil on its own? Even with traditional oils, if the paint is quite thick (about 5mm) I can still push and squash the paint and make an indent with a fingernail after a few moths of the paint curing.

          1. I apply it in very thin layers, so there is no thickness to speak of. Never painted in pure H2O oils only so can’t answer your question.

          2. Hi John, I’d set up a mini-test, paint a small swatch of just water-mixable oil, two-thirds water-mixable oil and egg tempera and half water-mixable oil and egg tempera, then check every couple of days to see how they are drying.
            Hope this helps,

          3. Thanks for your thoughts, Will. I will do the test as you suggest.
            All the best,

  40. Wow! That was more info on water-mixable vs regular oils than I’ve gleaned from years of inquiries elsewhere! Thanks so much! At one local art store (in the US), I asked about the ‘cons’ of water-mixable oils (we all know the ‘pros’!), and the store owner seemed to think one of the problems was the color selection was smaller (i.e. less options). Have you found this to be true? Is there one brand that has the largest selection of pigments/colors? Thanks. I can’t wait to check out more of your site. Nancy.

    1. Hi Nancy, pleased you enjoyed the article. Holbein paints have a good colours range as do cobra.


  41. Hello Will,

    Thank you so much for this information and all the other wonderful instruction and advice you give. I am fairly new to painting, and have never painted in oil. I am in the process of switching from Golden Open Acrylics because I paint very slowly and it is too hard for me to control. (It either dries too fast to blend or gets too watery when I add medium.) I just purchased some tubes of Holbein Duo Aqua Oils and a small bottle of the Duo Aqua Linseed Oil. Should I mix anything into the Linseed Oil before I add it to the paint? Also, could you please explain the best way to create a glaze with these products?

    1. Hi Julie, you can just use a little of the Duo Aqua Linseed Oil in with the oils to dilute the paints but if you tend to work thinly you can use a water-mixable thinner from Winsor & Newton. Here’s the description from W & N:

      This thinner (Artisan Water Mixable Thinner) has been specially developed to maintain the oily feel & keeps Artisan colour open longer than water. Although water is suitable as a diluent for the colour, its speedy evaporation can make the colour thicken upon the palette much quicker than conventional oil colour would when used with turpentine. As Artisan thinner does not form an emulsion with the colour, there is less colour change than there would be with water.

      Cobra paints make a water-mixable glazing medium

      This is from Cobra paints:

      “The first layer must be applied lean. For this, the paint is thinned with water (or the W & N thinner). During the drying of this layer no compact film of paint is formed, but rather a porous one. Oil from the following layer will, therefore, be absorbed by the underlying lean layer and so when drying will adhere to the numerous pores.

      This helps to create good adhesion between these two layers. As an underlying (lean) layer abstracts oil from the top layer, it has to be ensured during painting that the underlying layer has relatively more oil. If this is not the case this will affect the quality of the painting.

      As of this point, there are various possibilities for continuing further:

      Thin each subsequent layer with increasingly less water; each subsequent layer, therefore, contains relatively more oil. You can eventually end up with pure paint.

      Thin the paint for the following layer with painting medium.”

      Hope this helps,


      1. Will, thank you for checking into this for me and, again, for all your terrific help!

  42. Hello Will,
    I recently signed up for your “How to Glaze an Oil Portrait” class. This is a big leap for me as I haven’t painted in years! In the past I used water-mixable oil paints, and was really hoping to be able to use them for this class. So far I have only looked at your ‘materials list’ and watched your introduction, and it’s not looking promising for my WM oils! Any thoughts? Or should I just have another glass of wine and go with the traditional oils? :-))
    I have peeked around your site and watched a few videos, and so far I love your teaching style. So glad I found your site! Nancy.

    1. Hi Nancy, nice to hear from you and glad you’re enjoying the first lessons of the portrait course. The course demonstrates with traditional oils but you’d be able to replace the thinner with a water-mixable thinner (available from Winsor & Newton) and use a water mixable linseed oil. The painting methods will be the same, there just might be some slight variations in drying times.
      Hope this helps,


  43. Hi Will,

    Forgive me for my ignorance, but for clean up, do I still need to put any paint soaked rags/paper towels in a metal trash can or hazardous waste can? And have a tightly-closed jar. Or are they safe enough to just throw away? (With the idea of using water mixable oil paints and safflower/walnut oil).

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Karen, it’s more the oil content of the rags that can produce issues if they are heavily soaked with oil as heat is released during the oxidation process. Any drying oil undergoes an exothermic reaction when exposed to oxygen so storing rags in an airtight metal container is always an extra precaution.

      It’s only dangerous when the oxidation process produces enough heat to reach the ignition point of the rag (The temperature for cotton is 120℃ (250 ℉) and this can happen if there are lots of folds and lots of oil for the temperature to build.

      If you’re using small amounts of oil and the rags are kept loose/flat so the oxidizing oil is dissipated into the air you’ll be fine.

      Hope this helps,


  44. Thank you so much for information very useful!!! I usually paint with aqua olis (WN) and foud it tricky sometimes. I now will try Cobra, Holbein is not avalable in sweden. Yvonne

    1. My pleasure Yvonne, really glad you found it useful.

  45. I typically paint with acrylics and use gesso if I need to make major corrections. What product should I use to do that with water based oils?

    1. Now that’s a tricky one Kathy! if you’re using watered down water-mixable oil to start with using an acrylic gesso would give you better adhesion, but you would then have to apply an oil-based gesso over the top of the water-mixable oil if you wanted to make any changes and then continue the painting without diluting the paint with water.
      Hope this helps,


  46. Thanks so much for your comprehensive tutorial on water-based oils Will!
    I was disappointed once I moved to the Winsor Newton Artisan series to find that even though they’re water-based they still give off a significant odor of oil paints in my home-based studio. I will be trying the Holbein Duo paints now that you’ve mentioned that they don’t have that unpleasant side effect. Thanks for that tip along with so many others!
    …mary ahern

    1. My pleasure Mary, glad you found it helpful, hope you enjoy experimenting with them.

  47. Hi Will,

    Thank you for this tutorial, this year I decided to try oil painting, and I think water-soluble oils are really promising. Before I start it, I must buy some paint, and I’d like to ask your opinion about mixing Daniel Smith and Holbein. Holbein has all of the colours I like except Phthalo Blue green shade. As I don’t really want to leave it out, I was wondering if the two brands can be mixed together. To tell the truth, I know nothing about oil painting, so maybe it is a stupid question. Theoretically, based on what I have read on your blog, they can, but it is better to be sure. :)

    I can hardly wait to start your lesson. ;)

    1. Hi Dora, yes, you can intermix brands. there might be very slight differences in paint consistency and drying times but I personally intermix brands in nearly all of my paintings, both with acrylic and oils.

      1. Thank you. :)

        1. Hi Will,

          I have tried Holbein duo aqua oils, and I love painting with them. I think my acrylic era has passed, and the new oil era has begun. ;) Thank you for this tutorial, I really enjoyed it.

          I have a question about the walnut alkyd oil. My favourite art shop did not have it in stock, so I used the Holbein quick drying liquid instead. I found the Holbein a little bit tacky, and it dried quite fast (about in 5-10 mins) on my palette as well. It felt like a thick resin. Do you have a similar experience with the walnut alkyd oil?

          I wish you had more land/city/seascape oil painting courses in the future. ;) I hardly have inspiration on portraits, but I love your classes. It is amazingly easy to connect with you through your videos, and you impart a great knowledge in them.

          Best wishes,

          1. Hi Dora, really pleased you’ve been enjoying working with the water mixable oils. The walnut Alykd tends to dry off quite nicely and has a bit longer working time. The standard Holbein linseed oil should give you a better open time with the paints on the canvas.

  48. Hello
    I have used an application of oiling out my oil paintings to help achieve an even varnish when completing. I use 3 parts gamblin alkyd lite and 2 parts gamsol. What can be used to oil out if needed for Duo Oil painting. Perhaps walnut alkyd medium with gamsol? can it be done, is it necessary or is there less sunken in areas that occur with Duo Oils. I have started using Holbein Duo OIls for traveling and have had great results and these are smaller works because of travel. Curious about oiling out process with Duo Oils, if I ever need to do this for an even sheen finish if necessary.

  49. Thank you for your in depth article. My question is how can you make water mixable paint more opaque? I have been having trouble getting the colors to be deep and rich, they seem to just meld into the colors around them. I find the oils to be very transparent. I have been adding white to my colors, but is there another way?

    1. Hi Irene, opacity will depend on the brand and colours you’re using. Most artist paint tubes will label the opacity of the particular pigment on the tube to give you an indication.


    2. Irene, I use Holbein WSO’s and found they don’t mark the tubes with regards to opacity. I took their online brochure which states the properties of the paints and printed out small labels and put them on each tube with O for opacity, S for semi-opaque and T for transparent. It’s helped considerably with my workflow which includes a lot of glazing at the later stages of completion.

      All paints that I’ve ever used have various levels of opacity/transparency. You just have to study and learn their properties. Hope this helps.

  50. Hi Will – Enjoyed all your great knowledge about aqua duo paints. Thanks for sharing! I paint using indirect methods but am finding that after my duo paints dry they are lighter and they dry significantly less smooth than when I have used traditional oils. So instead of smooth it’s rough. I use duo linseed oil and a cobra medium. Any thoughts to what is happening?


    1. Hi Courtney, if there is a higher ratio of water when diluting this will cause more of a colour shift from wet to dry, if you use water just for washing brushes and the mediums for diluting it should help to lessen the colour shift.

      1. Hi Will – Thanks for the feedback! Yes, I only use water for cleaning the brush – I use mediums during the painting process. Any thoughts on the paint looking smooth when wet but drying somewhat rough?

        Thanks for all your ideas!


        1. Hi Courtney, does the effect change in appearance when varnished? or does it stay the same.

  51. Hi Will, I’m a fan of your website and have purchased several of your video courses – they are helping me tremendously. I would like to paint with thick layers of paint, kind of like the Van Gogh style, and am finding that acrylics don’t work that well. Can the thick impasto style be effectively achieved using water miscible oil? How much better is traditional oil than miscible oil for that purpose? Would appreciate your thoughts before I invest in a bunch of new paint.
    Thanks so much for your helpful information. By the way, I love the music that goes along with your painting videos. :-)

    1. Hi Cindy, so pleased that you’ve found the courses helpful in your painting journey. Yes, you can work impasto with the water-mixable oils. Standard oils often have a slightly thicker body to the paint and you can use a gel such as Oleopasto from Winsor and Newton which will retain the body of the oils but improve the drying time (by half). you could also use alykd oils.


  52. hi, i want to try watermixable oils, because i can’t get details in my painting with acrylics, can i find an article where this is explained? that is the only issue i have with paint, to much blobs on my brush, or to thin the paint so you can’t paint proper.

    1. Hi Astrid, it’s just a case of practicing the differences of dilution and consistency with the paint, try just dipping only the tip on the brush into the paint.

  53. Very informative and professional article, even better since there was none of the usual boring blah, blah, blah. Well done! I am inspired to try something new after many years of traditional oil painting. Many thanks for sharing your experiments.

    1. My pleasure Nancy, really glad you enjoyed learning about the water-mixable oils.

  54. Will, I am very appreciative of the depth of information and advice you have provided here. I am new to this medium after many years working with traditional oil paint. As you have noted, experimenting with various brands and mediums has been important as I have certain desired outcomes and these paints are a bit different than traditional oil paints. That being said, the discovery process has been interesting. I have been successfully mixing water soluble and traditional oil paint, too, which is very cool! I do have a question. Is it possible to use water soluble oil paint on top of a completely dry (as in a year or two), lean layer, thinned with turpentine only, of traditional oil paint? Thanks!

    1. Hi Rebecca, pleased you’ve been finding the website helpful if it’s a very lean layer I think you’d be okay as there will still be a canvas surface for the new oil layer to grab on too.

  55. Thank you so much for this very informative article. I am about to start my first water-mixable oil painting and was going to just wing it but now feel more confident. I have not painted with oils for years, instead have done watercolours, but always liked the texture of oils. And cleanup with water is such a bonus. Well, here goes…

    1. Good one Barbara, so pleased you found it helpful. Hope the painting goes well.

  56. Thank you Will,
    I haven’t been painting for years because of my wife’s issues with gum spirits. I was quite dubious of water soluable oils in general but I am going to give these paints a try. Wish me luck!

    1. Really hope you enjoy working with them.

  57. Thank you Will!
    I started to paint three weeks ago using oils but I love the way you teach and I find here a lot of good tips, advices and a lot of inspiration. It has helped me a lot and I love coming here for all you share with us. Thank you! (I am also a photographer.)

    1. So glad you’ve been enjoying the lessons Petr.

  58. Excellent—thanks so much! I was wondering about the comparison between water soluble oils and regular oils and you covered it perfectly. I especially loved your demonstration video!

    1. Good one Lesli, really pleased you enjoyed learning about the water-soluble oils and their pros and cons, just painting with them at the moment!

  59. Maybe you answered this question in one of the comments – Do you notice a change in colour once the water soluble paints have dried on the canvas? I’ve always noticed that acrylics don’t keep there tone, they turn a bit darker once dried.

    1. Hi Bev, it’s not as noticeable due to the slower drying of the oil paint in comparison to acrylics. With the acrylics, they often have a white acrylic binder that then dries clear so the colours shifts darker, however, Winsor and Newton professional acrylics use a clear binder so have much less of a difference from wet to dry:

      “These are our very finest acrylic paints – they’re made with the latest developments in resin technology. Most acrylics darken as they dry, but our clever, translucent binder means that what you see is what you get. With no colour-shift, colour-matching is made much easier.” Winsor & Newton

      Hope this helps,

  60. Always wondered about the differences – this article is SO thorough and helpful! Though I teach and paint watercolor, I had no idea water-sol oils could be successfully diluted with water. You’ve opened up a new world for me and my students. Thanks, Will!

    1. Good one Joan, really hope you and your students enjoy experimenting with them.

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