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Oil painting techniques – by Michael A. Wilson

I am often asked why I use oil paints instead of the newer water-based acrylics. Briefly below I will talk about these contrasting mediums. If you are an experienced artist we can share a dialogue and if you are a beginner this article will help you make some important decisions.
Water-based acrylics were developed as a less expensive alternative to oils. They also dry considerably faster. Having paint dry faster is perhaps an advantage in graphic arts and sign painting, but for fine art painting I have never found this to be an advantage.
Acrylics are about 15% cheaper than oil paints. Considering the effort in creating a painting I do not feel this should be an important consideration. Most paint stores have sales so look for those to buy your paints.
Another advantage to painting with acrylics is the inherent odor is considerably more tolerable in small spaces. Oil paints in an apartment can affect someone with sensitive smell. Admittedly this is an important consideration and may sway you to consider using acrylics instead of oil paints.
Personally I find that acrylic pigments are not as refined in hue as oil paints, but the over-riding consideration has to do with technique. When I say technique I am implying also the way oil paints can be ‘worked’ several days after initial application. This is impossible with acrylics which typically dry overnight. There are mediums that can be mixed into acrylics which help but over-all, oil paints are considerably more forgiving with regard to workability.
Why is this important? Painting has all kinds of difficulties such as creating good composition, proper blending of colors, correct brushes to use – so I contend why fight pigments which are drying too quickly? Give yourself time to work the painting. I often will come back to a painting a couple days later to study it. When I do this I may find an area which needs expanding and with oils this is easily remedied because the edge is still wet and can be manipulated. Or if a certain hue is not just right, this too can be altered because the paint has not set up and hardened.
This ability to come back and work into a painting is an important advantage both for the beginner and the advanced artist. For example one of my techniques is to drag pigment across a large, primed board. This is something I have learned from Gerhardt Richter and it creates some beautiful ‘accidents’ of pigment. Coming back, say the next day to review the painting I am able to add effects into the paint which is still wet and fresh. By misting the piece with an oil mister it is possible to keep the surface wet for several days. This process would simply not be possible with acrylics.