Oils, Water Mixable Oils, and Alkyds.

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An example of an alkyd and oil painting

Looking to the Future painted in alkyds

"Looking to the Future" painted in fast-drying oils, also known as alkyds. (Thank you to Ursa-Tal on deviantart for letting me use his photo as reference!)

Sad Tears in oils

"Sad Tears," painted in oils.

There's so much to say about oil (and alkyd) paints. I will be updating this page, but also I am planning a series of posts about painting on the portrait-artist.org blog. (Yes, I have a blog!)

Shiva Signature Artist Oil Colors 

Shiva Oil Paints, available at Dick Blick Art Materials. This is a "cheap but good" brand of paints that should be fine for a newbie.

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I love oil paints, and I think that in some circles, they've gotten a bad rap. Newbies hear horror stories about how they're "so expensive" and they are "so toxic" and they take "forever to dry." None of these things are true, really. There are good brands that cost no more than acrylics. With the right additives (mediums) oils can dry within a day. As for toxicity, the pigments are the same used in acrylics (except for lead white, which you don't have to use if you don't want to) and you don't have to use the smelly turpentine solvents if you don't want to (there are good workarounds). In this blog post I talk more about oils as well as debunk some of the myths.

I have tried out a multitude of different oil paint brands. Some seem like a bargain, but when you use them, you realize they're mostly made of oil, or are so full of empty fillers (not enough pigment) so you have to keep painting and painting over a spot to get decent coverage. Sometimes you get what you pay for. These days I recommend middle-of-the-road paints for the newbie, instead of the cheapest of student brands.

There are two classifications of oil paints—student (cheap stuff) and Artist. Even among the Artist brands, some are higher up in quality than others. But most of the time, as long as you get something that is designated as "Artist" brand, you should be okay.

Some of the student-brand paints are not that bad. Others are so awful that you might be left with the impression that oil painting is not for you! Your experience will be so frustrating and harrowing that you'll assume you did something wrong, when it's really the paint. So I advise you to steer clear of the super-cheap stuff. Consult this post from my blog for more tips on getting a "cheap but good" brand of oil paint.

I'm mindful that many artists can't afford high-end materials, especially when they're just getting started. Whether they have the money or not, they are not inclined to invest a lot of cash in a new interest when they aren't sure how well they'll do. So I realize that it's important to use materials that are good enough, but also cheap enough. Another problem (at least this is a major issue for me) is when you get weighed down with the expense of it all. If all you can do is think about how much this paint cost, how much that canvas cost, and when you aren't sure if you're "good enough" to use these materials just yet, you end up being creatively paralyzed. That won't do! So it's better to get decent quality (but still cheap) materials, so you can feel more free and uninhibited when creating. Some suggestions would be: Canvas panels in bulk (some brands are not all that bad!), and synthetic brushes.

It's a fine line you have to walk sometimes—some cheaper brands of paint use "Hues." (These are cheaper replacement color mixtures and not the "real" pigment—think "knock off" and you've got the idea.) Sometimes these "hues" are okay, but sometimes they cause problems. You may end up wasting paint just trying to get a decent color because the "hues" don't perform as expected.

A variation on oils are WMOs, or Water Mixable Oils. I've just started learning more about these. So far I'm not a huge fan. BUT—a lot of artists thrive on them! I do think that WMOs can be a viable alternative to "regular" oils if you follow particular guidelines and are consistent with how you use them. I'll be writing more about them later.

I'm also a huge fan of Alkyds, which are oils with the faster-drying alkyd binder included. Alkyds are reliable, have a strong film (won't crack off or anything) and dry so, so, so much faster! They have a very similar "feel" to regular oils. I love them and find very little difference in performance between them and regular oils. (Though I wouldn't compare any alkyd brand I've used to a high-end oil paint brand like Old Holland or Blockx.) Some artists, however, don't like alkyds at all. (I guess they feel about alkyds the way I feel about WMOs!)

There's a lot more I can say about the materials used for oil painting. This is the tip of the iceberg!

Read my blog post about oil painting, where I delve more into brands, and dispel the myths.

Another blog post (on my painting blog) about saving money with student paint. If you carefully choose which colors to use, it's doable!

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