Can You Mix Oil and Water?

Not this kind of oil and water!

oil and water

Painting with acrylics requires water. Painting with oil does not. Now, mixed media is a whole other story!


As a professional painter, I have been asked several times why I use oil and not acrylic paint. Acrylics, created in the 1940’s, are faster to paint with since they dry very quickly. In fact, a spray bottle of water is a must if you are painting with acrylics. Depending on the environment, you spray water on the painting and the palette to keep the paint from drying while you are in the process of painting. Acrylics are less expensive to buy and easy to clean up – no ruined clothes!


On the other hand, oil paint used for centuries, has its own advantages and disadvantages. The famous masters of painting had to create their own colors from ground-up stone such as lapis mottled with white calcite and brassy pyrite  to create blue. Their palette was dictated by availability. As a modern painter I am fortunate that I am able to buy pre-made colors in many shades and blend oils on the palette in such a way that I can create the exact shade of color that I want. This gives me much more flexibility and the expanded palette that I desire. Oil takes longer  to dry than acrylic paint, but it gives me the chance to continually “edit” my painting because it takes so much longer to completely dry, and i can touch it up for a long time.

Mixed Media

When i first started painting, I used  acrylics for  the obvious reasons listed above. With acrylics I could produce a painting quickly. Next, I branched out into combining acrylic and oil. This is called mixed media. With mixed media, I would use acrylics for the base and wait a few hours for it to dry. After the painting dried, I would apply oil paint over the acrylic. It is not possible to paint acrylics over oil. After experimenting with the three processes, I settled on oil painting which gives me the opportunity to create the best possible product.

What Other Painters Use

The next time you are in a gallery, take note of what medium is used in the painting. All three are popular. I venture to say that paintings which are very thick are generally mixed media or acrylic. I find it interested to try to figure out what medium the artist used and then guess why they used it.

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