Mini-Tutorial: Experiments in Water Mixable Oils

WORK IN PROGRESS, 6×6″ water-mixable oil on stretched canvas.

Oy. My current schedule has not been conducive to painting and it’s very frustrating. But hopefully it will be back to “normal” (what qualifies as that for me!) soon.

I haven’t been able to spend much time at my studio, so I set up a very humble corner at home where I could paint. But painting with solvents (like paint thinner) was a no-go, so I thought I’d break out some water mixable oils I had, and see what I could do. I’ve done two paintings so far, neither finished, and I post the more “finished” looking of the two. It’s just a simple oil sketch of one of my made-up people (no model or photo reference). It needs more tweaking, which I’ll do as soon as it dries.


Right now the main advantage I see with water-mixables (also known as “WMOs”) is that you can clean up with water and you can just have a pot of water to swish your brushes out as you paint. (This is the main reason I’m using it—I just want a pot of water to potentially spill all over the place, instead of a lot of paint thinner, oil, or other less benign fluid.)

I don’t see why water-mixables are even necessary if being “solvent-free” is the goal. You can go solvent-free by just using oil (like linseed, safflower, walnut) for everything. You can fill your paintbrush washing pot with this same oil and swish your brushes clean in the oil. In fact I had to do that exact thing for a week, attending a workshop—one of the students was allergic to anything other than safflower oil, so we all used safflower oil all week for everything, and it was not a big problem.

I also have gone virtually “solvent-free” by using Turpenoid Natural, a non-toxic solvent alternative which has no bad fumes and works fine for swishing out your brushes. (The manufacturers say you can thin your paint with Turpenoid Natural, but I don’t trust that and use either a small amount of paint thinner—which blows the whole “solvent free” thing—or just thin my paint with medium, like Liquin or linseed oil.)

So essentially, water-mixable isn’t the only solution for solvent-free. But I think it has its uses, and since it’s popular enough that quite a few paint brands manufacture and sell a line of water-mixable oils, I guess it has its place in the oil painting world.


This is the thing that is getting on my nerves with water mixable.

“They” say that you mix them with water. I mean, they’re called “water mixable,” right? But then when you actually thin the paint with water, and find (as you often will, depending on brand) that the paint gets all sticky or nasty, like spackle. Then “they” will say, “Oh, you can’t mix them with water! You have to use a special oil! Or you have to use a special medium/thinner!”

Wait a minute! I was told that they were water mixable! That’s the whole big selling point. And no one says that you can’t actually mix them with water when they’re being advertised. It’s only later when you’re trying to use them and they’re super annoying that you find out that the “rules” say that you probably can’t use water.

I also found out that I can’t necessarily use a medium sold to be used with the paint. I tried one brand of water mixable medium and it was worse than spackle. “Well, yes that doesn’t work. You shouldn’t use that.” WELL THEN WHY DO THEY SELL IT?!?!

It can get truly annoying.


I’m still learning this part. My impression so far:

The first “rule” I’m learning is to try to get a few colors in a given “line” of paint (like all Grumbacher Max, or all Holbein Duo, or all Weber wOil). Buy a medium made by the same line of paint (like Grumbacher’s Max Linseed oil to go with your Max paints). Try that first. I tried Daniel Smith’s WMOs with their special WMO medium, and didn’t get any spackle moments.

Avoid Winsor & Newton Artisan. A lot of people say it’s like spackle, including me. No, some people do like it, but you are taking your chances.

Avoid Lukas Berlin’s Fast Drying Medium. It is the weirdest thing and doesn’t work. Turns your paint straight into spackle within seconds. Spackle spackle spackle. I use that word a lot when talking about WMOs.

Don’t mix the water-mixable paints with water. LOL. (There may be workarounds for this and some brands may vary, but it’s going to take time to experiment because you just can’t assume that water-mixable paints will mix with water. See? SEE? 😉 )

I find that a little bit of water mixed in just makes the color get white and cloudy. The cloudiness eventually goes away.

I’ve experimented with wOil’s Fast Dry Medium and it doesn’t dry that fast. It’s been several days and the paints are still not ready to get another layer of paint on them.

So, not only can you not mix water in your water mixable oils, you can’t expect fast dry medium to dry fast. Such is life with WMOs. (I live in hope that some brands are better than others in this regard.)


I do believe this. My little Work in Progress painting that is posted above is testimony that something “reasonable” can result from water mixables. Other artists have been very successful with water mixables. I wonder if those who are more successful have a particular painting style that works better with the limitations or “unique qualities” of WMOs.

That’s all I have for now. I will post updates when I’ve learned more about water mixables.

4 thoughts on “Mini-Tutorial: Experiments in Water Mixable Oils

  1. I have had no problems mixing / thinning my Cobra Watermixable oils with water. I do my under paintings thinning with water on Gessobord or acrylic primed linen panels. Try the Cobras.

    1. Thanks, Rhett! I have some Cobras and have used them a little bit. I need to devote more time to my water mixables, obviously! Thanks again for the tip! BTW, I love your work on DPW!

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