Oil vs. Acrylic: Which One is Right for Your Art?

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

Any person who has used the various types of paints and mediums should be able to tell you at least that there IS a difference between them. Watercolor and Gouache are thinner and more liquidy, acrylic inks or alcohol inks are literally inks and that texture but have amazing pigments at times, acrylics can be nice and thick with vibrant tones or they can be a bit thinner but still offer a large amount of coverage, and oils are nice and fuller bodied….they allow for more blending and honestly more of a mess as well. Sure! I can totally tell you which is the best for you to use…but I’m not going to. I think that the “best” one is a completely personal preference.

Are you going to be limited? By PAINT?!?

WAIT THOUGH….those aren’t even ALL of the options that you have for arting! What are you really to do in this case?!?! You try new things. You get your hands dirty. You play with the paints, the textures, your own lines. You figure out if the type of paper or canvas matters….you see how the different options make you feel and if they give you the desired effect. There are times when I simply use markers. Not even my fancy Copics or Chameleon markers….but like, Crayola. Quite literally taking myself back to when I was a kid, to really experience the artwork that I am putting together. 9 times out of 10 I wouldn’t trade my Crayola masterpieces for any of my others that were created with a more expensive medium. Though I am refusing to say which type of paint I like best (mainly because I like all mediums depending on what project I am working on, yes I use ALL of them!) I will definitely give you some helpful info about some of the main types of mediums.

WATERCOLOR! Basically any type of pigment that is mixed with water and not with oil. You hear terms like fresco, tempera, and aquarelle….but it really is just WATERCOLOR. These translucent paints respond better with quality cotton paper rather than canvas…but sometimes it still works pretty well. People like using papyrus, leather, fabric, and wood for the surfaces.

The ability to control the depth of pigment based on how much water you add is pretty important to the overall look of the piece you are working on. It can be applied with brushes, pens, and even sprayed on the surface. The term “watercolor” includes most inks, watercolors, temperas, caseins, gouaches, and modern acrylic paints. Some of the most beautiful pieces I have ever seen have been watercolor, but mastering them is much harder than a lot of people realize. It really takes a talent. The best part about watercolors though is that they are super easy clean up! My PRO TIP: Don’t skimp on quality watercolor paper. YES….for practice NO for actual work.

Flowered- Watercolor and Graphite on Canvas.

Next we can talk about ACRYLIC paints! This is a paint made of pigment and acrylic polymers (aka silicone) and can be diluted with water or changed with mediums, gels, and pastes. They are water-soluble when wet but become resistant when they are dry. The finished product can look similar to watercolor when complete, depending on the amount of dilution. Acrylics are known for drying pretty quickly but there are retarders available to make sure that you can achieve the desired effect PRIOR to their drying. People tend to like that there is a fast drying time and that the artist can easily modify the texture and appearance of the paint surface of an acrylic piece. You can also use acrylic paints on a variety of surfaces….like you can really paint on almost anything.

Haunted- Acrylic on Canvas

Learning how acrylics move is almost a foolproof process, but I am definitely not saying that it is an easy paint. It is easy in the fact that cleanup is easy….but you still have to work on technique. Lots of the Elite under-appreciate the acrylic pieces and paints….acrylics are often regarded as the bastards of the arting world, but they are quite lovely and can produce some amazing pieces regardless of the opinions of the Elite. My PRO TIP: IGNORE the ‘Elite’. Also, psst….I enjoy the Liquitex AND Golden paints, but also LOVE to play with the Stuart Semple paints (found or I gave you those 2 websites because, well……the paints and potions really excite me! Again, find which ones YOU like and go with that but don’t be afraid to try new things.

OILS! These paints dry SLOOOOOOOOW. Like really, they actually dry very slowly. The other paints have pigments that are suspended in water, but oil obviously has the pigment suspended in…..wait for it…..OIL! Fancy that. Lots of time it is Linseed oil, which almost sounds like a green eating type of thing but we are certainly not talking about anything that I recommend that you ingest. Actually I am pretty certain that the grade of Linseed Oil used will kill you, so DON’T DO THAT.

Oil paints can be modified by adding more oil, basically. Meaning you can use more Linseed Oil, turpentine, and other solvents. Some use varnish to create a shine or glossiness. These paints are pretty thick and obviously oily in their texture. It is not pleasant to get on you or household surfaces…and it can be a bitch to get out of your favorite brushes. Well, once you are used to it is isn’t as bad….but just starting with oils? You will totally screw up a pretty good amount of things before you really understand the way to properly use these paints. Once you do though!!!!!! Woah! You will feel like a boss. You will know you got it licked. Actually, you will most likely just finally have some great looking cohesive pieces to show….and maybe feel like you are a real artist.

Where There's Smoke- Oil on Canvas

Honestly, I work with a LOT of different types and brands of paints, brushes, and surfaces etc….but I can certainly appreciate a fine oil piece. Something about it feels more official, though I am totally in love with my acrylic pieces as well. It is amazing to see the amount of bonding you can do with a piece once you’ve rubbed alizarin crimson from asshole to elbow. Oddly enough, one of my first paintings where I was willing to call myself an artist (like an actual artist) was done with oils. PRO TIP: Make sure you use these and the solvents in a well ventilated area! Do NOT inhale (or eat). Technically, you should also minimize skin contact with your paints as well….but we all know that we don’t really do that as often as we should.

So, there you have it….the run down on all the major leagues. There are always new things being introduced so don’t forget to play. There is NOT a winner when it comes to Acrylic VS. Oils….because they both have some amazing qualities and both have some shitty points. Bottom line….just see what you can create without backing yourself into an artist label….like “oh I can’t do that, I’m an Oil Artist”….bullshit! Artists should be versatile and free. So, GO MY PEOPLE! BE FREE! CREATE!

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