Painting a portrait with water-mixable oil paints for the first time

Have you heard of water-mixable oil paints? Yeah, I know, water and oil don’t mix, it’s a strange concept. The manufacturers have somehow altered the linseed oil to be able to be thinned and cleaned with water. I have been afraid of using oil paints in the past because of the horrible solvents you need, so was intrigued with these, and trying new things is always good as an artist.

The Winsor and Newton Water-mixable Oils colours I used

I tested them by painting this portrait of local artist, Charlotte White.

Charlotte was the sitter for January’s Bunbury Portrait Club and was not entirely comfortable on the other side of the easel, but did a cracking job.
I didn’t quite get her likeness on the first go, so took it home to work on it after the initial sketch.

Charlotte, our sitter this month

I used pastel pencils for the sketch which was a mistake as they blended in with the oils as I painted. Lesson learned and noted for future reference to save further frustration. The likeness was starting to improve, but still not quite Charlotte.

How to get the likeness…

To get a better idea of how to fix the problem, I opened up the photo of Charlotte in Procreate on my iPad, placed the sketch on top and lowered the layer opacity. Then I could see how far out the eyebrows, eyes and mouth were. Not too far off, but the perfectionist in me wanted to get it right!

I decided it was time to go in with the paints, and used a thinned down mix using water for the first few layers, gradually getting thicker and ending with just paint and no water. The likeness was also improving, I used my Procreate hack a couple more times to check how the painting was going.

Finally, I got to a stage where I thought if I added more paint to the face, it wouldn’t be improving anything so worked on the dress a little more and added some giant agapanthus flowers in the background.

The painting still needs details adding on the dress, but I found using the water-based oils a surprisingly pleasant process, particularly when it came to cleaning the brushes afterwards. The colours are not dull as I’d been led to believe, and I the paints didn’t dry out quickly as can happen with acrylics – sometimes even not long after they hit the palette. I’ll be keeping these in my art materials stash for sure.

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