Acrylic Paints: 4 Reasons to Make the Switch From Oils

For an oil painter, learning to paint in acrylics requires some persistence, but the rewards can be immediate and lasting. If you work in oils you might at least consider trying acrylic paints given some of the advantages over oil.

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I will tell you right up front I do not paint. My wife is a professional artist and works extensively in acrylics. What I tell you here comes from years of following her around and being exposed to her world of working as a visual artist. As such, what I describe is more of a quantitative analysis of one medium compared to another KAWS SHARE – BLACK . There are subjective characteristics about working with any medium that may appeal or distract from your opinion of that medium. The subjective issues, such as how comfortable you may become with any medium is up to the individual artist. Having said that, there are objective differences between acrylics and oil that I describe here.

The first advantage to using acrylics instead of oils is their fast drying times. This benefit is actually the overwhelming complaint I hear from artists used to working in oil when they describe their attempts at acrylic paints. They complain that the paint dries too quickly for them. This issue can be easily dealt with in two ways.

First, there are retardant agents you can add to the acrylic paints to slow their drying times. If you go this route its important that you use a quality additive, as inferior products when added to acrylic paints can result in chipping and cracking. You don’t want your masterpiece to self destruct in a few months after it’s completion.

A better way to deal with the quick drying times of acrylics might be to use this characteristic to make you a better artist. At an art show I heard the judge of the event describing what he looked for in the winners and one element was the work should be as free as possible from mistakes. He described mistakes as areas of the painting where he could see the artist had worked too hard to get something exactly right and had “overworked it”. He was looking not just for pieces of work exceptional in composition and color but for the artist that had committed brush to canvas with confidence and conviction. He wanted to reward those artists as winners that he had found painted in such a way so as to convince him they knew what they wanted on the canvas and they had developed their technique such that they knew how to get it. The fast drying times of acrylic paints can encourage you as an artist to commit to your brush strokes as you made them and move on rather than dabbling in a area too long.

Of course, if you paint something you simply cannot live with it will be dry enough to paint over it soon enough since it dries quickly. Or perhaps you can just wipe off the bad paint strokes with a damp rag before it has a chance to dry, particularly easy if it was applied on top of the base canvas or dry paint.

The second advantage of acrylics is their lack of smell. Even with using the odorless turpentine substitutes such as Turpinoid to clean your brushes, oil paints are still smelly because they have a linseed oil base. This oil paint smell can work it’s way into your room and your furniture in such a way that it is offensive to some and hard to remove. You may have gotten used to it. You may have the luxury of a studio where smell is not an issue. If you are painting at home, I’m sure it is an issue and it goes away by working in acrylics.

A third advantage to using acrylic paints is the easy cleanup with water. Washing your brushes and hands with water instead of a solvent is something you could appreciate immediately I am sure. The paints can actually be thinned with water, but I don’t recommend it. As I mentioned earlier, additives to acrylic paints should be chosen carefully. Additives for acrylics are plentiful, but if you value your work as you should then use quality materials and tools.

A fourth benefit to using acrylics paints has to do with the brilliant colors attributed to them. In repeated conversations about the use of acrylic paints by artists and gallery owners I hear them mention the brilliant colors. Personally, I think it is not so much the colors but what the artist chooses to do with them, but I mention the stark colors here because I have heard so many others describe them as such.

It is never easy to change the way you work, and painting with acrylic paints instead of oils can be a huge challenge. Many of the techniques you have developed with oils may not apply to acrylic paints. However, given the advantages listed here, the use of acrylic paints deserve consideration, and may well deserve the effort it takes to develop painting techniques appropriate to them.

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