Are Oils Obsolete?

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If we could step back in time and ask the masters, they would probably say oil painting will always be around. Will it? This is a rapidly depleting arena of the art world. Many artists still swear by oils and until recently, I agreed. I reluctantly switched to Acrylics when I had children only because they were easier. I never liked them, though; in fact, I stopped painting for quite a while because I disliked Acrylics so much.

I have always had several problems with Acrylics. One, I dislike the way they blend together so quickly. I am impatient and prefer wet into wet work. Therefore, I usually end up painting on something that is wet. With oils, you can swirl, spin, and thump the brush on the canvas yet you still have the remnants of both colors when you finish, whereas Acrylics blend before you can get them on the brush creating a third color. Another problem is the work time. Acrylics dry quite fast. I am a fast painter, but was continually frustrated when paint would glob up on the brush. They do have extender products, but I never found them satisfying as they usually thinned the paint too much. Finally, I have never liked the way the finished product looked with Acrylics. Sure, you can coat the painting or gloss it up, but there is nothing that compares to that thick, rich, greasy look oils present. I just don’t like Acrylics.

Don’t get me wrong. Oils have plenty of negative traits as well. The clean up is insufferable with all the solvents and clogged sinks (not too environmentally friendly – for you advocates). The biggest problem is Oils NEVER dry. You may have a good skin on your painting after a month or so but one bump or brush against it and you find that your new shirt is ruined (or the inside of your car while transporting to shows). Oils are also temperamental and they begin their own life on your canvas. Oils are subject to temperature change and humidity causing them to crack if not properly treated. Still despite their difficulties, I hold firm that there is nothing that compares to the look of an Oil painting. But wait, there’s more.

I settled for a happy medium while I was in college. My paint of choice was the Alkyds. They were oils and had the same difficult clean-up, but offered a faster drying time. This was great since I was transporting paintings back and forth to class. They were usually tack dry in a day or two and were pretty safe in a week. I enjoyed these because they worked like original oils for blending purposes and general “feel” of oils. Still, there was the clean up issue.

Art supplies have come a long way. A few years ago, I discovered water-soluble oil based paints that cleaned up with soap and water. They are linseed oil based (a common staple for anyone that uses traditional oils) I am not a chemist and I don’t know how exactly they do it, but I am grateful to the person who understood the dilemma. They are a little more expensive, but what is convenience and versatility worth to you?

No matter what your preferences are there will always be controversy over which is better. My lack of success with Acrylics does not mean they are inferior. I have seen many great works of art that were done in Acrylics (and find myself asking “how did they get that effect with Acrylics?”). There are obviously advantages and disadvantages to all the different options we have available today. I guess I am a little stuck in my ways and will always choose some form of oil paint.


write by Mulham Odeh

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