From Lin Kerr’s biased point of view!
And this is by no means a definitive article.
Oils: I used oils for four years painting daily while doing my fine-arts degree and I love oils. I love the smell (I know, I know), I love the slow drying and the sublteties, the richness and the atmosphere.
Water-mixable oils – I have no experience with these, other than in printing inks where the oil-based printing inks were thicker and had more depth of colour.
Here is a quote from Muddy Colors on the differences
Acrylic: I tried it once and dinnae like it!
Well, what I mean is that I tried using acrylics for a portrait (once), and I did not like them. I think acrylics are amazing, but not to use the way I would use oils in a fine-art piece like a portrait, landscape or still life. I’ll chat about the wonders of acrylics in another blog post. This post is a comparison between oils and acrylic for a fine-art piece of work done in the way in which I like to work.
Traditional Oil vs Acrylic
Oils takes weeks and acrylics can dry in 15 minutes. We can speed up oils a little (to touch dry in 12 hours) or slow down acrylic drying to a couple of hours using various media or a wet-palette and spray. If you like to fiddle with a painting and paint wet-in-wet, come back to it and add a touch here and there, it is difficult to work with acrylic. This is because the colour will have dried on the canvas so no extra wet-in-wet strokes and on the palette, so you have to re-mix to get the same colour again.
With oils, you can alter the colour slightly on the palette days later to darken something or to add a touch somewhere else, and you can’t with acrylic. I found this frustrating when I did the portrait “Lois’ Shawl” I would have liked to blend the colours a little more on her face.
I was forced to work faster than I chose to.
You can use both kinds of paint in an impasto way, or really thin, and there are many additives for both. I tried acrylics because I was very inspired by the book by Glyn Macey, titled Acrylics Unleashed, and he achieves wonderful results. I own a complete set of amazing Lascaux acrylics (from my screenprinting), but in the end, felt that oils suits the way I like to work.
Glazing: I think that glazing with acrylic is rather like glazing with watercolours. With oils there seems to be an added depth, luminsoity and glow. But perhaps this is partly because of the oil and partly because you have to take longer to glaze in oils – weeks rather than a day or two. I understand that there is more actual pigment (and less binder) in the oil paints.
I like the feel of oils and for me, it is like the difference beween working with pure silk and high-quality artificial silk. the differences are really subtle.
Corrections: Both are excellent for corrections and you can paint bright white over pure black.
Limitations of Oils: Fat over thin
Acrylics wins hands down on this one. You cannot paint in diluted or glazed oils over thick applications of oil paints as the oil rises to the top and the painting cracks. Because acrylic is water-based, you can vary the thickness in any order you like.
Cleaning: With oils you need turps. Although you can use the expensive sans-odor, the cleaning is still a mission and there is a degree of toxicity. To me, the smell of Genuine Turps is a pleasant smell overlaid with the romanticism of an artist’s studio and its on a par with real leather or baking bread. But the smell should be considered a disadvantage! Acylics being water based is a doddle to clean, but in hot weather you need to make sure that it doesn’t dry on your brushes and ruin them.
Cost: Oils are more expensive than acrylic, and Artsits oils even more so. Student oils are cheaper and the colours mimic the colours in Artist’s oils and the paints ‘behave’ in a similar way, but the brightness of the colours don’t last for as many years as with Artist’s oils. This is because in student colours, the colours are mixed from a variety of sources, mostly chemical.
The Best of both Worlds: I like using acrylic for a quick sketch or a coloured ground. You can do oils on top of acrylic but not the other way around. And then I would definitely use acrylic if I was going to do a metallic background – wait till you see my vase portraits…in the meantime, here’s the metallic shawl in the Lois portrait.
I brushed PVA glue over the red acrylic background and then added Dutch-metal and finally painted over that in acrylic paint.