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Newcomer question, using acrylics vs oils

Hello, I am rekindling a long interest in painting, and am focused on learning skills now. Have fooled around with acrylics and like the ease of use and ability to keep brushes clean and self clean, as you go. When I tried working in oils, I got very bogged down in the process, trying to keep brush clean between strokes and paint off of my hands. I am willing to wear a glove, so that is not a huge problem . I love the feel and richness of oils, but would love to know if the actual use of them ever gets more efficient. It took ages to clean the brush I was using, with thinner and rags, each time I changed color. Thanks to all who have been developing and supporting this site. I am totally amazed at the community and the concept of painting and posting to develop one’s art. I have been reading CM’s book and am finding it extremely helpful for goals and routines. Cheers, Mame

Using separate brushes for red, blues, greens, etc is one option. Keeping a rag or kitchen roll in your gloved hand and wiping the excess from a brush onto it before cleaning more thoroughly keeps your solvent cleaner for longer. Also using a palette knife can keep things clean!


A couple of things jump out. First, “trying to keep the brush clean.”

First, you’ll have more fun after you buy several sets of brushes. That way, you can have, say, a 10 or 12 flat for lights, another for darks… and eventually one for cools, one for warms. You just can’t have too many brushes.

Personally, I find it hard to tell the difference between a $4 Simply Simmons and an $80 Isabey, but I have no taste. I also don’t have a lot of money. Even cheaper are sets from suppliers like Jerry’s Artarama, which regularly holds deep-discount sales on brush sets.

Second, while you aren’t talking about your approaches here, unless you’re making very tight, ultra-realistic paintings, it can be exciting to whale away with a dirty brush. The American/Russian Impressionists and their descendants especially seem to revel in VERY dirty brushes – Bongart, Nicolai Fechin, that group of painters. Gruppe clearly had a blast with stuffing his brush with several colors at once, and many others did / do that as well.

Finally, you might want to experiment with water-miscible oils. They clean up with water or soap and water. Personally I’d say avoid W&N Artisan and go with Lukas Berlin or Talens Cobra - very nice paint, nice pigments.

Amorris’s point about painting knives is very apropo here and I heartily second the idea.


What an informative and interesting answer. I shall be looking up Bongart and others for sure…

You might try the water soluable oils that are available. They clean up easily with soap and water and the texture of the paint is very similar to traditional oils.

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I do keep several brushes of each size going and wipe with a rag when I want to change colors. I stick my left hand in an old sock that I have cut in half. I only need to change brushes when I go from very light to very dark or to a strong pure color. I usually only wash brushes once a day.

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I have a few ideas for you.

  1. I agree with others, if you are going to be mixing a quantity of paint that will end up being more than say 4 or 5 brush strokes, don’t mix it with your brush, instead use a palette knife. (I recommend a liquitex #14 small palette knife - something with a little flexibility in the metal). If you mix with a brush, you can end up wasting half the paint in the brush that you then have to wipe out.

  2. Choosing the right brush can actually help. For example if I am only painting a small area, I would probably choose a short flat brush (often called ‘brights’) such as a Robert Simmons Titanium #6, rather than a long flat brush. A long flat brush is going to take up more paint than a short flat brush - you might not need all that paint but you are still going to ultimately achieve the same effect. Also try not to load your brush all the way up into the ferrule unless you need to.

  3. You don’t necessarily need to wash your brushes at the end of every single painting session. If you know you are going to be painting with them the next day, either put the brushes in a zip lock bag and / or give the brush a good dip in linseed oil. Then when you come to use them the next day, simply wipe off the linseed oil.

  4. I agree that keeping a few brushes on the go at a time for can help with color changes. Although I also agree that sometimes having more than one color on your brush can often be beneficial. It’s good to experiment.

  5. There’s a good thread with lots of advice on how to clean your brushes when you need to. Many people (including myself) do not use solvent or thinner:


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To the list of dirty brush masters, add George Cherepov - couldn’t remember his name yesterday. Interesting film based on his troubled old age: Local Color (director, George Gallo)

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Thank you for the generous responses, I am learning from you all, already. I will add to my brush collection, and plan to do a few days at a time with oil paint, instead of sporadic stabs at it. I also appreciate the leads to sites and artists.
There is an acrylic retarding medium that might give me a better experience with acrylics, so if anyone has tried that, I’d love to hear what you thought about it.
Meanwhile, back to the materials and actually getting paint onto boards. Research and communication is so alluring, I don’t want it to displace painting time! I want to begin posting when I have a start on a series I think is going in a good direction for me. Thank you, again for your kind attention and help.

Thankyou davegehman, I shall seek it out. I enjoyed the work of Bongart. Seemed very authentic? I’ll also be buying more brushes!

For me, it is all about love. I’ve tried various kinds of paints-- oils, watercolor, inks, acrylics. And I love acrylics. I love them, and that is what I use exclustively. I think it’s best for an artist to use whatever media they love, because if you love it, you can push it farther and do magical things with it.

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I love acrylics too, Theresa! The more I paint the more I see that it is possible to do magical things with this medium. The beauty of acrylics lies in their versatility, I think! That’s not to say a person shouldn’t love oils, each to their own, right? I am new on here and really enjoying it, so far! (Best of luck to you Mame!)


I llove hearing your enthusiasm for painting, its contagious! What amazes me is how many elements are at play in making a painting, and the fact that each element is a choice. I am new enough to the process to find it a very complex effort, but I know things will become more automatic over time.
Thank you for your contributions to the topic.

I use Mark Carder’s line of oil paints which you can find at genevafineart.com
You do not use any solvents with these. You never clean brushes either. You just wipe off your brush and dip it into his brush dip. It’s very easy. I have to say that I do end up with paint on my hands and somehow my face but I keep paper towels nearby.


The worst problem I experienced with acrylics was that they change values when they dry so I could not judge my values. Oils are so much easier, I think.

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I am so appreciative of the comments here, and I have renewed zest for trying my oils and acrylics, without canning anything.
Dave, the Simmons brushes are my favorites. I will be experimenting with some dry brush, palette knife and multicolor loads on brushes soon.
Jacqueline,Using a palette knife to mix paint, yes! Good advice on using brights over flats at times.
Theresa, that is such good advice! I too love color and image and design, and I hope my skill at moving paint around can eventually approximate the art I love.
Hilda, thank you for the encouragement.
Melissa, I looked up the Geneva line, and am glad to know it exists. I am determined to find a way to use paint that works for me. I may give his paint and solvent a try.
Jean, I am amazed at how much acrylics can change color and value in the drying process. Maybe there are “better” paints that don’t do that, but my basic tubes of WN, Golden and one or two Liquitex seem to. I love the old-sock-on-left-hand trick, wonderful! No more paint rags rolling around the table or escaping onto floor or lap.
I have been going through the challenges on this website, enjoying immensely the ways that people respond to topics and themes. I have a goal of entering one of them as soon as possible, when I can produce something satisfying. Meanwhile, mixing and learning colors, doing mini fake Rothko,s and so on, is challenging enough!
Fond regards to all, Mame


Re. color shift in acrylics: the Winsor Newton “Artist” brand of acrylics don’t have as much color shift.

If you want to match the color, wet the brush with clean water, and put it on some dried paint. It will immediately turn lighter, and you can match to that.

While painting with acrylics I have a mantra: lighter, brighter. That helps, too.


Nice tip, Theresa - I will have to remember that one about adding water to see the ‘wet’ colour of acrylics! Thanks!
And yes, W & N Pro claims to have no colour shift due to a ‘revolutionary transparent binder’… Not sure about no shift at all, but, they are definitely a LOT BETTER. If I am worried about colour shift I put a dab of my mix on a scrap of canva paper and dry it with a hairdryer so I know where it is headed!

I love acrylic paint, but I am looking to get into oil paints soon.

Wish I had seen this post earlier.
mame and davegehman, and everyone. I too rarely buy expensive brushes, at least for oil acrylic because I hate cleaning them and I am fairly hard on them anyway. While showing down at Laguna Art-A-Fair we got a visit from The Brush Guys! Best source for brushes without breaking the bank. They are online too.