Water mixable oil

Hello everyone,
I need some advice about switching to water mixable oils from a long time using acrylics. I love my acrylics, and I am accomplished in using them for a variety of subjects over the last 20 years, but I’ve always admired the workability and look of oils. Recently, I switched to water mixable oils and so far I HATE them. I can’t get the paint to move well, It doesn’t flow, it doesn’t stick, and my shapes loose their form easily. Don’t even get me started on trying to highlight (it’s like trying to put peanut butter on top of jelly). I have some experience in oil, and this is just not how I recall oil paint behaving. I’m using WN artisan mater mix oils. I’ve tried all their mediums and thinners and still am having little luck. I’ve painted several studies using water only, linseed oils only, a thinner linseed mix, the quick dry, and a few mixes custom mixes. I’m about to bin the whole lot!

I though water mixable would solve my problems by not having to use solvents, since I work inside my house on the dining table. I want to love them, but I’m frustrated. I expected a learning curve with the new medium, but this is.like working with old toothpaste. Any one have recommendations on how to get these paints to work. I’m also open to trying a different brand, but my local art store only Carries W&N :(. I don’t want to blindly order more product that won’t work either.

Just FYI, I tend to paint alla prima over a toned canvas.

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I’m not an expert but use water mixable oil, I find Artisan to be a bit thick, difficult to use without medium(water). Generally I use Cobra which are much more buttery, and easy to use(in my opinion)+. I use a little Cobra painting medium 50:50 with water for later layers.



I would love to use the WN paint straight out of the tube, but alas, it is very, very stiff and unworkable. I have no choice but to use some kind of medium to make it a paintable consistency. The only color that comes out of the tube ready to use seems to be the yellow ochre.

The duo aqua has been recommended to me by a few painters this week, and I might order a starter set just to try them out. I’m returning all the unopened W&N paint when I go to town next. It is just a sticky mess that is unpaintable! The whole point of using oils was to do more plein air work alla prima for my looser more impressionistic paintings. I need it to come out of the tube in a somewhat useable state for that to be feasible.

I’m starting to wonder if I’m being silly about needing the water mixable at all. How much hassle and danger can it be to have gamsol or oms inside my house at my dining table during non-meal hours.

I paint in both acrylics and WM oils. I tried some WN artisan because that was what the local store had and HATED them. They get gummy and sticky really fast. Then another artist recommended Holbein Duo Aqua Oils - gloriously buttery! Then got recommended to COBRA and I love them. They behave like Holbein but are less expensive. Then got recommended Lukas and they are similar to COBRA. I took a course with Cindy Procious (she uses reg oils) but she turned me on to Walnut Alkyd medium as I, too, cannot paint with anything too smelly and toxic. The walnut oil I was using took so long to dry between layers, but the walnut alkyd is perfect. Can begin working on the next layer within two days, sometimes next day even.

I switched to watermixable oils (WM) when I was diagnosed with a kidney tumor. The tumor was frozen off at Stanford and I am doing good so far. The toxic fumes of paint thinners, even the so-called ordor less ones are still toxic and I don’t take chances any more.

I took a workshop with Tim Horn and he recommended and uses COBRA brand. I love them! He recommended the WN Titanium white which I buy in the large tube and I do like that very much. I also like Holbein brand very much and since some colors are not available in the COBRAs, I buy the Holbein in Alizarin and some other colors.

So to use the watermixable paints I recommend the following:

  1. Do not use oil primed canvases or panels. I found acrylic primed gessoed all media panels the best. I love Centurian panels which are linen on a board, in the all media form. I buy them from Jerry’s Artarama. The WM paints stick better to these panels. If you have the oil primed canvases, try wiping them down with rubbing alcohol before you paint. This might help the WM oils stick better. I also rub down the Ampersand Gessoboard panels with rubbing alcohol before I use WM oils.

  2. Do not use too much water with the WM oils. You can thin them down with water a little in the first stages of painting. In the later layers I add Walnut Oil as a thinner, but for the most part the paint is soft enough so I use very little thinner. Tim Horn and Richard Robinson also use Walnut Oil.

  3. Synthetic brushes work best with WM oils. I like a Princeton brand, but use others as well. I also like Rosemary synthetic brushes.

  4. Watch the YouTube videos on Cobra paints!! Do a search on YouTube for Cobra water mixable oils. There is a series of videos … about 7… which are excellent. Highly recommended. He explains the chemistry of WM oils and how to use them.

  5. If you want to add regular oils occasionally I bought a Schminke liquid which you can add to regular oils to make them water mixable. I forgot what the name of it is, but they sell it at Michaels. It works pretty well.

  6. I tried WN WM oils and did not like them at all. They are gummy and I had the same problems you are having. Go for the COBRAs. Richard Robinson and many other artists are using the COBRAs too. COBRA stands for Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. They are made in Holland by Rembrandt.

  7. In your water for washing your brushes… add a tablespoon of Weber
    Turpinoid Natural. Be sure it is NATURAL which is water based. It will turn the water milky, but don’t worry. I have a jar next to where I paint. I use it for many days before I pour it out into a tub of kitty litter and make fresh cleaning water. Before I paint each day, I take a small piece of paper towel and dip it into the water to pick up the film floating on the top of the water. I wrap this paper towel in a page from an old phone book and throw away. This keeps your water cleaner. Always wipe off your brush on paper towel before you wash your brush to keep your water cleaner. Keep the jar lid on when not in use and look for a jar with a plastic lid, not metal.
    At the end of my painting day I throughly wash my brushes with Murphy’s Oil Soap, rinse and hang my bushes bristle end down.

  8. I varnish my paintings with WN Retouch varnish. Be sure the paint is dry to the touch before you varnish.

  9. I put my glass palette in a Masterson palette seal box at the end of painting each day. I lightly spray my palette with a mist of water before closing the lid. Scrape the mixed colors into a puddle to make a gray color. You can put the palette into the freezer if you are not going to paint for awhile, but make sure it warms up before removing the lid as the frozen lid will crack. You can get your glass palette very clean with a light spray of Windex.

  10. I use the WM oils just like regular oils because they ARE regular oils! I love them and feel much safer without the toxic fumes. However, I still wear gardening gloves when I paint, even in my studio. I recommend Atlas gloves. They are great. All art materials have toxic pigments which is not a good idea to get on your skin. Check the Dick Blick website for Cobras. You can look at the description page for each paint color and see what pigments are used in each tube. It explains the composition of each color. It is very interesting and will help you choose your colors more wisely.

  11. I keep a small fan blowing on me when I am painting in my studio. And keep a window open for fresh air. Be safe.

I hope these tips help you use WM oils which are much safer and easy to use. I like them sooooo much better than acrylics which drive me crazy since they dry so quickly, change color and are difficult to get the color I want.

Happy painting… Rhett Regina Owings
Look at my DPW gallery to see some of my paintings in WM oils.
Feel free to email me with any questions you may have.


I switch between acrylics and W&N water-mixable oils on a regular basis, and enjoy them both. Sometimes the transition from one to the other takes a few paintings, for my brain to ‘switch over’ because they feel quite different to use.

I use Cold-Pressed Linseed oil along with the W&Ns to loosen them up. Note, NOT the W&N brand linseed- I bought a bottle once, but couldn’t get past the child-proof cap. Nor could either of my parents, or the lady in the shop when I went to return it. Got a refund for that, luckily! I can’t actually remember what brand I have now, but it works fantastically well.

I never use water to thin these paints, it looks terrible; I only use it for cleaning brushes. I paint with synthetic brushes- I’ve found real-bristle doesn’t get along with the paint.

I don’t really have a choice in brands; my local stores supposedly carry Cobra and own-brand W-M Oils, but they’re always sold out, or only available in white. But I get along well with the W&N paints, so I’m happy to stick with them. That said, it seems the majority of people hate this brand, so maybe it’s just me!



That posted before I meant it to post, not sure what keyboard shortcut I just hit. Oops.

I was going to add- when I first tried the W&N Water Mixables… six or seven years ago maybe? They were just thick and sticky no matter what I did, the way a lot of other people describe them. However in the last few years I picked them up again, and the new tubes I bought are much nicer to work with. I think they’ve changed the formula.

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Thanks for all the advice! It’s always good to talk with people who have used a brand or attempted a technique before spending time and money on it. I am debating right now between the two recommended brands and might just order the small starter kit for both so I can compare them.

I’ll have to post a comparison when I finally get to use them!

What a helpful post! I’m a huge fan of COBRA and Holbeins but love your tips for clean water in the studio. Also just picked up a few Princeton Catlyst Polytip brushes and love them for the water-mixable oils!


Water soluble oils are still oil, it’s just been chemically altered. It means you can clean up with water, but as jmneedham said, I found that IF you thin them, you still need a medium–water is terrible.

Have you tried walnut oil paints and mediums?

Hi, on reading the replies you have received and going on my own experiences I find painting with normal oil paint much ,much easier and there is lots more control. There are a few benefits to water mixables but far more down sides. Water mixables are difficulty to start with washes as many artist do because they just don’t thin easily and freshly. They feel like plastic, dry too quickly, don’t mix well and if you try to work Plein air and get caught in a shower that’s the end of your painting. Honestly I don’t know why people use them. Go
Back to oils for a few paintings to see the difference, I think you will be pleasantly surprised. For safety you can use studio safe mediums but be aware that the washes will dry slower than with turpentine.

Hi, Karen,
I agree with all the advice already posted. DPW folks are so wonderfully helpful.

Like you, I use both oils and acrylics, and have the same regrets you have with each of them. Water miscible paints have proved a good alternative for me, but (again, like you) I find WN Artisan and Grumbacher Max very dry and not comparable at all to buttery regular oils. In fact, many of my water miscible oil paintings look like my acrylic pieces. The difference is in the working; you have more open time to blend with the w-m oils, and they don’t dry so quickly on your palette. They are not, however, as rich and soft as regular oil paints. As others have said, I believe that Cobra and Duo Aqua w-m brands are far superior, but haven’t been lucky enough to get my hands on them yet.

I need to use a medium with my water-miscible oils, which include Artisan (WN), Max, and Lukas brands. There are several – fast-drying, w-m linseed oil, and so on. It is very nice to be able to use soap and water to clean up, but with the exception of doing an initial sketch, I don’t find using water as a medium a good idea.

I used regular oils, and still do sometimes, but now mostly use duo water miscible. i avoid using water at all except for cleanup. i rarely need a medium but if i do i use the duo medium, a very tiny bit. i think people think these are like acrylics and watercolors to be thinned with water. and i guess the paint companies say that sometimes. in my experience, they don’t perform well at all when water is used as a medium. i will clean a brush with water while painting but then wipe on a rage before picking up fresh paint.

i like the duos very much. they dry at about the same rate as regular oils and their handling is very similar.

good luck. give the duos a whirl. i hope you like them.

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depends on the brand of WM oils. I use both and have not seen a difference. If you need your wash to dry faster use walnut alkyd as a thinner. non toxic. sometimes for a workshop the instructor has recommended a color not available in WM so have used oils alongside WM using Gamsol (pretty nontoxic) or walnut alkyd (or just walnut if I DONT want them to dry fast and stay open for a few days). I’m in a workshop right now with Carlo Russo and due to time contraints used gamsol to thin the first few layers which you want to dry faster, then just the oils no medium.

Since I wrote my post about water mixable oils… Cobras and DuoAqua … I have made a couple of changes in my painting practices with them.

I do not put my palette into the freezer any more. Instead I take a shallow plastic cap from a vitamin or kitty litter contaniner and fill it almost to the top with water. I put two drops of clove oil into the water. I lightly mist my palette with water and close the lid tightly. My paint stays very nice and workable for several days. Some colors dry faster… ultra blue for example, but most are quite workable. You can buy clove oil at a health food store. It smells soooo good too.

I also rarely wash my brushes anymore! I dip them into my water container that has a couple of drops of Turpinoid Natural and wipe off my brush onto a paper towel. I do this several times. Next I dip my brush into a mixture of artist Gamblin safflower oil with a couple of drops of clove oil. I lay my brushes flat and slightly sloped downward. My brushes will last a long time, for days until I paint again. Just wipe them off onto paper towels before you use them again. If I won’t be painting again for a week or more, then I wash my brushes with Murphys Oil Soap. My brushes stay very nice this way. You can buy Gamblin safflower oil at Hobby Loby with a coupon.

I think water mixable oil users fall into two categories. Those who love it and learn the tricks to make it work, and those who find it like spackle (or just a big hassle). I think I’m in the latter category. It seems like there are a lot more “rules” needed to get water mixable oils to work. Which is okay, obviously it’s working for some people! I see some of the wonderful paintings people produce with water mixables, so if it’s working, it’s working!

I took a workshop once where we worked with regular oils but one of the students was allergic to any solvents, any mediums, any anything. The only thing she could use was safflower oil. So we all used safflower oil to thin our paints, to swish the paint out of our brushes, for EVERYTHING. And you know, it worked great! The paintings took a long time to dry, but other than that, they were great, and NO solvents!

The only caveat is that when you work with oils (and I think this applies to water soluble too) is that you have to be careful with your oily rags because if you throw them away in a crumpled bunch, they can spontaneously combust. Get one of those red or yellow oily rag trash cans (you can find them on Amazon) or just always make sure to lay all your oily rags flat on one layer (not piled up or bunched up together) so they can dry with plenty of air around them.

One more tip about WM oils. I discovered that I can make very nice underpainting washes easily if I take fresh water and add a drop or two of Cobra painting medium to the water. It works great! Lovely under colors. I can wipe away parts I where I want to go back to the white gesso easily with a Q tip or damp cloth too.

And it is a good idea to paint a fresh layer of acrylic gesso on to your board or canvas before you start a WM oil painting. Be sure the surface has acrylic primer not oil primer.

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I tried all different brands of water mixable oils, but found them to be a bit chalky. The colors are more vibrant with artist grade acrylic and regular oils. I could never get that with this type of paint. I donated all my tubes of water mixable oils to my art league members.

Hi everybody, I see this topic is “old” but I’m new to dailypaintworks and exploring stuff, and this forum looked interesting.

With water-soluble (also called water-miscible, and some people say “mixable”) oil paints, I think the BRAND makes all the difference!
I love Daniel Smith’s (made in Seattle, WA) and have been using them for about a year now. They are professional artist grade and have a wonderful feel to them, and the pigments are rich, yet are reasonably priced. (I get them through mail order). Cleaning brushes is SO much faster and easier now! I haven’t tried the Cobra or Holbein Aqua mentioned here but several writers here seem to really like them. A friend tried Winsor & Newton’s and hated them (he described them as gummy). So talk with your art friends and check in with fellow artists here.

Another artist here mentioned painting surfaces and that sounds important as well. I generally paint on gesso-primed canvas and that has worked well for me. I’ve never used oil-primed canvas; it always sounded weird to me, as I immediately thought “wouldn’t oil paint slide around and not adhere to an oil primer?!”

I mentioned getting paints by mail (catalog or online orders). I realize that’s not for everyone, and I don’t mean to “diss” art supply stores, I love them I really do! But generally they carry so few brands. Some friends and I occasionally pool an order from a general art supply catalog that carries a wide range of professional brands (Cheap Joe’s, Blick, Jerry’s Artarama are a few good ones). That way we can get the free shipping even when each of us only need a few things.

My last thought on the water-soluble oils is that I think the benefits are huge and worth experimenting to find the brand(s) that work for you. They are REAL oil paints, they just don’t need the use of harsh solvents for thinning or cleanup. And the solvents — even the less smelly Odorless Mineral Spirits — were my main concern. Aside from health effects, when we are done using them, they have to go somewhere… and they are not good for our greater environment at all!

Be well, paint often! :wink: Michele

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