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Art Product Review :: Water-soluble Oil Paints

Winsor and Newton, Pastimes

Coming in hot with another great Product Review! Boss lady, Linda Wehrli chose her favorite medium, water-soluble oils for today’s topic.

Wait. Linda teaches pastels, colored pencils, watercolors, and acrylics as well as water-soluble oils. Why is this her favorite? Hint: she was there at its unveiling. Here’s the story.

Back in the late 1980s, Linda worked a fulltime corporate job in the marketing department of a food brokerage in Hollywood and studied classical drawing and painting in various private studios in the evenings. Only traditional (not water-soluble) oils were available. The beautiful buttery highly pigmented paints came part and parcel with the smell and mess of toxic flammable thinners and brush cleaners which required proper ventilation and had to be disposed of at specified waste facilities. Clean up was not a breeze.

In 1989, one of the studios invited Linda to teach part-time for them. With a fulltime job, this was a lot of work for her, but little did she know, it set the groundwork of what would become Pastimes for a Lifetime, Inc. But that’s a story for another time.

Early every weekend, Linda would set up the basement of The Art Store on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City for her chalk pastel and watercolor classes. The store employees were warm and welcoming and freely shared their product knowledge with her. They noted her passion for products as well. Whenever a factory demo was coming to the store, (this usually included free samples) they made sure to invite Linda.

Then the day came that was a game-changer. One evening, Grumbacher® Max water-miscible solvent-free oil paints were being demoed at the store. Linda stayed after teaching to watch in awe as sales reps revealed a line of beautiful buttery highly pigmented oils that could be mixed with water. Oil painting brushes could be cleaned up with soap and water. Gasp! This meant she could oil paint at home in her then tiny, poorly ventilated Studio City apartment. She could also begin teaching oil painting safely to kids and teens without the liability of handling flammable products. To this day, Linda still has those Grumbacher Max oil tube samples as a fond reminder of that special evening.

Today, students can experience these fabulous paints for themselves in our Painting with Water-Soluble Oils 401 course.

Here’s the science behind the product:

The rule, “oil and water do not mix” isn’t news. However, any artist will tell you that rules are made to be broken. Grumbacher did just that in 1983 when they discovered a way to manufacture water-mixable, solvent-free oil paints. How did they do that? On a molecular level, the oil was modified to make it mixable in water, eliminating the necessity for turpentine or other dangerous solvents to thin paint and clean brushes.

Over the years, other companies developed their line of water-mixable solvent-free oils. When Grumbacher Max became rather expensive, no longer affordable for many of her students, Linda tried a variety of brands. Today, our preferred brand is Winsor & Newton’s Artisan Water-Soluble Oil Paints.

Water-soluble Oils, Pastimes

More good news. Winsor & Newton also offers water-mixable linseed oil and a fast-drying medium for thinning the paint or allowing for faster drying times. Did you know, the water-mixable linseed oil medium also makes the new oil more transparent?! Both are safe and non-toxic. Psst – our student store carries the full line. Shoot me an email if you’re interested in stocking up.


Linseed Oil, PastimesFast-drying medium, Pastimes


Here are some more fun facts about the medium:
• Water soluble oils are perfect for traveling (especially on a plane) since they don’t require solvents.
• Water soluble oils cannot be reactivated with water once dry (just like regular oils).
• They clean up way easier than regular paints (yay!) All you need is soap and water to clean brushes. We recommend Mona Lisa® Pink Brush Soap to our students.


Pink Soap

• Depending on how thick you paint, the water-mixable oils retain their elasticity and workability for up to 48 hours.
• These oils lack the glossy appearance of traditional oils, but a final Varnish is a solution to create the luster of traditional oils.
• Use water to thin the new oils for laying in washes. Build up the oily layers after the underpainting is dry. 


Oil PaintsPaint


• Water-mixable oils dry in about half the time of traditional oils.
• They are workable for up to 48 hours and are just as permanent when dry as any other oil paint.
• You can inter-mix traditional and water-mixable oils if you are painting directly. 

We hope you have a better understanding and appreciation for the benefits of water-soluble oils. In short, they deliver the pleasing results of traditional oils with safe, easy cleanup.

Interested in Online Painting Classes? Email to set up a free online consultation!
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  1. Frank Pelteson

    This water-soluble oil sounds like a real breakthrough in the arts. It may solve the problems of water color painting and simplify oil painting.

  2. Caroline Coward

    This so cool! And really interesting. I love the fact that the oils have some “play” in them up to 48 hours. Great blog!
    PS – I wonder if the pink soap would be good for makeup brushes too…

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