Extra Extra! - Oil Virgin!

Buttery Texture
Find out how I found my first experience of using oil paints, and how do water mixable oil paints compare?

"I'd always recommend a workshop as a good way to try out a new technique or medium"
I'm going to let you into a secret. Until recently, I was a virgin. An oil paint virgin! You might be wondering how I have got through years of studying and practice at some of the country's top colleges and not so much as touched a tube of oil paint. I've smelt it, yes! I've hovered over others and wondered what it was all about, but has it passed my palette? … No!

Apart from the fact that art college these days can focus more on the concept of art and taking it in different directions, opposed to the traditional, old masters’ techniques, my own introduction to painting was an odd one. At school our art teacher didn't like us 'making a mess' and encouraged the use of pencils and oil pastels instead. I was a shy child and my drawings were so faint on paper, you could barely see them, too nervous to make a mark.

When I started my first college it did me the world of good! I was encouraged to go big! Bold! Express myself!!! We learnt to work fast, close our eyes, use our wrong hand, use larger brushes! It was a whole new world of fun and I soon fell in love with paint! Except we were very young students, I had no job and we were introduced to acrylic paint, not only because it was versatile – thin down like watercolour, thicken up like oil - but also, it was cheap. I never questioned it. I just wanted to get out as much experimental painting as I could. Learn, learn, learn!


I liked how the paint dried quick so if I made a mistake or decided to completely start again, I could just go over what I'd already done. I remember one lesson on how to stretch a canvas, but I was still incredibly shy, and having to go ask people to explain more precisely or if I could use the woodwork room was way too much for me. No - I'd make do, happy in my own world. At this point I should mention that the pros and cons of oil paint may possibly have been explained to me, however being a serious daydreamer, I literally have no memory of it.

I guess over time I stuck to the excuse that oils were expensive, turpentine is not great for the environment and I liked the versatility of acrylics. Except, after some time neglecting my practice, I returned to painting with a fresh perspective, and I was afraid to admit that maybe, I was starting to find acrylic a little… annoying?

They dried so fast that sometimes I'd just got the perfect colour mixed and I already had to start again, and with my second start at exploring paint I found I had new ideas of what I wanted to achieve. I want to explore blur and creating the impression of movement or play with focus in my paintings without loosing vibrancy. I started researching slow drying mediums or mediums to dilute the acrylic without loosing it's archival binding ability.

Then one day I saw it! An advert for a workshop on Yorkshire Landscape Painting!!! Fantastic. I had recently moved home to Yorkshire and was totally bowled over by the beauty around me. I didn't have much experience of painting landscapes before and was intrigued. But what was that? Using water mixable oil paints? What on earth?

Limited Brush Strokes Study of a Yorkshire Landscape

The workshop was held in the quaint and beautiful village of Ripley, by the inspiring Just Makers.
Just Makers has a shop in Ripley of ever changing handmade contemporary work and art, and also an exhibition space at RHS Garden Harlow Carr, not far away in Harrogate. Fresh coffee and pastries welcomed us as we got to know each other on the workshop. Being a small intimate group gave us opportunities to talk to Katherine Whitby, the artist running the course and for her to get to know us and give lots of advice. It was a warm and friendly, cosy little room, where the time flew by. Surrounded by beautiful rural life this was the perfect place for this workshop. This workshop gave me the buzz of energy I needed to move forward and explore landscapes. Where I had been apprehensive to start in a world I had little experience in, Katherine broke down the barriers and reminded me how exciting tackling new artistic challenges can be. I'd always recommend a workshop as a good way to try out a new technique or medium, and it’s also a great way to meet other artistic practitioners. Just Makers have an excellent wide range of workshops available. Check them out at:

So how did I find the actual paints?

I loved them! They smell like oils, they feel like oils with their thick buttery texture. They work in exactly the same way as oils except at the end, all you need is water and perhaps a bit of soap to clean your tools. Simple, easy and satisfying. I learnt that with oil paints you can be just as versatile as with acrylic yet it doesn't dry so quick so I felt less nervous to make a mark because I knew it wasn't fixed. If you layered on too thick or applied a tone you didn't like, you could wipe it away with a rag and take back layers. If you wanted to thin your paint down to get a crisper line you can use water-compatible linseed oil. I decided I needed to try out traditional oil paints to compare, and apart from the cleaning up process, they were pretty much identical.


As for price, I started with a set of Georgian Water Mixable Oil Set at £28.10 compared to a Winsor and Newton Galeria Acrylic 10 Tube Set at £23.95. Not much difference in price and the fact the oil paint doesn't dry so fast means I probably get more from the paint I use. With water-compatible oil paints you can have a clear conscience for the environment and they're also kind to your skin. I'm now experimenting with using acrylic as a base to my oil paintings, mixing crisp flat colour with vibrant expressive free strokes.

Why not have a go?