Oil, Watercolor, Acrylic — Each is Great!

For the past month I have been painting using oil pigments.  Each time I revisit oil paints I am as excited as if visiting an old friend.  There is a feel and freedom that accompanies painting with oil pigments that is unique.  Oil paints do not shift in value or intensity as they cure on the surface, as do watercolors or acrylics. What you put down is what you get: no surprises to greet you once the paint dries.I love the feel of oils. Oils spread across a surface like butter and I like butter. And then there is the smell. While many people dislike the order of oil paints I find it as enticing as the smell of baking bread . This reaction undoubtedly links back to my very first painting class. I remember thinking then that heaven would smell like turpentine.

This may sound like an endorsement for oil painting.  Not really.  For while I love painting in oils, acrylics and watercolors each have a warm place in my heart. While acrylics do not offer that sweet fragrance of turps and linseed oil there is no media as forgiving as acrylics.  Paint thick over thin or thin over thick paint as thick and heavy as you can imaging there will be no cracking.  Another great advantage of these plastic pigments is the short drying time that allows for many more mistakes and the ability to correct them in short order.

My reputation as teacher and painter has certainly been built around watercolor painting.  No medium is more maligned than is watercolor.  The ‘master’s medium’ ‘the hardest medium,’ ‘a sketching medium,’ an ‘impermanent medium’ these are a small sampling of the perception of watercolors. The truth of these ideas is that none are true.   While watercolor pigments dry slightly lighter and less bright, experience will compensate for these inconveniences.  The most encumbering belief about painting in watercolor is that you must use gallons of water in every painting.  By flooding each color with too much water, pure colors are eliminated from your palette. Sometimes pure rich colors are necessary. I use watercolors very much like oil pigments and while I know this confounds many purists I like the results and the feeling of freedom that comes from letting go of silly rules and just letting the paint be paint.

I guess it is human nature to want to categorize things into “-isms.” It’s easy to fall into a habit of thinking that whatever medium you are comfortable working in or know the most about is the best. (Hmmm. Comfortable. In Art that could translate as lazy, or scared) It might be better to celebrate the advantages of each medium, be open to experimenting or mixing media. Paint in an all-inclusive, non-partisan way. Make it a political statement.

“No. 10’s”               24″x 24″                oil on canvas


  • Ruth Armitage

    Dec 30, 2011 at 12:48 pm Reply

    Love the new site & your philosophy about the different mediums. I may have to give oil paints a whirl again some day. They were my first medium at my mother’s side 🙂

  • Sherry Symington

    Dec 30, 2011 at 7:44 pm Reply

    Hi Skip, Interesting post. Have you tried the alkyd oils? Seems like an interesting alternative for a faster-drying true oil paint but I’ve never experimented with these (I currently use acrylics). ~Sherry

  • Cathy

    Jan 5, 2012 at 8:16 pm Reply

    Love the look of these paintbrushes! Would you share how you use watercolor like oil paint? I just bought your book Painting Light and Shade and am enjoying the way you paint! Great blog, more tips please!

  • Shelley Whiting

    Oct 14, 2012 at 10:50 pm Reply

    I love your loose and expressive style. The line markings are intriguing and dynamic. Beautiful and interesting work.

  • Marlene Alexander

    Sep 30, 2018 at 4:22 pm Reply

    I, as always and for years, am in love with your work along with your humor! What an inspiration you are!! I miss seeing you and Toph and hopefully will be able to grab one of your classes sooner than later!


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