Sunday, January 25, 2009

Still Think Oil and Water Don't Mix? Think Again. (Water Soluble Oils, Part 2)

Sorry I've been remiss in posting. My wife and I got sick concurrently with two different things. Then our 4-year old got sick. Ah, such is the life of a parent.

As I indicated in my first post about water-soluble oils, I discovered a book by Sean Dye called Painting with Water-Soluble Oils that introduced me to a new product, transformed my understanding of oil paints and revealed a practical way for me to return to painting.

Water soluble (water-mixable or water miscible) oils are similar in composition to traditional oil paints except that the oil medium in these paints has been altered on the molecular level to allow for water dilution and clean-up. So, the old axiom of water and oil not mixing isn’t true in this case. I’ve read a few online posts that the manufacturers use detergent to make the water solubility occur, but I was not able to confirm this through any legitimate source. Therefore, I would list such claims as questionable. Collateral I was able to find from the different manufacturers points to the chemically-altered makeup of the paints and not a simple additive formula (though additives do play a role). While not the definitive authority on the subject, Wikipedia concisely ascribes it to "the use of an oil medium in which one end of the molecule has been altered to bind loosely to water molecules...."

I found six (sorry, Wikipedia) manufacturers and their respective water soluble oil paint brand. I've listed them below alphabetically:
You might be thinking, "Jeff, are these professional artist paints?" I searched literature and here's what their sites or representatives say:
  • Grumbacher refers to MAX as their "professional line of water miscible oil colors." (Note: MAX2, which has been discontinued, was their student-grade.")
  • Similarly, Holbein speaks of their Duo Aqua brand as "an artist quality pigment in water-soluble linseed oil."
  • LUKAS' Berlin brand is listed as "professional quality."
  • Winsor & Newton's Artisan brand is a curious case. Their well-designed website doesn't specifically list the paints as professional-grade; however, when I emailed W&N's customer service I received the following email back from them (bolding mine, for emphasis):

    Thank you for your enquiry. Artisan currently does not quite match our
    Artists' Oil Colour range in terms of size of range and pigment loading (in
    certain cases). However, in terms of permanence and colours included in the
    range it definitely meets the stringent requirements of professional
    artists. For example, it contains "genuine" cadmium colours, cerulean blue
    and cobalt blue.

    The Artisan range is for professional artists and is used successfully by a
    large number of professional artists worldwide.

  • Van Gogh H2Oil paints are not listed anywhere (either manufacturer or retail sites) as being professional.
As Wikipedia conventiently points out, "The Royal Talens and Holbein paints do not use the traditional pigments that are based on cadmium and other heavy metals, which further reduces the toxicity risks of working with them."

Well, that concludes the discussion for now. I encourage you to check out the manufacturer websites. There's a wealth of information out there on these paints. I've linked to the retailers selling some of the paints. I believe all of them offer starter sets if you'd like to experiment which I'd encourage you to do.

Up next, I'll specifically address the feel of those paint brands I've worked with and what my results were when using them. If you've worked with water soluble oil paints, please let me know about your experience and what brand you used. I would love to hear from you!