Can I Use Regular Linseed Oil With Water Mixable Oils?

Water mixable oil paints are often billed as being less hassle versions of traditional oil paints. In many ways, they do offer a very similar experience with much less risk and effort. However, water mixable versions of oil paints somewhat differ from the traditional painting experience. One of the most distinct features in which water mixable oil paints are different from their traditional counterparts is the reason they are named “water mixable” paints, which allows the use of plain water to be used to paint with them, minimising your exposure to harsh chemicals. This replaces the use of turpentine with traditional oil paint, which makes it more flexible and friendly to use.

However, with the oil particles being integrated into the paint itself using emulsifiers, can additional linseed oil be used in the same way that it can be with traditional oil paint? And, moreover, why or why not is this the case?

The answer is, yes, you can use linseed oil as a medium with water mixable oils. Because of the emulsifiers in the paint itself, oils can be introduced to the water mixable paints with great success, including linseed oil, as long as it is the correct linseed oil.

Why Do You Need To Add Linseed Oil To Water Mixable Paints?

Additional oil, as it is used in oil painting, is often referred to as the “medium”, and it is the key to controlling the flow and shine of the oil paint’s surface. When adding additional linseed oil to traditional oil paints, it is used to modify three aspects of paint in particular: viscosity, surface gloss, and drying time.

For traditional oil paints, which use turpentine as a mixing liquid, the rule is always “fat over lean”, meaning that “leaner” mixes, with fewer oil and more turpentine, should be used as base coats. And greater and greater amounts of oil, most frequently linseed or walnut oil, added overtop to create more shine. This also helps add structure and final details to the painting, because of the aforementioned viscosity-altering benefits of mixing in oils, which reduces the flow of the paint and allows you to paint more textural and stiff details. This does, however, greatly affect the drying time of the layer.

Fat layers, especially natural oils like linseed, take much longer to dry than more liquid layers, since they depend largely on “curing” rather than air evaporation, as is the case with turpentine and water alike. When it comes to oil paints, where each layer can take many hours to dry, adding oil can be a carefully-calibrated give and take, adding drying time while also subtracting runniness and enabling greater control over the level of fine detail and final shine of the surface paint.

When it comes to water mixable oil paints, this is even more the case. Since water, the mixing liquid used in place of turpentine, dries much faster than chemical solutions. When it comes to adding mediums to alter the viscosity and shine of the paint, it depends very much on using the correct materials, and to know their effect on the painting as you go.

Using standard mediums with water mixables can be a disaster. But, fortunately, many of the same companies that offer tubes of water mixable oil paints also offer mixes of mediums that can be used to modulate the same pigments that you are already purchasing from them.

Some of the current water-washable linseed oil mediums that are available for use with water mixable oil paints are Winsor & Newton Artisan, Daniel Smith Water Soluble Oil, and Holbein Duo Aqua Oil. Looking for these mediums online should provide a variety of flexible, linseed mediums that can be used to modify the water mixable paints for a comfortable painting experience..

Part of the reason why using mediums is actually just as important with water mixable oils as it is with their traditional counterpart, is because of the various pitfalls that come with plain, unmodified oil paints. One of the most common painters’ complaints with water mixables is that, especially if you are already comfortable with oil paints, the colours of water mixable oils seem, by comparison, to lack the shine and texture that oil paints possess. This is largely because of the evaporation of water mixables leaving the oil paint much more matte than is typically expected from oil paints, with the colour of the paint seeming altogether somewhat different to the experience of the oil paints.

Additionally, another aspect of water mixables is that the paint may appear to be slightly “gummy”, or lack texture on the canvas, lacking the impasto and character that you come to expect from oil paints. Through adding oil mediums to these paints, you greatly modify the texture, shine, and flow of the paint as you brush it over the canvas. With the additional shine and gloss that comes from the “fat over lean” method that applies to water mixables just as readily as it does with turpentine-based paints, you reduce the matte effect that water mixables often seem to exhibit as they dry, showing more vibrant colours that stay fixed even as the paint cures.

As for the textural issues that some painters take issue with, adding appropriate linseed oil mediums allows greater control over the texture of the paint. This makes it less gummy and far more smooth, as well as increasing the drying time significantly, leaving more room for impasto painting and adding more details to the painting as you go, reducing the feeling that you’re painting with tempera paints or watercolour.

So, as long as you acquire the correct medium that is usable with water mixable oil paints, using linseed oil is not only possible, but, in fact, highly recommended for anyone looking to transition from traditional oil painting to water mixable oils; while still retaining the methods and techniques that they’ve honed using traditional oil painting, now with water rather than turpentine.