Acrylics, Oil or Watercolors

Where do I start, acrylics, oil or watercolors?

One of the first questions to answer when you start painting is what medium you should use. The three main options are acrylics, oil and watercolors.
There is no correct answer and the three media have different features that we will analyze.

Anders Zorn Bread Baking 1889
Anders Zorn Bread Baking 1889

Acrylic paint: the choice of beginner

Acrylics are widely used by those who start with painting, as they are easy to use and often cheaper than oils and watercolors.

What acrylics may be suitable for

  • If you are a beginner and do not want to worry about the complexities of oil and watercolor painting.
  • You want the cleaning time of the material to be short and easy.
  • You’re painting on a limited budget.
  • You like to experiment with mixed techniques.
  • You’re sensitive to aggressive chemicals related to oil painting.

Limitations of Acrylics

  • The paint dries very quickly. You can extend the drying time of your acrylic paints with certain additional means, however, not for long. This limits the application time as the paint will dry quickly not allowing it to be handled later.
  • Mixing and enameling are not as effective for acrylic paint.
  • Some colors darken as they dry (colors that are lighter tend to change more).

Oil paintings: the choice of the master

Oil paintings are the most widely used medium among professional artists for a number of reasons:

  • They’re versatile. You can vary the drying time and consistency of your paint using paint thinners and additional oil. This allows you to work with a wide range of painting techniques, including mixing, veiling and impastos.
  • The techniques used by the ancient masters are much more suitable for oil painting.
  • They were preferred by the great masters of painting of all time. It’s hard to argue a disadvantage of using oil painting when so many amazing artists used them so successfully.
  • Oil paintings seem to be better considered by art collectors than acrylic paintings (there are a few exceptions, of course).
Joaquin Sorolla On The Rocks At Javea
Joaquin Sorolla On The Rocks At Javea

You really can’t go wrong with oil paintings. If you’re not sure where to start, I suggest jumping straight into oil painting or starting with acrylics with oil views once you have more practice.

It is advisable to wear gloves when handling oil paint. Most earth colors are non-toxic but there are others with a certain degree of toxicity such as cadmium or cobalt and to a much greater extent lead.

I do not recommend the use of solvents such as turpentine, white spirit, water, etc. Even so-called “odorless” solvents are harmful to health. The latter can be even more harmful because they still have the same degree of toxicity but no odor, so by not smelling them, we do not realize the extent to which the room may be loaded with toxics.

Watercolors – Wild Beauty

Watercolors are often considered the most difficult to work with due to the untamed nature of water and the fact that you can’t make many changes or almost correct mistakes.
(since paper can only absorb a certain amount of water and you cannot lighten the areas once painted). However, if mastered, watercolors can produce incredibly elegant paintings.
For this reason, I would recommend starting with acrylics or oil before
venture into watercolors. Watercolors can also act as a fantastic complement to your acrylic and oil painting. Watercolors train a set of skills that will help you paint gently and accurately.
For example, John Singer Sargent was famous for his meticulous oil portraits, but he used watercolors to paint impressionistic and loose landscapes.

Sargent Siesta In A Swiss Wood
Sargent Siesta In A Swiss Wood

What should you choose?

I would usually say that there is no right answer here and that you should make your own decision, however, as you are probably learning to paint and looking for some direction, I will give you my personal opinion.
If you’re a beginner in painting and have no experience with others
media starts with acrylics or oil.
If you’re familiar with painting but have a very limited experience, use oil, unless, for some reason, you really want to use acrylics.
While you’re learning acrylic or oil painting, you might want to paint with watercolors and it would be great.

I recommend that, at least to some extent, you try them all, even if in the end you opt for a particular one (this does not mean that you have to choose a medium and ignore the rest).

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