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First thing to understand about transitioning from acrylic painting to oils is WHY? Oil painting is notoriously heftier to pick up and learn and master than acrylics. For this reason many artists are daunted by the thought of this transition. So why go through the extra lengths to learn oils?

So I have painted with watercolours, acrylics and oils- all in depth, and I can tell you from my personal experience that oils in so many ways are the "superior" medium for painting if what you're trying to achieve is a sense of depth and luminosity to your work. Watercolour and acrylic always look flat- no matter how many layers are added or what mediums you work with- it always just looks like something is missing.

Oil practice is also much more toxic than acrylic and watercolour, so if health and safety is at the top of your list of what's the most important aspect of painting, then oils may not be suited for you. If health and safety are of concern but not a deterrent there are methods for a safer studio practice with oils and many alternatives to the common toxic aspects of oil painting practices (for example Gamblin offers solvent free oil mediums) . Gamblin also has a tab for studio safety when it comes to oils on there website that is worth checking out if you're new to the medium.

There are pros and cons to all mediums and its really only up to you to decide what outweighs what.

So just like with acrylic paint there are mediums to help alter how the paint functions, there's the same with oils. These mediums for oils do everything from speeding the dry time up, to slowing it down, to thinning the paint to thickening the paint. The most daunting thing in learning oils for me, I found, was navigating allllll the mediums available for oils compared to acrylic. So acrylic drys crazy fast compared to oils, so most mediums for acrylics are there to slow the dry time, and still they work really strangely with the paint that there's a whole new learning curve with acrylics if you start adding in mediums. But with oil painting, the mediums work so much smoother with the paint- they work with it rather than against it (that may not make sense until you become well versed in both and see what I mean). So since oil paints dry painfully slow in comparison to acrylics, there are way more mediums out there to not just slow dry time but speed it up. So just in terms of dry time the options for mediums get ramped up switching to oils. BUT then you also have the mediums to change consistency... So acrylic comes in a couple options- you can get fluid acrylics which are more watery and, well, fluid, or you can get thicker body acrylics that have more texture when laying it down. Since oil paint all comes with the same consistency, you have mediums that you add to your oil paint to either make it more "fluid" or to thicken it "heavy body". 

So now you have EVEN MORE medium options for oils than acrylics just for consistency. And no medium does just one thing. They all affect dry time and consistency to some degree.

The very thing that makes oils terrifying to learn (all these choices and not knowing where to start and what to choose and what works best) is the same thing that makes oils superior- these options are what make it so you can really get the paint to work exactly how you want it to. Navigating them in the beginning is overwhelming but it can also be very fun! 

it can get super expensive if you just buy a bunch and try them out though, so its very helpful to know right away what you're looking for. Before you get started in choosing mediums ask yourself these questions:

-Do I want my paint to dry faster? (do you have deadlines, or are impatient, or are a fast painter, or plan to working many layers? these are all reasons you may want to use a medium that speeds up dry time)

- Do I want my paint to dry slower? (oils already dry much slower than acrylics, but if you don't have the luxury of sitting down for many hours at a time and just like to work on a piece here and there, or don't want to work in many layers, and like to work alla prima but are maybe a slower painter, then using a retarder may be beneficial)

-Do I want my paint to be textured? (if so how much texture? and in what layers do you want to add the texture? all at once? built up in layers? things like Neo meglip can add very very soft subtle textures that slowly build texture, where as impasto and G-Gel give a nice texture right away, and cold wax gives intense texture with sculptablility)

-Do I want my paint flat? (an option if you plan to roll your paintings for shipping or storage, or if you're a hyperrealist or detail oriented artist that prefers to render textural elements instead of giving the impression of detail through actual texture.

-Or Do I want both flat and textural elements? (maybe smooth the areas you want to recede and bring texture to the focal points?, or a combo of rendered details and impressionate details.)

Once you've figured out what you're looking for by answering these questions this will help you to figure out what mediums to try first. You may come to find what you thought you wanted changes. Going from acrylic to oils my painting process changed so much that I have a stack of barely used mediums. Just keep in mind this is a strange transition- acrylics and oils work so opposite from one another... this transition will be tricky even with guidance. I can give you all the info I can but until you feel the paint and get into it, you don't fully understand. It takes a bit to get the feel for it and shake off the acrylic hand/mindset. 

If you jump from acrylic right into oils it will be overwhelming and will probably not go as well as you hope and this is where many people throw their hands up and say "fuck this". I know b/c that's exactly what I did haha. Then I tried again a few years later but instead of jumping from one to the other, I tried techniques to build up my understanding of oils. One way by learning oil dry brush first. (check out that tab, then go to the homework tab to see how you should approach it) the second was by glazing over acrylics to understand what the hell glazing was and what mediums did what. (you'll want to check out the glazing tab and the homework that pertains to that as well). Then trying an alla prima painting- but when I tried this I fucking sucked hard! so to even build up to an alla prima painting theres a fun study you can do that takes 5 minutes and strangely helped a LOT! and that is to do an eye painting in only 15 strokes! now you can make those strokes as long as you want, and wind them around and really drag them out so one stroke maps out the whole shape, you then see how long paint lasts on the brush, how much pressure to apply, how thick vs thin interacts when it goes over each other, how different colours interact.... then do this study again with different mediums and see how much it changes. This will tell you so much helpful information that allows you to see it first hand and understand it in just 5 minute studies. It's also good for the ego b/c you know you'll never get it to look how you would a fully rendered painting when limited to just 15 strokes... so it alleviates the pressure to get a perfect beautiful painting and you can just focus on the learning part and get excited over the accumulation of new knowledge as it begins to make more sense, rather than getting frustrated b/c a painting isn't looking how you want. 

We are strange creatures... talent is just a pursued interest but we only like to pursue the things we feel good from- some sense of pride or accomplishment that we are doing it well. The biggest reason I hear people say when they give up on oils was "it looked like shit". Not  that it wasn't fun, not that it was an inferior medium that produced an inferior result.... they simply gave up before they could learn to make the paint work for them.

So to increase your chances of successfully transitioning- make it as easy for yourself and easy on the ego as possible, and make it just that- a transition- not a deep dive into the unknown. Slowly transition by integrating aspects of oil painting into your art practice. 

I'm so glad I gave oil painting another shot, b/c I could never imagine going back to another paint medium. After seeing how much EASIER painting becomes once you understand how to use oils, I could not imagine going back to acrylics and trying to paint what I do now. I thought I was such a shit painter... but turns out I just wasn't able to work with the confines of acrylic well. I had an idea of how I wanted the paint to behave and what I wanted a piece to look like and could never get their with oils. 

Oils may be hard to learn, but once you learn them you'll see how much easier of a medium it is to work with than acrylics.


*Random tip- if you use water when painting with acrylics, I recommend just getting a small bottle of either Gamblins Galkyd Lite, or W&N's Liquin fine detail, and start playing around with that.


You can paint exceptionally beautiful and rich in-depth paintings by working solely in glaze layers. If you're transitioning from watercolour, take advantage of your understanding of building up thin transparent layers and apply this in oils through thin transparent glaze layers! You can start with a sheet of oil paper (looks and feels very similar to watercolour paper but is treated specifically for oils so they don't rot out the paper) and start with a bottle of Gamblins Galkyd Lite or W&N's Liquin Fine Detail. The medium will act as your "water" and thin the paint out to a transparent fluid glaze. The biggest thing to note for this will be to account for the yellow tint, and gumminess and time restraints. So These mediums speed dry time and get gummy after a few hours. They take about 24 hours to dry fully though, so unlike watercolour where you can do many layers in a day, with oil glazing, you will have to just take a couple minutes to do one layer at a time. So you'll start with your first layer using however much medium you want to thin it out (or start with a dry brush technique- you can do this in colour) and then wait a day for it to dry, and glaze the next layer over. Let it dry over night, and do the next glaze layer over that, and so forth until you feel its done. 

This is probably the most time consuming way to paint with oils but holy fuck you can have extraordinary results when done right!

* The most incredible impact is when the first layer is yellow, so when the light passes through all the layers and hits that white paper and refracts back through all the glaze layers, it just illuminates that yellow giving a beautiful glowing effect.

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