Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Water mixable oils - in the style of the TV painters

One of my earliest influences in painting was Bill Alexander, the original TV wet-on-wet oil painter.  Watching him paint an oil painting in less than 30 minutes seemed like magic.  So the name of his show on PBS - The Magic of Oil Painting - was most appropriate!

I watched his show (and subsequent series) religiously for many years.  I did numerous paintings using his techniques - the same techniques that Bob Ross used, for those unfamiliar with Alexander.  While the techniques of the two popular TV artists were similar, they couldn't have been more different personality wise.  Ross was quiet and serene - Alexander loud and energetic!

Over the past few years, Mater Mixable oils (often called Water Soluble or Water Miscible, too) have become more popular among oil painters looking to avoid solvents or to simplify clean up.  Occasionally, on various discussion forums on the internet, folks will ask if it is possible to paint like the TV painters with the Water Mixable oils (WMOs).  The TV painters, you may recall, had their own lines of traditional oil paint and began their paintings with a thin coat of "special" white paint - Alexander's known as Magic White, Ross's as Liquid White.  Although these "special" paints have "secret" formulas, they are basically just a mixture of a solvent, an oil, and white paint.  In other words - a medium.  So, yes, you can paint like the TV painters with water mixable oils!

The following paintings are all done with water mixable oils and a few different mediums to try to replicate the techniques of the TV painters.  All are 12" x 9" on canvas board.

The first was done by starting with a thin coat of white paint mixed with a touch of water.  Water is a solvent when using water mixable oils.  Many WMO users have problems when adding water to the paint.  Some brands handle water better than others.  In this painting I am using Grumbacher MAX.  I have never had a problem when adding water to the paint, but one needs to make sure that water is added sparingly.  That first layer, replicating the Magic White, is very thin and mostly paint.  It can not be runny - it needs to maintain a tacky feel.  When stroking the brush across the canvas, you should feel a slight pull.  If it is too runny, continue stroking the brush back and forth to remove access paint and water.

You may not notice in the photo, but by adding only water (rather than any oil) to the oil paint, the paint becomes quite matte rather than glossy.  Generally speaking, the more oil on the mixture, the glossier the paint.  Adding a solvent makes the paint less oily - thus more matte.

As is often the case, even though the TV painters finished their paintings in one sitting, it was necessary for me to do additional work on this painting after the first layer was dry.  This is the finished painting.

The next painting was done with Grumbacher MAX paints using their Linseed oil medium, rather than water, mixed with the paint.  Again, the medium was added to the white paint (very sparingly) to create that first, thin coat of white.  Putting down that thin coat of medium and white creates an easier surface to paint on, allowing the paint to be blended and moved around with much greater ease than if the painting surface was dry.

Again, some additional work was done during a second session.  When paint is wet, it is difficult to add very dark, very light, or intense color to the painting, as it will usually blend in with the paint that is already on the surface.  So, one often needs to wait until the first layer is dry to add additional lights, darks or intense colors.

The next painting was done using Holbein Aqua Duos.  This time the medium added is Holbein's Duo Painting Oil Medium.  Done all in one session.


The final painting is still on my easel, done (so far) in one session.  This time I'm using a combination of Holbein and Grumbacher paints, along with the Holbein medium.  In this painting, I have used a very thin coat of medium only to start the painting.  You don't need the white paint in the mixture.  The medium alone will create a slightly slippery surface (but still tacky) to work on.

Hope you enjoy the paintings and the information on how they were created.



Lee Copeland said...

Don, what kind of work time did you have with the DUO from Holbein once you did a thin coat of white and Holbein's water soluble linseed medium? I've been trying to paint with the DUO paint and water... and it dries so fast.

Don Ketchek said...

Sorry, Lee - I haven't been checking my blog for a couple years. I can't really remember specifically how long the paint remained workable, but I have never done an oil painting that was dry in less than a day. If your paint is drying really quickly, I would check to make sure your ground isn't too absorbent. Otherwise, I haven't noticed that WMOs dry faster than traditional oils - even though some of the brands do advertise faster drying.