Like with any art form, painting can be practiced in several ways, each unique in its technique, materials used, brushes and even the paint itself. And among the most heated debates, especially among practicing newcomers of this art form is whether to use oil or acrylic paints. The answer which would settle this debate, however, is not a simple one. For all intents and purposes, there may not be an answer as it is usually up to the artist to familiarize himself or herself with a technique or a process, stick with it and get really good at it. But let’s look at some of the clear-cut differences between using acrylic paint or oil paints.
Personal Working Style
The first and foremost thing you need to take into account is that using acrylic paint will mean that you’ll need to step up your game and work a lot faster. That means you should be pretty much cut off from the rest of the world for as long as you plan on painting. Why? Because acrylic paint dries up extremely fast.
So, for example, if you’ve got something to do, you’d better do it before setting up your frame and start painting. Just a couple of minutes away from what you’ve painted and you’ll return to a dried-up blob of paint. Of course, you can always scrape it off and start again – but you would’ve worked in vain, lost time and effort.
But why should you care that acrylics dry off so fast? Isn’t a painting supposed to dry? A painting, yes. But when you want to mix and match colors, you can’t rely on a color that comes directly out of the tube. Never mind you palette on which you keep your colors – it would be a total bummer to return to a dried up one which you can’t use anymore and will need to restock, thus wasting perfectly good paint.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are oil paints which don’t dry off as easily. You can keep them on a palette for up to a whole day without having to worry – once you get back to painting, you can just pick up where you left off without having to treat the paint anymore.
Second thing you’ll need to know before deciding between acrylic and oil paints is the type of surface you’ll want to paint on. And this is where things get tricky for those of you who fancy the idea of using oil paints.
In this regard, acrylics are easy – you can use them on most surfaces as they have a high adherence factor and you won’t encounter major problems with them. Oil paint, on the other hand, has the nasty habit of corroding certain materials. So if you plan on painting on a canvas, you’ll need to prepare it beforehand: a lengthy and often costly process. Then again, you can purchase already treated canvases, but that will increase your expenses and painting is not a cheap form of art!
About Blending Colors, Drying and the Effects of Time Passing
Between finished acrylics and oil paintings, you’ll notice a distinct difference: colors. Acrylic paint will offer brighter, longer-lasting colors, while oil paints are somewhat brushed off and will fade in time, turning towards a yellow tint.
This is because of different binders used in different paints – binders which can negatively influence acrylic and oil paints alike. But for the most part, acrylics will offer brighter colors that will last longer. The downside however is that you’ll need to work faster, as we’ve already covered the quick-drying aspect.
Given that oil paints will not dry nearly as fast as acrylic paints, you can blend them a lot easier on the canvas or the palette. This allows for smoother transitions between color schemes and a whole lot more possibility to be subtle. However, oil paints will need to be left to dry after each layer of paint has been set. Be careful – if you’re using thick oil-based paint, make sure you leave it to dry longer, as it will dry out on the surface, but remain moist underneath and, when exposed to significant temperature or humidity changes, it will crack.
Acrylic paint does not usually crack, except if exposed to ridiculously cold temperatures. However, due to their quick drying time, they won’t allow for subtle transitions. On the bright side, if you’re into brightly-colored painting, then acrylics are definitely your best choice.
So far, we’ve looked at some differences from a practicing standpoint and one could argue that said differences balance themselves out, so it would be left to the painter to decide what kind of paints to use. But there are a few other important things you need to consider before deciding on the best approach.
Acrylics are odorless and can be used in small spaces safely. This cannot be said for oil paints – they have a distinct odor and turpentine can be harmful when inhaled in high doses for long periods of time. It’s definitely agreed upon that oil painting should be done away from kids and pets. So if you lack the separate, large and airy space in which to paint and also have kids around, then stay away from oils. Some water-mixable oil paints are safer, but not entirely so.
Aside from the above-mentioned difference between oil and acrylic paints regarding the smell and its possible noxious effects, painters will agree to disagree on what to use in creating their masterpieces. If you like working fast, acrylics may be a good place to start – however, if you like taking your time and creating subtle color blends, oils are the way to go.
Either way, one thing remains clear: whatever the kind of paint used, persistence and dedication is key. You cannot master acrylic or oil painting by just giving it a go and forming a long-lasting opinion. Experiment, practice, make mistakes and learn from them – in time, you’ll learn to hone in your talent and skills and create truly magnificent works of art that will have little to do with the kind of paint you’ve used, but a lot with the technique and creation process behind them.