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Painting Techniques for Oil & Acrylic

Table of Contents

  • Oil or Acrylic? Which Paint Is Best for You?
  • List of Supplies
  • Preparation
  • Technique 1: Glazing with Two Layers
  • Technique 2: Working with a Palette Knife
  • Technique 3: Creating Texture with Two Layers
  • Technique 4: Sgraffito with Two Layers
  • Technique 5: Mixing on the Canvas
  • Technique 6: Mixing Media

Oil or Acrylic? Which Paint Is Best for You?

Artists who are just starting to paint are often faced with the question, “Which paint should I use?” When they ask for advice from fellow artists, they tend to receive a few typical responses—some people swear by oils, some artists only use acrylics, and some artists use both—which makes deciding even more confusing. The best answer to which paint you should use is to try them both and see which media aligns with your painting aesthetic and your personality. 

In this post, we’ll try to make it easy for you to decide by giving you a comparison of the mediums along with some techniques for each to try. Once you dip your brush into the different ways to create with each paint, you’ll have a clearer picture of the one you like best. 

So, if you can't decide between oils and acrylics, we suggest you read the steps in each technique, watch the video all the way through, and give the techniques a try before making your choice!

List of Supplies

For oil painting. 
Oil Premium Artist Paint, 12ml Tubes - Set of 24: https://arteza.com/dp/oil-premium-artist-paints-set-24-colors
Solvents for cleaning brushes - turpentine
Solvent container
Wood Palette
Linseed Oil
Bristle paintbrushes

Acrylic Premium Artist Paint, 22ml Tubes - Set of 60: https://arteza.com/dp/acrylic-premium-artist-paints-set-60-colors
Water - for cleaning brushes and thinning paint
Container for water
Palette
Bristle paintbrushes

Preparation

It’s important to note that oil paints take substantially longer to dry than acrylics. Acrylics often dry in a few minutes whereas oil paints take anywhere from 3 to 25 days to dry. In fact, oil paint can take years to completely cure. That doesn’t mean you have to wait that long to achieve a comparison. We suggest you follow the steps over a few days, applying the first coat of paint and letting it become dry to the touch before going on to the next layer. 


Before getting started, here are a few more things you need to know about each medium. 

Oils
Oil paints are not water-soluble, so it is necessary to use a solvent such as turpentine to clean brushes used for oil painting. This is why we recommend painting in a well-ventilated space and wearing gloves to prevent any reactions to the solvent.  
Oil paint can be thinned with linseed oil. 

Acrylics
Acrylic paints are thinned by using water. It’s important to have a container of water large enough to keep the water from getting full of paint. You can clean your brushes easily with soap and water. 
As acrylics dry fast, it’s important to work quickly, as they cannot be reactivated once completely dry. 

We recommend you use two different shapes of canvases for this exercise—round for oils and square for acrylics. This way if you want to see the difference at a later time, you’ll always know which is which. 

Technique 1. Glazing with Two Layers

Oil

Layer 1 
Squeeze some paint onto the palette. To get a medium-thick consistency, add a little linseed oil and mix.
Using a medium-sized brush, apply diagonal strokes onto the canvas until it’s completely covered. Add more paint to slightly darken the sides.
Let the paint dry before proceeding with the next layer.

Layer 2
Dilute some white paint using linseed oil. 
Apply several diagonal strokes of differing densities. Let the base show through your strokes and allow the transparency of the paint to create a new color. You can get lots of different shades as well as more complex colors this way. For instance, if you layer a semi-transparent yellow over a blue base, you’ll get a bright green.
Use a solvent and a cotton cloth to clean the brushes. The cloth should be soft and absorb well. Rinse the brushes in soapy water to clean them after using oil paints.

Acrylic

Layer 1
Add a little water to your chosen acrylic paint color. 
Next, use a medium-sized brush to create a light gradient of your color on the canvas. 
Let the paint dry.

Layer 2
Acrylic works similar to oils, only this time the paint is diluted with water.
Apply strokes of paint over the base color. You will notice that these thin transparent layers dry quickly. They hardly mix with the previous layer, but the transparency remains.
The layers you add create new colors as they are stacked on top of each other.
Use water to clean the brush. Excess water can be blotted off with a paper towel.

TIP: This technique is very versatile. Try using colors of different intensities and shades. Mixing them this way can create a very unique and interesting palette.

Technique 2. Working with a Palette Knife

Oil
Begin by applying several colors onto your palette.
Next, use the tip of the palette knife to mix the paint by applying wide strokes of one color on top of another. 
Scoop up some of the paint and place it on the canvas. 
You can work in multiple layers without waiting for the previous layer to dry.

Acrylic
Use a palette knife to mix several colors on the palette before applying the first layer.to the canvas.
If you don’t want to mix the second layer with the first. Wait a few minutes for the paint to dry before adding the next layer of paint. 

TIP: When painting with the knife, you’ll see that all the colors will mix and create a complex range of shades. By using this technique, you can adjust the height of the layers by adjusting the amount of paint you use.

Technique 3. Creating Texture with Two Layers 

Oil

Layer 1

Mix a large amount of paint with a brush.
First, apply the paint in one direction so it keeps its volume.
Then, apply a few strokes in the opposite direction.
Wait until the base is completely dried before you continue working. It may take several days for the oil paint to dry.

Layer 2

Squeeze out the color you need. For this technique, you’ll use a large, stiff-bristled brush.
Start working on the base using light movements. Do this so the brush doesn’t fill in all the grooves, but only touches the high points of paint and passes over any dips in the surface.
Do the same with the second color. This highlights the textured pattern you’ve created. Depending on the color, you can highlight the texture or give it a vintage effect.

Acrylic

Layer 1

Apply the paint from the tube directly on your canvas.
Distribute it evenly using a palette knife.
Split your color in half. Now, use deep strokes to bump them up against each other.
By separating the paint into two halves, it’s easy to create beautiful textures. 
Wait until it dries. A thick coat of acrylic paint will typically dry overnight.

Layer 2

Lightly dilute your desired color with water.
Paint over the dips in the base. The color will only remain in the thickest parts. This will highlight the previously created texture. 

Technique 4. Sgraffito with Two Layers 

Oil

Layer 1

Mix several colors together
Apply them evenly onto the canvas. 
Let the paint dry.

Layer 2

Without using any solvent, mix a large amount of paint using a palette knife.
Apply a thick layer of paint onto the surface using a large palette knife.
Next, use a small palette knife to create patterns or textures inside the wet layer of paint. Oil paints allow you plenty of time to do this. 

TIP: By brushing off some of the layers of paint completely, the color of the layer beneath will be revealed.

Acrylic

Layer 1

Repeat the same steps for your first layer as you did with the oil paint.

Layer 2

Apply a thick layer of paint, such as a metallic, with the palette knife. Metallic paint is very effective for this technique.
Next, use a small square palette knife to create textures or patterns.
Work on the surface with different sides of the knife to get different shapes and lines.

HINT: The difference between oils and acrylics, when using this technique, is that you need to work quickly on the second layer with acrylics. Acrylic paints start drying after just a few minutes and the paint needs to stay wet to create the most visible patterns.  

Technique 5. Mixing on the Canvas

Oil

Use a small brush to blend your paint on the palette until it’s an even consistency.
Next, apply diagonal stripes with a slight space between strokes. 
Mix and apply the second color within those areas between the strokes.
As you apply the additional color, the two colors will start blending with each other. This will create a soft and vibrant gradient.
Next, apply an additional color on top of the second layer. It’ll stay clean when applied with a clean brush. To do this, constantly wipe your brush with a cloth or use a solvent to keep it clean. It’s important that the excess solvent be removed from the brush before you continue working.

TIP: You can also blend a complementary color with the previous one. Oil paint dries slowly, so you have a lot of time to make adjustments.

Acrylic

Squeeze several colors onto the palette.
Apply then on the canvas and blend them to create a gradient.
You should work fast while blending since you only have minutes before the paint dries. If that happens, you’ll notice that when you try to apply the next color, it will no longer mix with the previous layer.
If that happens, you can let the first layer dry completely and blend a layer of transparent colors together on top of it for an interesting composition. You’ll find that the right colors will complement each other.

Technique 6. Mixing Media

Oil on Acrylic

Apply a layer of gray acrylic paint and wait until it dries. This will be the background for the next layer.
Since the acrylic layer dries quickly, you can start working with oil paints immediately.
Don’t worry; the oil colors you apply will not mix with the base. 

TIP: Using acrylic paints for a base or underpainting allows oil painters to speed up their process. They can quickly begin their oil painting since unlike a base of oil paint, they don't have to wait long for the acrylic to dry.

Acrylic and Acrylic Markers

Apply the acrylic paint onto the canvas in any manner you wish. 
Wait for it to dry.
Next, use acrylic markers directly over the paint to create whatever drawings or shapes you like.

TIP: Think about the color combinations you wish to have. Acrylic markers look different on top of different colors. You can use this to your advantage to achieve interesting graphic effects.

We hope you’ve had fun comparing these two popular mediums. Once you decide which paint is best for your style, you’ll be well on your way to creating your own masterpieces. We’d love to hear which one you like best. Let us know in the comments below!


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