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Acrylic or Watercolor Underpainting for Oils

33 thoughts on “Acrylic or Watercolor Underpainting for Oils”

  1. Wow, I had no idea one could paint over watercolors with oils! I’ll have to give this a try, it might open up a whole new range of possibilities!

    Reply
    • Hello Joshua,
      It is pretty great to have such a simple solution for solvent-free, fast drying underpainting. We hope it works out well for you. Let us know how it goes!
      Take care,
      Greg

      Reply
      • Hi Greg!

        Based on this info, would it be ok to use a watercolour pencil on a pre-primed canvas/ oil Paper? And then apply the oil paint over that?

        I’d like to do an under-sketch, then a thinned (with solvent) layer of oil

        Been round in circles looking at dozens of forums & advise on what is ok under oil!

        Thanks!

        Reply
        • Hi Vicki,

          Thanks so much!
          We did not test watercolor pencils for this article, so cannot recommend their use one way or the other. That said, it may be possible to sketch in watercolor pencil and then work over top with oils, but it may require some testing to do so with confidence. The only potential drawback would be if the pencils contain wax. Waxy materials can have an impact on adhesion. Oils might bead up over wax and not stick to that surface very well. The other potential issue with wax is that most waxes can be reactivated with solvents. For example, if you did an oil wash that contains solvent (even odorless mineral spirits) over a pencil that contains wax, it may smudge the drawing. This would also be the issue with oil-based or wax pencils. This could be tested by drawing out lines with all the colors you would use in an underdrawing, manipulate the line work as you normally would with water etc, let dry. After it is dries, paint over top with oil paints and washes made with solvents. if everything stays put and the washes do not bead up, then there is a good chance it should be fine. The next step of the test would be to let the oils dry for a week or more, then burnish a piece of masking tape to the surface over different areas of the test, especially where the underdrawing is at its thickest. Then tear the tape off the surface to see if the oil comes away from the watercolor drawing. If not, then it would indicate pretty good adhesion. If the oil peals off, then we would not recommend this combination of materials. This may sound complicated, but testing for your application can be fairly straight forward and a good way to learn more about your materials. If adhesion seems good, then you should be able to use this technique over preprimed canvas or on oil paper.

          Here is an article about testing for adhesion in your studio: https://justpaint.org/will-it-stick-simple-adhesion-testing-in-your-studio/

          Hope this helps!

          Greg Watson

          Reply
  2. Great article with lots of information. You didn’t mention the advisability of acrylic on oil paint grounded canvas covered boards. These are available at reasonable cost, are very portable and mountable. They are advertised as non-adsorptive, and I wonder how that affects the acrylic adhesion?
    Any advise is appreciated.

    Alan

    Reply
    • Hi Alan,
      Appreciate it. Thanks for the question. We do not recommend this, as we have not seen consistently good adhesion with acrylics over oil paints or oil grounds. Although acrylics do seem to stick to dried oils in some cases, they can often be scratched or pealed from the surface. Even if there is apparent adhesion, we are not sure about long term stability of this combination. As mentioned in the article, watercolor might be a possible solution in this case. The surface should be slightly toothy so that the watercolor and subsequent oil paint layers have some grit to grab. We recommend testing. After the watercolors and oils have dried for several weeks, you can perform a down and dirty adhesion test as outlined in this article: https://justpaint.org/will-it-stick-simple-adhesion-testing-in-your-studio/

      We hope this helps! Best wishes in the studio.
      Greg

      Reply
    • Hi Mark,
      Thank you! Glad you like JustPaint. Most of the articles are written by our Technical Support team. We are here to help if you ever have any application or product related questions. help@goldenpaints.com or 800-959-6543.
      Take care,
      Greg

      Reply
  3. The article mentions oils degrading the fibers of the substrate should it be exposed directly, but I have spent a few years trying to locate any testing done in regards to this and have yet to find any. Is there a link to a test done that shows oil degradation of fabric or paper surfaces?
    I am looking for just oil on the surface, not oil paint or anything like that because pigments in paint have been shown to cause degradation to surfaces when exposed to oxygen, temperature, and other natural environmental situations.

    Reply
  4. Good day/evening Mr. Greg.

    I am also wondering if Golden has any current and/or future plans to make water-soluble version of your Williamsburg oil paint range and/or mediums to make them water-soluble (i.e. water-miscible safflower oil) in order to achieve watercolor-like effects and make clean-up easier.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hello Clarence,

      Thanks for the comment. We do not currently have any plans to make water-miscible oil paints or mediums that could modify our current line. For a short description about how to clean your brushes when using regular oil paints without the use of solvents, see this blog post from our Williamsburg site: http://www.williamsburgoils.com/blog/?p=103

      Best wishes,
      Greg

      Reply
    • Hello Alex,
      Thanks for the good suggestion! It seems like this combination follows the slower drying over faster drying model, which is recommended. We would not expect to see issues with this unless the alkyd layers were exceedingly glossy, which could cause adhesion issues. If this is a technique you use, you may be able to perform a simple adhesion tests to assure the conventional oils are adhering well to the alkyds. We outline the procedure for a simple adhesion test in this article: https://justpaint.org/will-it-stick-simple-adhesion-testing-in-your-studio/
      We recommend trying this on a sample or test piece. Please let us know if you see anything unexpected!
      Thanks again,
      Greg

      Reply
  5. I have been painting this way for almost 20 years. I’ve told a few people who thought less of me for the mere suggestion of using watercolor, acrylic and oils in the same painting.

    Thank you for clarifying this method as not only possible but historically accurate.

    Reply
    • Hi Irlynda,
      You are welcome! It is great to hear you have had success with these combinations. Best wishes moving forward!
      Greg

      Reply
  6. Hi Greg, thanks for the very useful and detailed article.

    I have one question – where you say:

    ‘Apply washes of thinned acrylic or thinned oil colors to help reduce absorbency to make these types of surfaces acceptable for use with oil paints.’

    I would like to know whether you mean thinned with water, in the case of the acrylic, or thinned with some sort of acrylic medium. Would water thinned painted be too absorbent (say at 50%) to paint over in oil. What would be the maximum percentage of water you could dilute an acrylic underpainting for oil by?

    If one were to use a very watery acrylic for underpainting,would it be ok to seal it with a coat of acrylic size before the oil layer?

    Oops more than one question really – look forward to hearing from you.

    Thanks

    Alex

    Reply
    • Hello Alex,

      Thanks for your question(s). You should be able to dilute your acrylic paints, mediums or a combination of both with how ever much water you need to get the effect you are after. 50% water is a very safe dilution. There is no limit to how much acrylic medium you can add to your paints, as you are simply adding binder which will increase transparency but not weaken the paint in any way.

      We have tested acrylics thinned 1 part paint to 1 part water all the way up to 1 part paint to 100 parts water. In all cases, we did not see any issues with adhesion, but only in the extreme dilutions did we see water sensitivity in some colors. This should not be an issue when working over top with oils. Here is a link to that testing: https://justpaint.org/how-much-water-can-you-safely-add-to-acrylic-paint/

      Keep in mind, the more you dilute, the thinner the layer, and less binder there is to lock up absorbency. Very absorbent acrylic grounds may need several coats of highly diluted acrylic to reduce the absorbency. It may only take one coat of full strength or slightly thinned acrylic to achieve the same effect. If you wanted to apply an acrylic coat over your acrylic underpainting, a single layer of Fluid Matte Medium should do the trick. This also has the added benefit of providing tooth if the acrylics are at all glossy. Give an acrylic underpainting a couple days to dry before painting on top with oils.
      feel free to call with any other questions – 800-959-6543.

      Best Regards,
      Greg

      Reply
  7. Very useful article, thank you.
    I have a question, I’m wondering whether a watercolour painting on unprimed watercolour paper could have oils painted over it if the original watercolour painting were protected afterwards with a clear gesso or matte medium product? If I understood correctly all your examples are about watercolour/acrylic painting onto a prepared background but presumably it wouldn’t matter if the oil barrier was after the watercolour stage?
    Thanks in advance!
    Luci

    Reply
    • Hello Luci,
      Glad it was helpful! The only challenge would be applying the water-based acrylic without smudging the watercolor. That said, if you can get a couple layers of acrylic onto the watercolor with minimal smudging, you should be good to paint on top with oils. If you use an airbrush, then a couple thin coats of High Flow Medium should start to reduce sensitivity of the watercolor and then you could apply a couple brush layers.
      Let us know if you want to discuss this possibility further. You can email help@goldenpaints.com or call 800-959-6543.
      Best,
      Greg Watson

      Reply
  8. What about if the underpainting is in acryla gouache layer do you need a clear medium or anything before applying the oils? I read that another artist using this method applied liquin between the gouache acryla before adding the oil layer, but I’m not sure if the liquin is really necessary. Great article! Thanks for all the technical information.

    Reply
    • Hello Courtney,
      Thanks for your comment. We have not tested oils over Acryla Gouache, but imagine it should be fine to paint directly onto that surface. It likely has nice tooth and absorbency. The only concern would be if it is too absorbent. If that is the case, a thin wash of oil paint or a thin layer of acrylic Fluid Matte Medium should lock up some of the absorbency before applying full bodies oil paints. Adding a layer of Liquin might only serve to complicate the layering. And, it is not likely a required step, other than it would serve to reduce absorbency of the surface. If a lower absorbency surface is desired, then painting the underpainting with regular acrylics with a satin or semi-gloss sheen should help.
      Best,
      Greg

      Reply
  9. Hello,
    Can you tell me if I will have any adhesion issues or other problems if I use Caran D’Ache supracolor II watersoluble pencils
    for an under painting sketch for my oil painting? I am using a canvas coated with acrylic gesso.
    Thank you for your advice,
    Cynthia Pedrazzini

    Reply
    • Hello Cynthia,
      Thanks for your comment. We have not tested oil over Caran D’Ache Supracolor II watersoluble pencils. Adhesion could be an issue if there is wax in those pencils. We have seen poor adhesion over oil pastels and cold wax/oil color mixtures. If the pencils are not applied too heavily and there is still exposed gesso, then it might be fine. The other drawback of wax content would be that some waxes are soluble in odorless mineral spirits and most in turpentine or full strength mineral spirits. If you use solvents in the initial layers of your oil painting, it might smudge the crayons. Either way, we recommend testing to see how it works before using on a final artwork. Here is an article on adheshion testing: https://justpaint.org/will-it-stick-simple-adhesion-testing-in-your-studio/
      Take care,
      Greg

      Reply
  10. Hi Greg,
    Could I ask if this post has been edited recently? I thought that I understood that you originally mentioned Golden’s Pastel Ground as a suitable preparation for oil painting on paper. I purchased some and have found it an excellent surface for watercolour, however I now on re-reading the article find that if I wanted subsequently to paint the paper with oils, I should have first sized my watercolour paper before applying the Pastel Ground. If I was to have used Pastel Ground alone and then watercolour, then oil, will that mean the artwork will be non-archival and will deteriorate? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hello Dolores,
      No we did not edit this article. The Pastel Ground should be a fine surface for your watercolor, then oil, but like Gesso it is rather absorbent, so there needs to be enough layers to block oil penetration into the paper. It takes 3 layers of Gesso to block oil. Pastel Ground could use the same number. If you do not want significant build on the surface, then you could apply an initial layer or two of Fluid Matte Medium or a similar product and then a single layer of Pastel Ground. The acrylic products can be layered once touch dry, so the preparation can go pretty quick.
      Hope this helps! Thanks for your comment.
      Greg

      Reply

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