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My quandary in June was what art supplies to bring on a 3-week road trip. I had been having such fun this spring doing my little 5″x7″ plein-air oil paintings with my cool little Guerilla Thumb Box, that I really kinda wanted to do that: Bring oils. But what about the turpentine or paint thinner needed for cleaning my brushes?  
I was going to be cruising through some deathly hot temperatures, especially across Utah and Nevada, and I really didn’t want to be hauling flammable liquids and paint rags in my car—especially not if my car was going to end up being parked in the hot sun for hours at any given time. Three years ago I witnessed a neighbor’s house engulfed in flames due to paint rags spontaneously combusting in the outdoor garbage can sitting next to the house; I’ve a sober respect for the volatility of art supplies.

And then it occurred to me: How about water-soluble oil paints


Water-soluble oil paints? Do they really make such a thing?

Yes, Yes, they do! Developed just a couple of decades ago, they are real oil paints, but due to the chemical make up of these, you can use water rather than spirits for mixing and cleaning.


I had a hard time believing this. I know a few artists who claim to have tried them a while back and said they really didn’t like them, though they weren’t real specific as to why.
A little research online indicated that yes, some painters love them and some painters don’t care for them at all. Me? I decided I needed to love them.

So I decided on Winsor & Newton (one of the most trusted names in artists’ paint) and ordered my basic 4 colors (ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow medium and titanium white) as well as a small set of brushes (designated my “water-oil brushes”) and a bottle or two of WN “Fast Drying Medium” since the air in the PNW would

be damp, and some WN “Satin Varnish” as well (both formulated for water-oils).

Since I’d never worked with these kinds of paints before, I figured I’d better try my hand at them before hitting the road, just in case I really did despise them. If that was the case then I certainly didn’t want to be stuck with them for 3 weeks on the road. So about a week before departure I loaded up my groovy little kit and walked over to my neighborhood park with my pup. We found a shady spot under a big ole’ cottonwood and, while she napped in the grass I set to work.


Not bad…..not bad at all!

These were going to be just fine! 


Since I would be in the Pacific Northwest where the  colors are a whole lot cooler-bluer-greener than in the hot-red-orange-ochre Southwest — I decided to pick up an extra blue (cobalt) and an extra yellow (lemon), so I’d have some more choices when it came to mixing greens.

I ended up doing just a handful of paintings on my trip**— only because it’s tough when you’re traveling with someone to make the time to break away to paint. But when I did pull out my water-oils I thoroughly enjoyed using them. 

Here’s my observations about water-soluble oil paints:

— No, they don’t have quite the same texture as traditional oils; water-oils are much smoother, much more slippery than traditional oils.
— You have to load a little more paint on your brush to make it go as far; or, to put it another way, you go through more paint over a small area than you do with traditional oils.
— They take a few days to dry.
— When they do dry, the colors dry a bit dull; this is easily remedied with a coat of varnish, which you’re going to use anyway to protect the painting surface.
— They simply take a little getting used to.
— The EASE of clean-up and lack of worry about flammability of materials when traveling TRUMPS ANY reservations.

The bottom line: Give them an honest try, stop comparing them to “traditional oils,” get used to them and recognize that they are an easy and excellent choice for a traveling oil-painter.

**Want to see the paintings I did on my trip? Check out my next Studio Notes newsletter when I send it out next week!  [Subscribe to it by clicking here, and then scrolling to the end of that page to where it says subscribe to dawn chandler’s studio notes newsletter.]

june morning ~ ashbaugh park, santa fe, new mexico  ~ by dawn chandler ~ oil on panel (en plein air) ~ 5″ x 7″