We have all been taught that ‘oil and water do not mix’ however, rules are made to be broken in art and water-mixable, solvent-free paints are rebels on the scene. But, your intelligent mind is probably still pondering, “How can oil pigments possibly be water mixable?”

The answer is this: On a molecular level, the oil vehicle has been modified to make it mixable in water, eliminating the necessity for turpentine or other dangerous solvents to thin paint and clean brushes and other supplies.

©2016 LMcNee "Snowy Day" 20x20 oil
©2016 LMcNee, “Snowy Day” 20×20 oil

There are still some painting purists who question whether or not these pigments are true oils, but I assure you they are. In fact, I have been successfully executing my paintings using water-mixable oils with professional results since the 1990s.
I made the smooth transition from acrylics to the new oils in my home studio so my family and pets were not exposed to toxic fumes. (My favorite brand is Cobra by Royal Talens).

Go Solvent free with Lori McNee! 

With an open mind and a little time experimenting, you might also enjoy the benefits of water-mixable oils. Below, I will do my best to inform you of this remarkable paint from my own personal experience and with a little help from the technically informative book, “Painting with Water Soluble Oils,” by Sean Dye. (**Although these paints are NOT water-soluble, they ARE water-mixable!)

©2016 Lori McNee, “Summer Grazing” 30×40 oil


  • Water-mixable oils also called, solvent-free oils, offer greater convenience and increased accessibility. Especially to people with allergies, home studios, students, schools and those who have avoided oils because of the toxic solvents.
  • Water-mixable oils smell great, just like traditional oils!
  • Linseed oil is contained in both new and traditional oils.
  • Water-mixable oils are real oils. They are water-mixable, not water-based.
  • The new oils were developed to be used with water in the place of turpentine, mineral spirits or other solvents!
  • The vegetable drying oils have been restructured in water-mixable oils which helps to eliminate yellowing.
  • Like traditional oils, water mixable oils must dry through oxidation – absorbing oxygen through the air. Once dry, they are just like any other oil painting and should be treated as such.
  • Like traditional oils, water mixable oil paintings cannot be reactivated with water when dry.
  • New water-mixable mediums have been developed for water mixable oils: quick dry mediums (my favorite), stand oils, painting mediums and impasto mediums, linseed oils and alkyd mediums.
  • Traditional oil paints and mediums can be added to the new oils in small amounts of up to 20%-30% and still retain water mixability. Small amounts of traditional oil color can be added to these new paints without effecting the color or consistency.
  • The new pigments blend and mix extremely well.
  • When the new oils are mixed with water, it may at times appear somewhat cloudy until the water evaporates.
  • The fast drying mediums allow for plenty of time for blending but still make over-painting easier and faster.
  • Luminous, transparent glazes can be made by using the water-mixable mediums. Rich, opaque darks are easy to achieve.
  • Water-mixable linseed oil medium makes the new oil more transparent.
  • A loaded brush of traditional oils spreads much farther than a brush loaded with water soluble oils. This does not affect the look of the finished piece, only the actual painting process.
  • Water-mixable paints produce fresh, bright, strong color. It is easier to avoid making ‘muddy’ color.
  • The new oils are easier to clean up.
  • Those with limited or no experience with traditional oils adjust to water-mixable oils more quickly.
  • Depending on how thick you paint, the water-mixable oils retain their elasticity and workability for up to 48 hours.
  • The new oils lack of the glossy appearance of traditional oils, but a final varnish is a quick way to replicate the luster of traditional oils.
©2016 LMcNee "Hush on the Bigwood" 20x20 oil
©2016 LMcNee “Hush on the Bigwood” 20×20 oil


  • Take care when drying freshly painted new oil or traditional oil paintings. Avoid dark or moist areas to prevent darkening or yellowing that is caused by the linseed oil.
  • Water-mixable oil paints are perfect for travel, especially on airplanes. Many airlines restrict traditional and flammable solvents on commercial flights. Eliminating the need for harsh solvents makes water-mixable oils easy to pack for painting on location whether by car, plane or horseback.
  • The plein air painter can keep paint on the palette for long periods of time without the paint drying out.
  • I use water mixable oils during my art travels. I paint on linen panels by Multimedia Art Board or on canvas sheets which are light and easy for travel.  In the past, I have also used 300lb watercolor paper with two coats of gesso, or Arches Oil Paper.
  • Acrylic gesso should be used as the starting ground for water mixable paints to ensure proper adhesion. For studio works, I prefer to paint on linen panels, canvas panels or handmade hardboard panels for a smooth and rigid support.
  • Hog bristles are good for underpaintings, but do not let them sit in water or they become mushy. I often use synthetic bristle brushes for large areas. For fine work synthetic watercolor brushes work well.
  • The new oils will remain water mixable after these specific mediums are used.
  • A few drops of linseed oil on the palette restore the paints to their original workable form.
  • All oil paint should be applied fat over lean to prevent cracking.
  • Use water to thin the new oils for laying in washes. Build up the oily layers after the under painting is dry.
  • Just like with standard oils, the new paints can be laid down in many smooth thin layers, called indirect painting or can be applied in a thick wet single layer called direct or alla prima painting or everything else in between.
  • Drying time is longer when a lot of white pigment or Naples Yellow is used.
  • The dark passages in water mixable oils sometimes ‘sink’ and lack the glossy appearance of a traditional oil painting. This is easily remedied by a final varnish.
  • I prefer Cobra solvent-free oil paints by Royal Talens. The characteristics of this brand is consistent with their traditional oil color counterparts. They use all of the traditional pigments in their lines including cadmiums and cobalts. These paints deliver brilliant, luminous transparent glazes and rich, mysterious opaque passages to my work.
  • I use non-toxic Terpenoid Natural on hard to clean brushes otherwise; “Dawn” dish soap does the job.  Baby oil is also a good cleaner, followed by soap and water. After, a little petroleum jelly conditions the brushes back to their original shape.
  • Rubbing Alcohol, or vegetable oil and a razor blade keep my glass palette fresh for the next painting session.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding and appreciation for the benefits of water mixable oils. They are easier and less intimidating to use and deliver the beautiful results of  traditional oils. I encourage you to give them a try and let me know how they work for you. ~Lori 🙂

You might enjoy trying my new Cobra Oil “Lori McNee Special Edition Set.” 

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