How to Simulate Oil Painting with Water Color Media

Years ago as a idealistic teenager, I came across some oil paintings my mother had done buried deep in some boxes in our musty basement. I brought them up to the light and asked my mother why I had never seen her once pick up a paint brush.

“Oh, those,” she mused as she quickly averted my eyes, “I did those before I had children. I just decided I didn’t have time for oil painting anymore.”

That explanation never quite satisfied me and later I was to discover the real answer when I had my own child. It’s simply way too dangerous to have oil painting materials around in a home where an infant lives. Sure, they now have gentler cleaners than turpentine, but the smell, the mess, the tubes of paint, and the odd palette knife could potentially be lethal to young ones. That’s when I realized that maybe my own creative skills might be limited by motherhood. So, I too put away my oils and awaited a time when I could have some extra space where children weren’t allowed to disturb my work nor I endanger their health.

Obviously, a separate art studio never came but luckily I like to draw as much as I like to paint. So, I resigned myself to pencil drawings until I could again take up my oils. That’s when I discovered water colors and their assorted media.

I had tried water color painting before, but the hues of the paints were not deep enough for me, the variation seem limited, and the control of the media was haphazard. Simply put, although water color was clean and non-toxic, I couldn’t acclimate to the techniques of water color media. They simply didn’t remind me of oil painting. I had switched to the pencils to develop overlays that hinted at more depth, but they also did not have the flowing feel of a painting. They were obviously drawings. But, undeterred and encouraged by the ease of cleanup and storage, I decided to try other types of watercolor media and in multiple combinations I finally found a number of techniques that reminded me of oil painting.

Using different water color products, one can mimic the feel of oil painting by:

Creating a background wash that can be used wet or dry to do the overlays.
Using the pencils alone, one can outline quite elegantly any edge that need defininition much like a detail brush.
Using water color stix, one can layout large background colors that don’t mingle with the foreground at all and can also be overlapped with other colors.
Using pencil alone without water, one can use a kneaded eraser to remove media or highlight.
Using pencil with water, one can produce a feathered effect like a fan brush in oil painting.
Using different brushes with water, one can produce different effects on water color already present on the paper.

All in all, I will continue to experiment with multiple water color media. The results do not resemble oil paintings, but the experience can be enough to satisfy a die-hard oil painter. There are also many excellent books out there to help. My favorites are: “Basic Colored Pencil Techniques” by Bet Borgeson and “The Beginner’s Guide to Watercolour” by Angela Gair. Just browsing these books will provide an array of techniques to use that are distinctly water color media oriented. For my own explorations, I am content to learn how to duplicate the look and feel of oil painting for myself using a different media that can be safer and easily cleaned and stored away from curious children. Who knows, maybe removing my aversion to water colors this way will help me to explore techniques that I previously would not have even considered.

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