Bob's ART du Jour

Hi, I'm Bob Eggleton and this is my painting and "life in general blog" but mostly paintings. Usually they're for sale. Anyway, if you like something contact me at and ENJOY!!

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Location: New England, United States

I am a Hugo award-winning fantasy/SF artist who works on both publishing projects and film concept work(such as Jimmy Neutron and most recently, The Ant Bully) but I have a passion for landscape work, small paintings and exploring the properties of paint. This blog will mostly showcase my "painting-for-the-day" as kind of a personal voyage. I'll also be inserting sketches,photos and ideas of projects I am working on, that I can, when I can, so look for those every so often(usually as paint is drying!)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

ART DIGRESSION: Oils vs Acrylics

Someone sent me a kind letter asking what I felt the difference between working in oils vs acrylics was like? As many know, I worked in acrylics from the start of my career and recently in the last two years, switched to oils.

Acrylics have their own properties. They're a recently invented paint-in the 1950's they came into being. The make-up of them is basically 15% color mixed with 85% acrylic resin-more or less a more fluid form of Elmer's Glue. It's why they dry fast and, yet, the color never seems as rich as it could be, especially after they dry. Acrylics dry in the air, fast and their make-up changes which is why there is such a huge color shift sometimes. Acrylics can be mixed with water or run through an airbrush. You can "draw" with acrylics if the brush is fine and you make a thin mixture of paint. But because they're inherently "plastic" they tend to look a bit plasticy and also flat when dry. You can fake oil-paint effects and, most store bought/tubed acrylics are designed to emulate just that. Varying brands of them mean also the quality varies. It's also alot harder to work from dark to light with acrylics. Acrylics are good for wash effects and can be thinned to use like watercolors and unlike watercolors, they set up in thin layers one on top of another.

Oils are simply put, alot sexier to use. Oils are close to 85% pigments mixed with linseed oil or recently, safflower oil. I've found some of the cheapest brands, the better because they use linseed oil. The more expensive have supplanted this with safflower oil which can have problems if it's exposed to too much heat-it melts off. Oils are mixed with linseed oil or other mixtures of such and set up with the idea that light penetrates them and reflects back, giving an oil painting it's obvious brightness and depth. Oils on canvas have a nice tactile feel. Moreso than acrylics on canvas. You can do alot of what we call "glazing" with oils-building up thin layers on top of thicker ones, and it just gives the painting more and more depth. An oil painting can be left for the night and when I return in the morning, I still have the same color values and depth than I would with acrylics. When I went over to oils, I realized all I was missing since I last worked with them in school in the late 70's. Oils can take a long time to dry however! This prompts me, especially for commercial jobs, to use Galkyd or Liquin. Galkyd is a resin medium that promotes fast drying. Galkyd resin is what is in Alkyd paints-Alkyds are Oil's related cousin and they are fast drying but, can be chalky, I'm told. However Galkyd in oil paint is the best of both worlds.

I think both types of paint-Acrylics and Oils- have their own properties and uses. It's just lately, oils seem a whole lot more fun and satisfying.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bob,
Very interesting to read your comments about using oils vs acrylics. I always used to paint using acrylics - for years I never tried anything else, and for years I struggled with my paintings and was rarely satisfied with the actual creative process or the end result. Very often I found acrylics difficult and frustrating to work with. The quick drying time was always the great attraction for me, but, strangely, it took me a while to realise that this perceived advantage was actually a great disadvantage. I'd spend ages getting a certain mix on the pallete only for it to dry up on me before I'd finished with it; colour shifts during the drying process would dry me mad; and my whole style and approach was very tight and strained. Painting almost became a chore, so much so that I did fewer and fewer over the years. Most of the work I'm pleased with is done in pencils, which is great but I've longed to be good at painting.

At the start of this year I was determined to beat what had effectively become a 'fear' of painting. I'd lost count of how many acrylic works I'd started and then aborted. I got to thinking that maybe it wasn't that I was a bad painter, but maybe just that acrylics weren't for me.

So, 2008 has been a wonderful year of experimentation. Of the various different media I've tried, the greatest revelation has been working with oils. It's early days - meaning I've literally just started my first painting with them - but WOW! what a joy they are to use. I'm using alkyd oils (faster drying than traditional oils as you say, but a world away from acrylics). They're much easier to mix and work on the canvas compared to acrylics, and I love the fact that suddenly I feel I'm being more 'painterly' with my style and approach. At last, I'm enjoying the process and I think it's because oils have helped me loosen up and be more expressive. Once I've gotten a bit more used to the alkyds, I'll try out traditional oils to see how they compare. Even with the alkyds I love the depth and richness of the colour which, again, is something I never got with acrylics.

Still early days I suppose, but I think oils are the future for me.

Keep up the great artwork (and the great blog)

All the best,

9:36 AM  
Blogger Bob Eggleton (Zillabob) said...

Hi Kevin and thanks for writing! Wow! What a great comment. This is the kind of interaction I like! Oils can be daunting, but don't panic with them too much! Start small and then work bigger as you get more confidence. It's easier to "wreck" a small painting and just start again, than a big one and then just want to hang it all up. Start small but think big!

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bob,
Thanks for your encouragement. Yes, that's absolutely sound advice. I'm limiting myself to doing nothing bigger than 8x10 at the moment, so hopefully I can finish a few pieces without too much time and quickly build up my confidence. By the way, your own small sized oils are a real inspiration in this case. They really look wonderful.

4:11 AM  
Blogger Annalisa said...

Thank you, Bob, for this personal and informative comparison of oils and acrylics! I tend to go to sleep if people get too technical and I didn't even come close to yawning. In fact, I was riveted! I had no idea that acrylics are 15% color whereas oils are about 85% pigment (or that acrylic resin is similar to Elmer's glue). It makes so much sense about the pigments, because after working with oils I found it nearly impossible to get similar luminous, deep colors with acrylics. Before this blog post, I thought it was all in my head and the colors should be the same!

Although I loved acrylics as a kid, they don't satisfy me the way they used to. This time last year I did a portrait of my brother's cat for Christmas and it was SO DIFFICULT to blend the colors. They dried so fast! It took several hours longer than it should've, probably, because I had to keep repainting. I worked with acrylics this summer because I teach at an art camp, and let me tell you it was TOUGH! As kevin said, the colors keep drying on the palette as you mix them (the hot, un-airconditioned air probably didn't help), it's nearly impossible to get soft edges, and the end result just isn't as nice.

That said, this past weekend I used acrylics again and did a painting I'm pretty pleased with... but only as an underpainting. I will definitely be working it up in oils before I consider it finished. For now I enjoy the watercolor-like look of it, but overall I'm not satisfied with it.

I don't consider this post (or the other one) a digression at all, Bob--that is, I consider it completely relevant to your work, toward your conversation with artists, and everything!

12:04 PM  
Blogger Bob Eggleton (Zillabob) said...

Kevin-thanks again, it's nice to hear this from people.

Annalisa-no problem, sometimes I am just passing on info that's relevant to every aspect of art!

11:03 PM  
Blogger shikira clare said...

Zillabob you are an immense source of artistic wealth!. So very grateful for your experienced and helpful guide to painting and like yourself, a uniquely spontaneous creator on the whole. Can I just ask what you use as a primer for your works when you might paint on various wood materials as opposed to canvas for instance. I am now wanting to make the transition from canvass boards that are already primed to that of natural hardboard and Gesso is very expensive as a primer - your help will be very much appreciated indeed!. I shall upload some of my mixed-media work on pintrest for you to see what type of art projects I am currently involved as a mature adult of 42.

2:35 PM  

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