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Oil and acrylic paints are indispensable mediums in the art world. Each has its own distinct properties, histories, and benefits and disadvantages while working with them to create a painting. Oil paint's illustrious history as being the premiere medium used by the most talented artists of past centuries has made it attractive to those who want to use its inherent depth and texture to create their own masterpieces. Acrylic paint's relatively new formation and versatility has given it a reputation for being one of the main paints of the modern world. Famous artists like Vincent van Gogh and Andy Warhol have used these respective paints in their most celebrated works.
About Oil Painting
Oil paint consists of tiny particles of pigment which are mixed and suspended in thinner, linseed oil, a stabilizer and a drying agent. Their introduction in the 1200s in England led to their use in decorative painting, which in turn resulted in their incorporation into legitimate artistic painting by the 1400s. Popular with artists for hundreds of years, oil paints have been the go-to medium for some of the most renowned painters in history. Oil paints are notorious for taking a very long time to dry; a painting created with oils can require as much as a few months to produce a completely dry surface. Many artists take advantage of this slow-drying process to add to their paintings several times over, combining layers which contribute to texture within the work. Oil paints are suspected of losing color over time.
About Acrylic Painting
Acrylic paint consists of pigment that uses mineral spirits and acrylic resin for mixture and suspension. In contrast to oil paints, acrylic paints are extremely fast-drying and, in some cases, require only 60 seconds to provide a dry surface. Many acrylics are noted as drying down at a slightly darker color. These paints were first made widely available in the mid 20th century, with many pop artists adopting them as their preferred medium. Water can be used to dilute acrylic paint, adding variability to the same color in depth and texture. It should be noted, however, that once dried, acrylic paint becomes completely resistant to water and dilution. Acrylic paint's versatility through dilution means that a painting created with it can look like it were made with wispy water colors or intense oil paints. Artists interested in experiencing the best of both the oil and acrylic paint worlds can use certain products to take advantage of acrylic paint's low toxicity, while making it dry and behave like an oil paint. Use of these products can also make the act of blending two different acrylic colors easy, as mixing acrylics in their natural state can be difficult.
The Difference Between the Two
It's important to realize that while acrylic paint can be tamed to behave like oil paint, both types of paints have their distinct advantages and disadvantages, as well as distinguishing features and limitations. Each require a mastery of paint-specific techniques. Acrylics are fairly new paints that were first made available in the 1950s, while oil paints have existed for hundreds of years. Oil paints are more transparent than the richer acrylic paints, but water or gels can be added to acrylics to make them more transparent. For painters interested in texture, oil paints are usually used, though special gels added to acrylics can make them capable of providing interesting textural possibilities. If you're a new painter, it might not matter so much which paint you decide to use. Acrylics are usually more inexpensive and longer-lasting than oil paints. Your choice may depend on your comfort with each paint's drying and dilution properties.
Both oil and acrylic paints have been used to create some of the most memorable artistic works in the world. Some famous artists who have worked with oil paint include Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh and Claude Monet. Rembrandt's "Bust of an Old Man" can be found at Tiroler Landesmuseen in Austria, Van Gogh's "Portrait of Dr. Gachet" has disappeared from the public eye, and pieces of Monet's collection of paintings titled "Water Lilies" are simultaneously on display at various museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Any Warhol, David Hockney and Roy Lichtenstein are known for their use of acrylics. Warhol's "Marilyn Diptych", Hockney's "Mr. and Mrs. Clark and Percy", and Lichtenstein's "Whaam!" can be found hanging at the Tate. Despite their different mediums, these paintings' commonality of greatness make them shining examples of the possibilities of both types of paints.
Acrylics Guide (PDF)