The difference between oil and acrylic paint has nothing to do with the pigment (color). The pigment is the same in oil and acrylic paint. It is the binder that holds the pigment that gives each one a unique property.
Acrylic Paint vs Oil Paint
One of the main differences is drying time. If you are planning to exhibit your painting you need to remember that oil paint dries really, really slowly.
One year I foolishly did a last minute oil painting for an exhibition. The deadline was a few days away. The exhibition was a local one so I had to take the painting and submit it rather than submit a digital image. I had to get the painting to dry or not exhibit that year. I did not think that they would accept it with a sign on it saying “ sticky painting, do not touch” by Last Minute Larry.
Planning, Patience, and Painting
The home we lived in at the time had a greenhouse attached to the back of the house. In the summer it became unbearably hot. It just happened to be July, so I left my painting in the greenhouse to toast. My experiment worked. Two days later I handed over my painting that was dry to the touch and no one was any wiser. This fast dry baking method is not one I would recommend as I could have ended up losing my piece and finding a peeling bubbly mess. I had used the Winsor and Newton Artisan oils that are mixed with water rather than linseed oil so that probably helped.
6-12 months is considered the normal drying time for an oil painting. At this point it should be varnished to protect it.
Pros and Cons of Painting with Oil Paint
The slow drying time can be a positive or a negative depending on your personality. It will allow you to move the paint around for a long time before it is dry. You will not have to rush your painting and you can paint right over anything you do not like or remove it while it is wet.
The downside of traditional oil paint for me is the smell of everything. I am very sensitive to chemicals and I cannot tolerate traditional oil paints because of this. Turpentine and linseed oil are part of the picture so if you have a problem with strong chemical smells the Artisan line by Winsor and Newton will be a great alternative.
Oil paint and the slow drying time could be a problem if you have small inquisitive children in your home. If they are at the stage where they like to use walls as their canvas you could be in trouble. Oils are gooey and messy and will not be a welcome addition to your $3,000 Persian rug.
What is Acrylic Paint?
If you ask someone what they think an acrylic painting looks like they will probably picture a piece from the “pop art” era. Large posters with bright primary colors of baked bean cans etc. People assume that acrylic paint is only primary colors because of this movement.
Many people are surprised to find out that the pigments in acrylics are the same as other paints. You can paint the same painting with oils or acrylics. The colors will look the same. How you go about painting it will be slightly different.
Acrylic paint has many similar characteristics to oil paint but the main difference is the drying time and the lack of smelly chemicals used to mix it. Acrylic uses water not linseed oil and turpentine.
Why Use Acrylic Paint instead of Oil Paint?
This is the perfect medium for the Last Minute Larry painter. The painting might actually dry too fast depending on the time of year. If you are working in a very warm studio or outside (Plein air). The rapidity of the drying time could be a problem. There are things that you can add to the paint to retard that giving a little more time to work.
Acrylic like oil is an opaque medium. This gives a lot of freedom to cover up unwanted parts in a picture. The other exciting thing about acrylic is that it is a lot more versatile than oil paints. It can be used as a texture on the canvas and then dried and painted over. Things can be added to it to give a more sculptural effect. Nearly any surface can be used as a canvas. ( hopefully not by a 5 year old on the bathroom wall).
What Type of Paint is Best?
When it comes down to choosing one of these mediums it is purely a personal preference. It does take more planning to work with oils if you have a deadline to meet so unless you have a green house you might want to work with acrylics.