It’s a question I’ve been asked a thousand times. Why don’t I paint in oils?
Whilst officially I say it’s because I like the speed of oils, or I prefer not to bring chemicals into a household with three very nosey kitties, the truth is this… My reluctance to venture into oils is a stubborn and slightly childish refusal to buy into the snobbery that still clings to oils.
It saddens me that many people still think that oil is better -that you can only be a professional artist if you buy into the oil elite. Many people adhere to the misconception that oil painting is more challenging and therefore you are a more talented artist if you use oil. Yes, there is a lot of technique and ‘book knowledge’ required to begin with and this does make it less accessible for beginners. But just because acrylics are a friendly medium for novice painters it doesn’t mean that the capabilities and possibilities of acrylics stop there.
It’s a wonder that with all the advances in technology and the developing modern world, some old attitudes linger on. If we look at how the attitude towards tattoos has changed just since the turn of the new century, why is it that a world so close to tattooing has not developed at all. In fact tattoo artists who turn to oil painting are somehow elevated above the talented artists choosing not to buy into oil fever… I want to halt my assault here just to add that I think it’s brilliant that so many tattoo artists are discovering their worth as traditional artists outside of tattooing and vice-verser that so many traditional artists are turning their talents to tattooing. It enriches both and movements such as lowbrow / pop surrealistic movements would be poorer without it.
Contrary to longstanding opinion – I don’t believe you have to be a better artist to use oils and I would like to see this view disintegrate as we have seen happen to the old edict that ‘tattoos are for convicts’ for example. In many ways I think tools and techniques exist in oil painting that can actually allow mediocre artists to cheat their way to creating pieces beyond their actual talent. If we take the process of colour glazing for example – it is possible in oil painters to create a piece with a fairly safe and limited use of colour and then, in the final hour of the painting, to use a colour glaze on top of the existing painting to create greater depth and variety in tone and colour. In acrylic painting however it is necessary for the artist to consciously seek out their desired colours. They must be skilled in colour mixing and matching, and know exactly how to create the depth and subtleties without the use of glazes and other techniques which to me feel like last minute shortcuts. The acrylic artist must be precise, skilled and have an exceptional feel for what they’re creating.
It’s time oil painting was taken down off the pedestal! Realism in painting is difficult to achieve. It is incredibly demanding and I would argue even more challenging for the acrylic artist. Lets stick two fingers up at the oil elite and start praising the acrylic artists out there – sticking to their love of acrylics and fighting against the old fashioned view that ‘real artists’ use oil.