Oils are pretty tough once they cure and even tougher once they are varnished. Without that varnish, though, is oil paint waterproof? Once oil paints are dry, they are fairly water resistant, but they are still vulnerable when they are still in the process of drying. As it takes about 24 hours for them to dry to touch, that means that there is a window where you have to be careful about moisture or rain (if you are painting outside).
In this article I’ll go into a little more detail about oil paint’s inherent water-resistance so that you’ll have the information that you need to know when to panic and when to trust that your oils are going to be okay. Let’s talk water and oil and how they (don’t) mix!
Does oil paint wash off in rain?
Rain certainly isn’t good for your oil paints but what happens is going to depend on whether or not the paint is already dry. If your oil paints are dry, then they are going to have a certain level of resistance to the rain and it might just wash right off like it would on a duck’s back. If your paints are still drying, however, then it’s going to be another story.
When your oil paints are still drying then they are quite vulnerable, and most likely it’s going to result in streaking at the very least and at worst, you might lose most of a layer. Thus, if you want to paint outside, you need to check the weather report and be prepared to quickly move your work if you need to.
I’d suggest preparing your car in advance if you are painting away from home, so that it’s ready to receive a still-drying painting. That way if it rains, you don’t find yourself fumbling your painting and trying to put it at the right angle while you arrange protection in a full-on panic.
I can tell you from experience, that’s not much fun, but that’s just a little free advice and you can do with it what you will!
Does oil paint wash off with soap and water?
Oil paint cannot be washed off with regular old soap and water. Ivory soap or artist’s brush soap will break it down a little, but with a brush it’s a lot easier than those hefty layers you’ve heaped up on a canvas. Even with a brush, you’re going to spend a lot of time trying to remove the paint with soap and so the sensible choice is to simply go with a solvent.
Now, if you are looking to clean an oil painting off a canvas, you can always chop an onion in half and rub it all over your work and that will soften up the layers by means of tear-inspiring, magical onion acid. After that, you can dissolve it further with some linseed and wipe up the smearing paint with paper towels.
This will get most of it off and you can paint a base over the canvas and start again. Oil toughens up as it dries, though, so forget about soap and water if you are trying to remove it. This combination is simply not up to the task.
How do you waterproof an oil painting?
You can go about waterproofing your oil painting a number of ways. Some people like to use Mod Podge, as it’s a crafty product that a lot of artists typically have around the house, but I prefer regular old varnish myself. Depending on the effect that you are looking for, you can go with matte, satin, or my favorite… a gloss finish and once the varnish has dried then your painting is going to be highly water resistant and there is also protection in place for UV rays.
If you go with the Mod Podge, make sure that you select the kind that is waterproof. There is a clear acrylic sealer variety which you can use and it’s best to put on one coat, let that dry, and then you’ll want to apply a second coat and once that dries, then you are done.
You oil paints will be fairly water resistant on their own, but if you want your work to last, I recommend that you seal it. Extra protection never hurts and putting a layer between your oil paints and the outside world just makes good, solid sense.
Some final words on waterproofing your oils
Today I’ve answered the question ‘is oil paint waterproof?’ and the answer is ‘yes, to some degree’. While your oil paint has some inherent water-resistance built right in, that’s not an excuse not to varnish your work. Extra protection is always a good idea and a varnished oil painting can last a very long time, indeed.
If you’d like to learn a little more about varnishing, you can read a great 3rd party article on the subject here that will tell you all about it, as well as how you can fix your paintings when they look a little duller than you remember from the finished work.
Until next time, have fun painting and don’t forget to varnish… your work deserves to be protected!