Is it safe to mix water with your acrylics? Are oils really more toxic than acrylics? Do oil paints smell bad? I’m debunking 13 common myths beginners are told about oil and acrylic painting!

Can you really tell the difference between these two oil and acrylic paintings??

A broken clock is right twice a day so you’ve got a 50/50 chance! Bonus points if you can determine WHY you think one is oil vs one acrylics. Both oil and acrylic paintings have some interesting myths and ideas that go along with them. Some are sort of true, some straight out myths. Let’s clear some of these up!

Myth #1 Oil paints are messy

This is sort of like claiming living rooms are messy. I mean they can be…but I’m living proof neither needs to be. A living room is, by nature, no messier than the person who uses it.

If you’re getting paint all over the place you need to slow down and pay attention to what you’re doing. Oil paint is not even prone to splattering like acrylics can be (given how thick oils are). There are two main things you need to avoid.

First, do not touch your wet painting. Pick up or move the canvas by touching the edges of stretched canvas. I don’t recommend starting your oil painting journey with canvas boards because there are no edges to grab onto. Once you’ve developed good habits this isn’t as much of an issue, but in the beginning, it is. This can be a habit you need to work on if you’re used to being able to do this with acrylics or other mediums that dry almost immediately. The simple solution is to get a mahl stick. I rest this against the easel and my hand against that when I need extra stability. Even a broom stick can work!

Second, KEEP YOUR BRUSH HANDLES PAINT FREE!!!! If your brush rolls into the paint, stop and wipe that paint OFF THE HANDLE IMMEDIATELY! This is just a good general habit to be in with oil paint. Even with non toxic materials, if you are sloppy and lazy about this you will end up with paint all over your hands which in turn end up on everything you touch. Do you have a cup of coffee in the studio? Well if you had cadmium paint on your hands and touched that cup, then drank from that spot, this could be unsafe. KEEP YOUR WORKSPACE CLEAN!! Because I’m so used to doing this, my oil painting workspace is far cleaner and more organized than when I work in any other medium. It’s just a good habit.

If you get paint on your hands, go wash them. I’ve seen artists oil paint with latex style gloves. You can do that if you want but given the paint touching your skin isn’t generally going to cause any issues, the only benefit of the gloves might be as a reminder to keep everything clean. If you get paint on the glove then touch your coffee cup, it’s the same issue. If you do get paint on your hands, stop and wash them. This is great because the annoyingness of it will help you to be aware and make more of an effort to be cleaner while you work. Oil painting should NOT be messy. This is the WRONG medium to allow mess. YOU choose if it’s messy or not. Just like your living room. Ok, to be fair, your kids may choose if your living room is a mess, but you get the idea.

If you have cats, this next tip is especially important! Get a Masterson palette (affliliate links used in this post). This works like tuppewear for your palette. It keeps the paint wet longer AND keeps pets out of your wet paint! while you’re not working!! The New Wave glass palette I use for both oil and acrylics fits perfectly inside!

Myth #2 – Oil painting is more toxic than acrylics

Oil paints themselves are no more toxic than acrylics. If you use a real cadmium paint in oil or acrylic, they’re both toxic. Same with cobalt. There are non toxic alternatives to these colors both in oils and acrylics. Mind blown? Yeah, there is a LOT of fear mongering going on around the interwebs. I think a lot of this stems from those who went to college and were taught by someone who was taught by someone else who was taught by someone else x 300 years.

Sure, in the past many MANY of the materials used by artists were horribly toxic. It’s 2022…we have much safer alternatives now! Even if you choose to use a cobalt or cadmium (I personally occasionally do because I wasn’t paying attention when I bought something), or even lead white paint, as long as you are keeping your workspace clean as I mentioned before, there are no serious dangers unless you’re eating your paint.

Other things to not do with these colors (oil or acrylic it doesn’t matter which) include sanding down a painting where these colors were used. Breathing in the fumes from the wet paint isn’t an issue, but inhaling the dry powder form is. This is the same if you get the powder form of these pigments and mix your own paint. Luckily this isn’t 1820 and we don’t need to do that.

Don’t eat your paint. Don’t breathe in the powder form of your paint.

The most toxic area with oil painting comes with solvents. First, you don’t even need a solvent for oil painting, there are plenty of non toxic alternatives. For me, I don’t use paint thinner to thin my paint. I use Liquin, which does have a solvent in it, but it’s not as strong as a straight solvent. I’ve never experienced a negative reaction.

The only time I use a paint thinner is to clean my brushes (there are alternatives here too). I use mona Lisa odorless or Gamsol. That’s IT! I had to restrict my classroom to just these two items because everything else, even when listed as “odorless” caused headaches and breathing issues for myself and other students. Turpentines are the WORST!

If you’ve ever seen how Bob ross painted where he beat his brush into an open can of his solvent, that is a perfect example of how to not safely work.

Use it, put the lid on it, don’t flick it around where you will inhale more. Even with odorless paint thinners, they are still toxic if you breathe in too much for too long. Open a window when you can and keep a lid on that stuff when not in use!!!

The main danger of solvents is in breathing too much of the fumes. I use Mona Lisa all the time to wipe any oil paint I accidentally get on my hands or to clean off my easel when needed. It is less harsh on my skin than nail polish remover. I know this sounds all doom and gloom but I’m personally less concerned with my odorless mineral spirits than I am breathing in the bathroom cleaners I use each week. Heck, driving in a car can be a higher risk to your health. I’ve never once had a negative reaction with the supplies I use.

I did however have a horrible reaction once to a “natural” lavender paint thinner. Remember, natural does not mean non toxic. If any of these things make you uncomfortable, there are some non toxic alternatives you can use. Gamblin has some great information on toxicity.

Myth #3 Acrylics can’t blend as well as oils

Yes, they can, but you need to either paint fast or keep them wet. I like to use a fine mist sprayer to lightly mist the paint on the canvas to keep it from drying. With this method, I can keep the paint wet for hours if I needed to, allowing me to blend just as well as I can with oils. It’s more challenging but absolutely possible as I demonstrate regularly in my acrylic paintings.

Myth #4 Oil painting is harder than acrylics

Once the student understands when it’s time to stop and let a layer dry, oils are far easier to teach than acrylics. It’s more challenging to balance keeping the acrylics wet while blending than it is oils for most people.

Myth #5 Acrylics cant get the same depth as oil/ they look dull/flat/ plasticy

Acrylics and oils, when layered the same, look the same.

Once a gloss varnish is applied, the acrylics look just like their oil counterparts, assuming the artist knew how to otherwise layer/blend/glaze/understood values etc.I see many claim that it just isn’t possible for acrylics to look like oil but the reality is, just because YOU haven’t succeeded to do something, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

Myth #6 Oils cost more than acrylics

That depends on the materials you buy. For my bare minimum to get someone started with oils or acrylics, the price is about $20 higher with oils at the time of recording this video. I will have a link to those supply lists in the video description. But give it a few months and it can flip in reverse where the acrylics are a bit higher. Those lists are bare minimum and do not include the higher cost paints or things like an airbrush for acrylics. If I buy everything I want for oil vs acrylic, I’m going to spend more on acrylics.

Myth #7 Oil Paints smell bad

Most oil paint has little to no odor at all. What you’re normally smelling is the solvent some artists use.

Mona lisa odorless and gamsol have no odor, so when I paint with oils it’s a very mild pleasant smell. I’ve been in the room with someone who had previously used turpentine to wash their brushes. Months later those brushes still smelled HORRIBLE. So much so that just opening the box they stored them in filled the entire room with headache inducing stink.

Myth #8 Oil paints take months to dry/longer to complete

They can, or you can do what I do and use a fast drying medium so most of my paint is dry to the touch overnight.

As for time, Total hours spent painting, in this owl example, the oil side only took 2/3 of the actual painting time as the acrylic side. I spend more time getting areas blended right in acrylics than I do in oils for sure.

Myth #9 Oil paintings are more valuable than acrylics

My oils and acrylics sell for the exact same price. The difference in price generally comes down to the specific artist and the name/demand for the work they’ve created for themselves. Not the medium. There are a few old timers who have this idea of oils being fancier, but it just isn’t the case in most scenarios anymore.

Myth #10 You can’t fix mistakes

I’ve heard this both for oils and acrylics. Both are very forgiving to fixing things. If the paint is still wet, wipe it off. If it’s dry, paint over it.

Myth #11 Acrylics need a mixing medium, don’t use water

Ok, this one is a bit spicey. There is a video here on youtube that spread this lie. I suspect this single video lead to the majority of misinformation on the subject. This woman made claims that science proves that anything above 30% water will degrade your paint. She tried to use fancy terms like “honeycomb structure” and “molecules” to make her sound like she knew what she was talking about. She. Knows. NOTHING! This fear mongering video has been a giant pain in the rear of most artists who do know what they’re doing because we’re constantly now having to fight this insane BS myth in our own comment section every time we use water. She had to turn off comments to that video very early on when people pointed out how wrong she was. Yet instead of taking the misinformation down or correcting her statements, she left the video of bullshit up…I guess because it’s got more views than anything else she’s made.Wow, you seem weirdly bothered by this. YEP! Because the hours I’ve spent over the years having to correct this misinformation is as insane as the video itself.The reality is, as Goldens themselves have proven using actual testing that you would need 90-95% water before any degradation of the paint would happen when using quality paint. NO ONE uses that much water.You’re free to use mixing medium or water, it’s up to you, either are safe for your work. I personally prefer water in almost every case because I don’t like the gunky consistancy of mixing mediums. That doesn’t mean they’re bad, it just means I don’t like them much myself for how I work.

Myth #12 Oil painting brushes are a lot of work to clean

Acrylic painting method: rinse in water, wash with soap when done.

Oil Painting method: rinse in OMS, wash with soap when done.

Time spent…same.

The difference is you’re rinsing your acrylic brushes as you work and I wait to rinse my oil brushes until the end of my painting session so at the end it seems like there’s more work, but overall time spent cleaning is the same either way. Possibly shorter with oil given you’re doing the cleaning in one batch.

Myth #13 Oil paintings can’t be varnished for 6 months after they dry

Use Gamvar by Gamblin. You can varnish when the painting is dry to the touch and it looks great.
As you can see, the paintings look nearly identical. There isn’t much difference in the end result so you just need to decide which methods of working interest you more. Remember, when you think of oil paintings looking a certain way or acrylics looking another, that came down to the specific artist and how they work, the medium itself is not the limit.

Did you like these owl paintings? Become a student over at and you can follow along step by step! All of my newer lessons now have downloadable photos that you can use to guide you as you work! If you’re not familiar with patreon, for as little as $4/month you get access to over 7 years worth of art lessons and demonstrations. That’s over 300 videos instantly when you sign up. You’re not going to find a deal like that anywhere else!! Head over to to join or check out my video library over at to see what I have available! Did you like this video? Then I think you will like this one full of art tips!!

Supplies Used (amazon affiliate links) Acrylic Supplies

Oil Painting Supplies:

The following are base sets to get started if you don’t have oil paints at all. Either set is a great start!

We all need to be reminded “Don’t drink the paint water”  and other fun artist sayings. 
Why not wear it on our clothes or coffee mugs to make sure we don’t forget.

Get access to this and over 300 1-2 hour long tutorials in colored pencil, acrylic painting, oil painting, graphite, watercolor, charcoal, and inktense for as little as $4/month plus other rewards like high-quality reference photos to use in your own artwork.
Want to see all the available videos at Patreon? Look here!