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Can you overpaint oils with acrylics?

A question from one of our teachers prompts me to ask for feedback re overpainting oils with acrylics. Margaret, from Queensland, tells me she was always taught that you can't successfully paint acrylics over oils but she doesn't know the science behind it. She was challenged by someone who maintained it was possible at one of her demonstrations recently and was at a loss to explain her belief.

"I've looked on the web and can't find the answer ... just that it's not a good idea and that the acrylic will peel off. It appears to be an adhesion problem ... but then why can oils be painted successfully over acrylics?"

So over to fellow painters:

What's the reason behind this rule and what is your painting experience?

Have you broken the rule successfully?

There are (20) Comments, Comments are now closed for this discussion?
  1. comment_1_2862

    Bob777 commented on October 23, 2007, at 2:21 am.

    Why don't you try it? I suspect it would stick to it as well as it does to glass. Conservitors use acrylic paint to restore oil paintings, but it's not the commercially available kind.

  2. comment_2_2862

    zarina commented on October 23, 2007, at 2:26 am.

    It is my understanding that overpainting oils with acrylcs causes lack of adhesion because oil paint does not actually "dry" when it begins to harden on the surface -- it is beginning a long process of oxidation, and volitiles continue to escape the material for a long time, years in some cases. This is why varnishing is not recommended until the painting has set for 6 months to a year.

    To place an impermiable material over the top of still-oxidizing oils causes the separation of the layers because of the on-going action of oxidation and escaping --for lack of a better term--"fumes".

    WIth this in mind, one would think that an oil painting that was old enough would be stable and "dry" enough that it would not matter. (Something to try with one of those beginner's horrors hidden in the attic?)

    Again this is about conventional oils. I have not researched and read anything about putting acrylics over alkyds, but perhaps someone else could clarify that point.

    Lucy Seaman
    Sidney, Illinois

  3. comment_3_2862

    zarina commented on October 23, 2007, at 2:33 am.

    Bob777 mentions trying it, and that's something we ought to all consider --rules are basis (but as those Pirates say...they're more like guidelines).(G)
    I would not want to do it on something that I wanted to last however, but who knows? That's how art is made, after all, by experimentation.

    Bob also mentioned museum restoration, which is true. It's just the paintings that are being restored are so old, that any binders have long ago ceased their oxidation process and are inert, making the use of acrylics possible. Oils are also used for restoration (reformulated to replicate the originals as nearly as possible.)

    Anyone with other knowledge, please feel free to correct me, though.

    Makes me want to go push the rules a little. And if, in 50 years, it peels off....well....I don't think I'm going to notice.

    Lucy

  4. comment_4_2862

    jstar commented on October 23, 2007, at 12:22 pm.

    Let me tell you a story:

    A few months ago, while I was shopping at an art & craft store, I met a woman who paints prebuilt birdhouses that she donates to charity auctions. She told me that they were quite popular, but that she had had trouble with her last batch. It seems that after a couple months, people
    called to tell her that the little decorative dots that she added as a final touch had all suddenly dropped off the birdhouses. She was totally perplexed why this had happened. When I asked her to show me what she had used, I discovered that the new spray paint she had tried was an oil-based alkyd instead of her usual water-based. Thus, although her acrylic paint had first adhered, the bond was not long-lasting and the acrylic paint eventually fell off with the most impasto marks going first.

    This is like an accelerated test, much like painting a swatch and exposing it to direct sunlight to see if the pigment is really lightfast. Although your paintings may not be exposed to the temperature changes that the birdhouses were, over time the adhesion of the acrylic will dissintigrate from the oil below because the two paints will expand and contract at different rates.

    Also consider Leonardo's Last Supper. Unlike the Sistine Chapel that discolored over time from years of soot, but was still intact, the Last Supper had adhesion problems from Leonardo's experiment with uncompatible substances -- oil and plaster, which actually began peeling off even as he painted it, which is why it needed a major restoration some time ago.

    Now if you like that peeling away look, then by all means, go ahead and paint acrylic over oil and eventually that look will happen all on its own. However, if your painting hasn't been sitting around for a century and you want it to ensure its original condition as long as possible, then stick to acrylic on acrylic, or oil over acrylic. Hey, they are still debating the best way to add new oil paint over older oil paint, so adhesion can be tricky enough within the same media without breaking a known rule.

    By the way, if you want to paint oil over acrylic, it is best to put an isolation coat of clear gesso in between for the best adhesion. However, if your acrylic layers were just thin stains and the texture of the canvas still shows through, then the isolation coat is unneccesary.

    Best of luck!
    Julie

  5. comment_5_2862

    Jim Cobb commented on October 25, 2007, at 4:19 pm.

    To: Bob777

    I’m a strong believer in “suck it and see” and I’ve followed your suggestion by taking a very uninspired small sample oil shown in image 1 (below) and done with Archival Oils to check one day drying when used with Smooth Gel.

    As shown in image 2 I varnished this with Binder and checked with my thumbnail scratch test that the Binder didn’t want to peel off.

    I then did the Atelier Interactive painting on this surface (see image 3), knowing that Atelier Interactive sits very snugly on top of Binder, which because it is clear, makes an alternative to Gesso if you want to keep the image underneath. I ended up burying the oil image by the time I’d finished the acrylic sample.

    Some Comments to Zarina Sidney, Illinois
    The six month “waiting” period, which is part of the “classical rules”, is I think intended to let the layer oxidise as you point out, but I don’t think there are volatiles which need to vent themselves to escape: because they are gone in a few days. The oil molecule solidifies when it has absorbed enough oxygen, and we have all gone a long way from classic tradition by using thick paint since it was first manufactured and tubed in the mid 1800’s.

    I have in the past put out really thick dollops of oil paint and examined them 6 months later by cutting through with a Stanley knife only find a “centre” like a liqueur chocolate, all soft and gooey from oxygen deprivation. We attacked this problem in the 1990’s because I have three artist friends in Sydney who love thick sharp textural oil painting effects and Smooth Gel, based on alkyd resins, solved the problem by quickly firming up the thick paint application.

    You can see some of their work here:
    http://www.chromaonline.com/chrom.../fine_artists_a_z/elisabeth_cummings
    http://www.chromaonline.com/chroma/gallery/fine_artists_a_z/euan_macleod
    http://www.chromaonline.com/chrom...llery/fine_artists_a_z/john_r_walker

    I imagine that extremists like Anselm Kiefer must have discovered silicone caulking gels, or some other kind of industrial sealant which flexes easily and into which straw, soot, gravel, or whatever is needed can be embedded, but we have found that a “conventional” painting done with thick paint needs about 50/50 paint and Smooth Gel, and when that firms up you can over paint with more Archival Oils if you want to – the information is there in the leaflet, “Archival Oils and their Mediums”.
    http://www.chromaonline.com/chrom...chival_guide_to_oils_and_mediums.pdf

    Zarina 2nd Comment
    I want to visit your thought “old enough and dry enough that it would not matter.”

    I think this is correct, because “fat over lean” really expects there to be more layers of oil paint, which will crack if applied over a moving substrate of uncured oil paint, but a layer of acrylic is flexible and can accommodate movement in the under layer anyway.
    This is also the whole principle of Archival Oils flexible formula oil paint, which means that the top layer which gets the most oxygen and sets first doesn’t mind some movement in the under layers, because it stretches to accommodate it.

    The acrylic over layer also does this and it is also slightly porous allowing more oxygen to pass downwards.

    Zarina 3rd Comment
    I think acrylics are used in restoration because although they have a frustrating tone shift as they dry, they don’t shift afterwards. This shift is controllable with Atelier Interactive. I am not a restorer, but I did this restoration with the greatest of ease and it isn’t going to darken. See image 4 and 5 Unhappily many years ago I had a restorer, allegedly trained in the Reichsmuseum Amsterdam, restore some family Portraits. The linen canvas had rotted and he fixed it successfully using the wax technique, to a hardboard backing, but his restoration of some “flesh tone” areas, done with red oxide oils, darkened so much that it looked like a severe measles attack six months later and I had to do acrylic therapy!

    I think when you say “oils” reformulated to replicate the originals as nearly as possible”, we are probably talking about “the lives of great forgers” like Van Megrin who did Vermeers so well, using pigments of the period which “proved” authenticity, that he ended up ‘confessing’ because he thought he was a great artist in his own right, and wanted recognition.

    J. Stan Mayland (Julie)
    I like the idea of the birdhouses being a disguised outdoor exposure program! And Leonardo did make a terrible mistake using oil paint on raw plaster, I think there is more to it than that. Dampness maybe and some other factors like alkaline surface. There must be people out there who know more about what happened?
    HELP!

    Goya’s “Pinturas Negras” were painted on the plaster walls of his house and now hang in the Prado on canvas: maybe the greatest transfer restoration of all time, but Goya must have sealed the plaster first. Robert Hughes talks about it in his book on Goya, but doesn’t say how the transfer was done. Today you would use acrylic gesso to seal the alkaline wall, but Goya didn’t have it? Does anyone know how he sealed it ?

    Thank you all so much for contributing. We can make Paint Talk a really interesting website – you have made me into an avid watcher already and I feel sure there are many more people who have something to say. I’d like to know more about the failed Leonardo? Actually, I think there are many reasons for painting in oils over acrylics: would anyone like to comment?

    Jim Cobb.
    Paintmaker

  6. comment_6_2862

    Este commented on October 27, 2007, at 12:34 am.

    It has been my understanding never use acrylic over oil………..chemicals, resins and additives play into the reason it will be rejected and peel off (usually in sheets). My experiences in many years of painting with acrylics have been rewarding and successful.........but I followed guidelines given by those who had valid reasons substantiating their directives.

    I posed this problem to a chemist of the former Koh-I-Noor Artists Materials Company (Grumbacher/Liquitex) and I await his thoughts. You may
    have heard from him directly.

    Please share your findings with us ASAP…………thank you.

    Always
    Este

  7. comment_7_2862

    GeorgeR commented on October 27, 2007, at 10:33 am.

    If you look at a painted oil surface under a microscope it is a solid complete film.
    If you look at an acrylic painted surface in the same manner, you will find that it looks like a bunch of ping- pong balls touching each other.
    In other words, there are little spaces between the balls because they do not fit flat together.
    I believe that those spaces allow the oil paint to fill those spaces and therefore you have adhesion.
    Conversely, acrylic on oil has no way to achieve that adhesion because the oil is a smooth solid surface.
    Don't know if I am right but that is my theory.

    George Rothery
    Knoxville, Tennessee-USA

  8. comment_8_2862

    artistpaintingonline.com commented on December 6, 2007, at 11:33 am.

    Hi, Here are some of my paintings

    Hi, Here are some of my paintings

    Hi, Here are some of my paintings. I like landscapes, still life in cool colors and presently I am experimenting with abstract. Take time to look at my work. Relax. My work conveys my feelings and my views of life. I am not physically present but my painting is an expression of my inner feelings and emotions. I would like to know your inner reactions to what you see. You can leave a comment at the botton of this page, send me an email or call me. I appreciate any comment you make.

    WWW.ARTISTPAINTINGONLINE.COM

  9. comment_9_2862

    Steve Frenkel commented on March 4, 2008, at 7:24 am.

    After discussing this with Chroma staffers (and I believe the definitive answer came from Jim Cobb) I put Binder medium over a thoroughly dry (close to a year) alkyd painting. It has worked quite well. Only had one scary moment when using a 10% solution of unlocking formula, and rubbing very hard, I took off a small piece of the Binder medium. I let all dry and simply painted over the bare spot (maybe 3/8 of an inch in longest dimension). Everything continued swimmingly and the painting is now complete and varnished with Chroma's Satin Solvent Varnish. It's 20 x 28 inches and titled LOW COUNTRY DREAM.

  10. comment_10_2862

    PegiSue commented on March 6, 2008, at 5:27 am.

    I am restoring an acrylic painting, the problem is it was done over an oil painting 50 years ago!! I've read all of the above posts regarding how "oil and water don't mix" but I will try anything, so here I am, trying it!!!
    What I need to know is this: Is there something I can SPRAY over this painting to stop the "potatoe chip" effect I have sticking to my brush? I'm wanting to get it all "glued" together, then attempt the retouching. I'm not worried about the finish becoming glossy or anything like that. It would probably look better!!
    I am NOT a professional restorer, obviously, but it is for an elderly lady that loves my work and has faith in me. I KNOW I can do it, just looking for suggestions.....

  11. comment_11_2862

    Jim Cobb commented on March 7, 2008, at 4:59 pm.

    An interesting problem, why do you want to restore an Acrylic painting? Acrylics have a good reputation for not cracking and falling to pieces. You may like to look at my restoration of a cracked oil using Atelier Interactive.

    And give me some more information. Can you put up some digital images? It sounds as if the paint in flaking off by the way you describe it, in which case it is not possible to get underneath each flake and glue it back into place. That is a job for a trained restorer and the painting would need to be valuable to warrant the work involved.

    Jim

  12. comment_12_2862

    PegiSue commented on March 8, 2008, at 4:33 am.

    Jim, I responded, but I don't know where it went....Let's try this again!:)
    The painting belongs to my ex-mother in law. It was done by her mother. It has NO value, except sentimental. She wants it fixed, so I fix it.... After examining it closer, it has become VERY interesting!! I believe that part of it is done in oil, part in acrylic. She primed the canvas with what looks like house paint, probably oil based. Lovely! I think that this question is too trivial for this site, I'm sorry for wasting your time. I will figure it out and get it done, thank you for your time. Pegi

  13. comment_13_2862

    Jennifer commented on March 12, 2008, at 9:54 am.

    Comment from Marlene submitted via email

    I was always told by instructors you can paint oils over acrylics but not acrylics over oils . I have a sister however who has painted acrylics over oils. I am still not seeing any cracking after 5 years . I would guess if the oils were cured for a year it would work. Just my humble opinion.

  14. comment_14_2862

    PegiSue commented on March 15, 2008, at 11:48 am.

    Jennifer,
    This painting is about 50 years old, acrylic over oil, some oil even used in the painting, along with the acrylic.... It's something to see...sorry don't have a pic!! Anyway, my problem is that I need to fix it, still don't know what I'm gonna do. The paint is coming off in flakes, need to stabalize the paint that's there so I can touch it up....
    This is in no way "museum" quality, just sentimental value.....

  15. comment_15_2862

    Robyn Sherer commented on June 9, 2008, at 1:05 pm.

    Hi all
    Due to mistakes, I often paint acrylic over the top of oils. I find it works best if I add a barrier layer with a thin coat of Jo Sonja's Clear Glaze Medium or Jo Sonja's All Purpose Sealer first. I have several pieces which are years old (7+) on which I have overpainted and I have not had any adverse reactions yet.

    Robyn Sherer
    Tecoma Victoria

  16. comment_16_2862

    LinaEve commented on July 19, 2008, at 12:58 am.

    The widow of an artist friend has offered me one of his paintings, but during a move some years back, something heavy was laid on top of the painting and cracked it badly. I think the painting is an oil on canvas and its only of sentimental value, but I would like to have a go restoring it. I have restored a few other paintings with some success but haven't had to deal with large cracks before. Can anyone please tell me what is the best way to start? I haven't received the painting yet, so can't be sure if its acrylic or oil, but I was sent an image and the cracks are very obvious, although I can't actually see any paint peeled off.

    Lina Eve, NSW North Coast

  17. comment_17_2862

    Jennifer commented on July 30, 2008, at 3:39 am.

    Hi LinaEve,

    Please post the images of the cracks and the painting once you get it so we can offer some decent suggestions. I personally have repared a big rip in a canvas caused by transporting from studio to show by gessoing the back of the canvas and then repainting. I'll still never forget that "riiiippppp" sound...it haunts me to this day!

  18. comment_18_2862

    Shanipants commented on August 15, 2008, at 4:49 am.

    Has anyone tried varnishing their acrylic over oil paintings? I am old school and I don't plan on doing any acrylic over oil, but I was offered a VERY LARGE, VERY OLD oil painting that was completely cured to paint over. I am not into wasting my professional paints on large experiments and I was concerned that I would finish the painting and then varnish only to find the acrylic would peel. I had an experience where I painted directly onto a cheap primed canvas and all was well until I started varnishing. (I know this is a completely different problem) The acrylic peeled off in sheets. -So my cautionary tale would be that even you have achieved seeming adhesion, you could run into trouble when you start varnishing. It is like varnish pulls

    ----

    I experimented mixing oils with Golden Fluid acrylics- I was using Golden Fluid Green Gold and Windsor Newton Artist's Oils in Silver in a 90% acrylic 10% oil mix. It has been about 4 months and there is still no cracking or curdling. I get a different (bad) result when I mix the heavy body acrylic with oil. I wish I was a chemist. I don't recommend either of these methods. In fact, I am an archival nerd and I think my sensibilities are a little offended by the idea of painting acrylics over oils. Good luck experimenters!

  19. comment_19_2862

    Nilesh commented on September 7, 2008, at 8:23 am.

    The bridge-layer idea just came to mind.

    Solvent-based acrylic varnishes are routinely used on oil paintings, and are approved by their manufacturers for this sort of usage.

    Acrylic paints can be painted over acrylic varnishes, which can serve as a bridge layer between oils and acrylics.

    There may be other, additional bridge-layer possibilities as well, that would serve to facilitate painting with acrylics over oils.

  20. comment_20_2862

    Randy93 commented on June 11, 2012, at 8:34 pm.

    Why acrylics cannot be painted over Oils:

    The most fundamental principle of oil painting "fat over lean" applies when mixing acrylic and oil mediums as well. Meaning:

    The acrylic paint on top will dry faster than the layer of oil underneath which may seem dry to the touch after a couple of days but will still contract for years to come. Which causes the thick dry layer of acrylic on top to crack and peel off.

    On the other hand Oils can be painted over acrylic since generally speaking oils take longer to dry than acrylics.

    Think of it as acrylics being a very lean solution if you are already familiar with the fat over lean concept. If not then you should do some research ;)

    *I have not experimented with this and i have no knowledge of the chemical structure of either mediums... Hope this helps to people who stumble upon this article anyway...