Why Are Oil Paintings More Expensive Than Watercolors?

Cover image for: Why Are Oil Paintings More Expensive Than Watercolors? Image is: Vincent Van Gogh Wheatfield With A Reaper. There is a predominant yellow, purple and light blue mountains, a little green plant to the left, and the sun on the top.

When it comes to art, there are a lot of different styles and mediums to choose from. But, if you’re considering taking up the hobby or purchasing an oil painting, you might wonder why oil paintings are typically more expensive than watercolors. Several factors can affect the price of a painting, especially oil paintings. 

Oil paintings are more expensive than watercolors because there’s more cost, time, and materials put into the created artwork. The completion time is extensive, taking days, weeks, or months to dry (or harden) completely. They are also said to be more durable with a higher value than watercolors. 

The skill and required materials differ from one medium to the next, which is why some art is more expensive to create or purchase than others. In this article, we’ll explain why oil paintings are more expensive than their watercolor counterparts and which of these mediums is easier to work with. So, Why Are Oil Paintings More Expensive Than Watercolors?

5 Reasons Oil Paintings Are More Expensive Than Watercolors

Oil paint is a fantastic medium to work with and has been popular among artists for centuries. It’s loved for its versatility, including the ability to create layers, depth, and fine details in the artwork. This medium is made of oil (traditionally linseed oil) that carries the pigment while you paint, preventing it from drying too fast.

Even though oil paintings are striking, they can be expensive to create and purchase.  

The following are five reasons oil paintings are more expensive than watercolors:

  • The cost of oil paints
  • Material expenses
  • Longer completion time
  • More durable
  • Higher value

One – The Cost of Oil Paints

Oil paint is made with pigments that are ground up and mixed with a binder, like linseed or flaxseed oil. But the pigment is what makes the paint itself more expensive because these pigments can be costly, depending on their rarity and quality.

Oil paint has more color choices, and each pigment is treated individuallyOpens in a new tab. during the grinding process to maximize the color shade and quality. Because of this, it’s considered more luxurious than watercolor and other mediums.

Two – Material Expenses

Every paint medium needs a surface and tools to apply the paint to the surface. 

Watercolor typically uses paper for the application process because it’s water-based. Oil paintings are created on canvas or panels held by an easel. While the quality of the surface plays a huge role in the cost, canvas and panels are typically more expensive materials to purchase.

Along with the surface used, the brushes differ for oil paint and watercolor. 

Brushes for oil paint are long, flat, and made with more harsh bristles, like hog hair. The harsh bristles of oil paint brushes hold more paint and the extended handle provides comfort for the artist since they typically stand further from the surface. 

Watercolor brushes use shorter and softer materials to allow the gentle touch needed in watercolor painting.

Oil painting also uses other materials, such as palette knives for mixing paints, creating layers, and scraping paint from the surface. And paint solvents like mineral spirits and turpentine are also essential to oil painting for cleaning the paint brushes and thinning oil paints.

Three – Longer Completion Time

Oil paints allow artists to create fine details, layers, and textures. The drying process and the art piece’s complexity will also affect the completion time. Oil paintings can take days, weeks, or even months to dry completely.

The oil in the paint goes through an oxidation processOpens in a new tab. or a chemical reaction that causes the paint to become hardened. So, the oil paint dry time will significantly depend on the following:

  • Room temperature and humidity
  • Paint techniques, styles, and thicknesses 
  • Quality of oil paint
  • Pigment types

Since watercolor paint is water-based, the drying time will be much quicker than oil paint because water evaporates quickly.

Four – Paint and Surface Durability

The surfaces used for oil paintings are more durable than the paper used for watercolors. Canvas and panels will last longer, especially when stored properly. And unlike watercolor, oil paint can be applied to many types of surfaces, such as wood, metal, and stone, which are even more durable than canvas. 

However, with excellent quality watercolor paint and surface materials, a watercolor painting can actually have a similar lifespan to an oil painting.

Five – A Higher Perceived Value

Generally, many view oil paintings as higher valued art pieces because of their rich appearance and better-quality materials. The different textures, vibrant colors, and details can create quite a breathtaking piece for one to enjoy viewing.

The value of the overall piece will also depend on the artist’s talent and reputation.

Is Oil Painting Easier Than Watercolor?

Oil paint is an easier medium to work with versus painting with watercolors. This is because the pigment in watercolors is carried by water and the color and application result differ with the amount of water used when painting. 

And since it’s water-based, it dries almost instantly, making it practically impossible to correct mistakes, unlike oil paint which “dries” very slowly and can be scraped off and painted over. 

Watching a skilled watercolor artist work their magic on paper is mesmerizing, to say the least. However, that’s not to say an experienced artist using oil paints is less skilled than one using watercolor. Both mediums require patience and commitment to master. 

But for beginners, oil paint is said to be easier because mistakes are easier to fix, and oil-based paint has a slower drying timeOpens in a new tab..

Final Words

Many iconic artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso have favored oil paints. But talent and skill aren’t the only factors that make oil paintings more expensive than other mediums like watercolors. 

Overall, there’s more cost involved from the material quality and amount used to the tools needed and the drying time of oil paintings versus watercolors. And the various and vibrant color choices allow the artist to incorporate more depth and detail in the art piece.

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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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