Watercolor vs. Oil Painting: Which Is Easier To Learn?

Painting is a fun hobby that is also rewarding. If you are looking to get into painting, we highly recommend it. However, many beginners wonder which type of painting is right for them, so, let’s talk about whether watercolor or oil painting is easier to learn. 

Oil painting is much easier to learn than watercolor painting for many reasons. Watercolor painting can be unpredictable as you rely on the paint’s reaction to water. As such, the nuances of mastering the art of watercolor painting make it much harder to learn than oil painting. 

Let’s discuss these differences in more detail and help you figure out which style of painting is best for you: Watercolor vs. Oil Painting: Which Is Easier To Learn?

How Are Watercolor and Oil Painting Different?

First, let’s break down the differences between these styles to help you figure out which is best for you and what makes oil painting easier to learn. 

It is important to understand that oil painting colors are much more predictable. This is because you don’t add anything to oil paint colors, while you add water to watercolor paint. 

The water in watercolor paint dilutes the color. The more water you add, the more dilute the paint becomes. Consequently, too much water will give you a washed-out look, and too little will give you a darker shade than you wanted. This makes watercolor painting more unpredictable and difficult to perfect. Meanwhile, oil paint has very little color variation. 

Drying Time

One of the biggest challenges in learning to use watercolor paint is how fast it dries. In fact, many beginners prefer to use wet paper for watercolors to help their painting not dry as quicklyOpens in a new tab.. Compared to oil painting, watercolor paints dry almost instantly. 

Oil painting is a lot different when it comes to drying. In fact, you can expect your oil painting to take an entire dayOpens in a new tab. to dry or even longer. This means you can continue moving around the paint as needed to get the desired look. Thus, the drying time of an oil painting allows for more freedom to move the paint around at a later time, whereas a watercolor painting doesn’t give you that option.

Drying time is something you can learn to work with over time. Still, it makes a big difference for beginners. The fast-drying you see with watercolors means that you have to mix the exact color you want the first time, as you won’t be able to layer colors as you can with oil paint. So, when using watercolor paint, you have to get it right the first time. 

Wiping Away Mistakes

While neither style of painting comes with an eraser, it is a lot easier to correct mistakes with oil paint than with watercolor paint. Let me explain.

Oil paint is a lot easier to remove if you make a mistake which makes it perfect for beginners. However, once you paint with watercolor paint, it dries almost instantly, making it nearly impossible to remove. 

Oil paint is a lot different. Because it takes so long to dry and simply sits on top of the canvas, you can remove itOpens in a new tab. if you make a mistake. All you need to do is get a painting knife and scrape off the paint. If this doesn’t remove all the paint, continue the process using a soft cloth.

The ability to wipe away mistakes is vital for beginners because you will make errors when you start painting. Oil paint allows you to make those mistakes without needing to start over or just accept them as part of your painting. This can be a lot less frustrating for new artists trying to complete their first painting. 

Learning To Work With Water Takes Time

Let’s focus on watercolors for a minute. 

The beauty and fine craftsmanship of a good watercolor painting can make it difficult for you not to want to give it a try. That said, you have to take the time to learn how to do it right. And this takes a lot of time. 

Water adds a very challenging aspect to painting because you need to use it carefully to create the shades you want. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to get the same exact color again when mixing watercolor paint unless you are extremely careful and precise. Simple mistakes like not mixing enough paint can cause a lot of hassle for beginners. 

There are a few potential roadblocks that beginners might hit with watercolor painting that don’t usually happen with oil painting. For example, with watercolor paint, you need to be very careful what type of brushes you use, as some paint brushes absorb water and dry out your paint before it even reaches the paper. 

It is also important to know that not all watercolor paper is the same. Sure, every artist will develop their own preferences regarding the type of paper to use, but you need to ensure you have paper designed for watercolors.  If you don’t, you can run into issues with how the paint lies on the page, how it dries, and how long it lasts before it begins to fade. 

There are other aspects of oil painting that are challenging, like figuring out how to use solvents. Oil painters use solvents to allow their painting to dry faster and thin the paint they are using. Unlike water in watercolor painting, solvents for oil painting are not mandatory for beginners. So, you can expect to learn this as you go rather than upfront. 

Final Words

While both are fun, creative ways to paint, oil painting is a lot easier to learn than watercolor painting. This comes down to the science of working with water to create the right shades. It is easier to work with oil painting as a beginner because you can use the colors right out of the paint tube. 

Therefore, we recommend getting started with oil painting if you are looking for an easier method. Just know that both types of painting are rewarding, and you will create beautiful art with whichever style you choose.

Lets Create SomethingOpens in a new tab.
Was this article helpful?


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

Recent Posts