Oil and Water Do Not Mix

I was quite excited on Friday when my husband and I drove into Kansas City. It’s about an hour’s drive, and while he goes into the city every day to work, I don’t get there too often. The real excitement wasn’t the drive into town, though. Our afternoon included plans to stop by Creative-Coldsnow. The store’s founder, Keith Coldsnow (now deceased) had previously managed the book store at the Kansas City Art Institute. Later the business merged with Creative Crafts and Hobby, and in 2009 the name was changed from Keith Coldsnow LTD to Creative-Coldsnow. In the Midwest, it is the place for art supplies.

Even before we reached the store, I knew exactly what I would get. I planned to check out the Neocolors, buy a much-needed new kneaded eraser, and grab a couple tubes of watercolor.

I’ve loved using my new M. Graham watercolors — a Mother’s Day gift — but I do have problems mixing violet. I always end up with muddy colors. I’m sure I’ll eventually remember which red and blues to mix, but for now…well, why not just buy a lovely violet?

watercolor-dioxazine-purple100Dioxazine Violet.

Doesn’t that sound pretty? That was actually the only violet pigment I could remember, and it sounded just dandy to me. So, when we got to Coldsnow’s, I hurried inside and looked for the M. Graham paints. I found my violet, and I couldn’t resist getting “just one more” since I was there. Phthalo blue. Sure, why not!

By the time we got home, it was too late to even think of doing any painting, so I didn’t have a chance to try out my new colors until the next morning. I’d bought a nice new folding palette on my little shopping spree, so I began filling it with colors from my tubes. I arranged my reds and yellows, my blues. And then with a smile, I reached for my new dioxazine violet and squeezed out a generous amount. Unfortunately I managed to get a bit on my hands, so I headed to the sink.

It didn’t come off. That should have been my first clue, and I’m sure you already know where this story is going. But it’s going to take a while to get there.

I looked at my hands, figured dioxazine violet must be a staining pigment, and went back to the table. I was practicing on skies that day. I happily painted a clear blue sky, a sky with clouds, a stormy sky, and an evening sunset.

So far, so good.

watercolor-pyrrol-red154Next, I started playing with abstractions. Earlier I’d been reading about using line in abstract art, so I chose my pyrrol red, grabbed a big round brush and started happily drawing lines across the paper.

Thick lines, thin lines. Lines going every which way. Oh, I was having so much fun. But I wanted to have even more fun. I was itching to play with my new violet.

Red and violet.

Yes. It would make a stunning, dramatic statement. I noticed that both the new violet and the new blue in my palette seemed a bit thick and rather odd-looking next to the others. That should have been my second clue.


I picked up a little violet with my brush and plopped it onto a mixing area. So thick and gooey! I quickly grabbed a little water and tried thinning it out.

That should have been my third clue.


Of course, I knew nothing about dioxazine violet. Maybe that’s just how the pigment is, I thought. Undeterred, I swept up the paint with my brush and tried to add lines of violet to my work in progress. Clue number four.

It didn’t go on smoothly, just turned into rather blotchy splotches. Is this a granulating pigment? It must be, I decided, still not picking up on what should have been the fifth clue. I chalked the problem up to my lack of knowledge. I really should have read up a bit on dioxazine before buying it. That’s what I told myself.

I noticed, too, how the little dab of paint I’d put on the mixing tray couldn’t be wiped away or washed away. Clue number six. Yeah, I missed that one, too. I kept painting away, no longer having as much fun as before, and wondering how anybody ever used dioxazine violet. Why would anyone want such a horrible, staining, granulating pigment?

watercolor-phthalocyanine-blue140Maybe I’d have better luck with the blue, I thought. Nope. Here came clue number seven. The new blue acted just the way the violet had done.

It smeared, it stained, it looked like a grainy mess. What was going on?

Could I have somehow gotten bad watercolors? Was the stock at Coldsnow’s possibly old or outdated or dried up in the tube, or… something!

Well, I went ahead and used the blue — I’d grabbed a new sheet of watercolor paper — and I thought the results were, shall we say, interesting.

I could consider it a piece of experimental art, I decided, once again chastising myself for not doing a little more research before buying the paints. I knew the problem was not with Coldsnow’s, so it had to be me.

I’d managed to choose two watercolors that obviously had very unusual properties. As I lamented buying them, I wondered again exactly how artists used these two impossible pigments. I knew I’d never use them again.

With a sigh of frustration, I headed for the sink and made an attempt to simply wash off the mess and forget my new paints. Clue number eight. These paints would not wash off the paper anymore than they would wash off my hands.

Why, it was almost like…

Bingo! Yep. Finally the light bulb went off.

Could I have somehow accidentally bought oil paints instead of watercolor? The long and short of the story is that even after a fast trip to Hobby Lobby to buy turpentine — and pick up a few tubes of watercolor just to make myself feel better — I still have lovely phthalo blue- and dioxazine violet-stained fingernails, a permanently stained palette, some very, very messy old rags, and a few ruined brushes. Luckily, they weren’t expensive brushes.

Framed Oil and Water

And here’s what I have to show for it. As a piece of abstract or experimental art, it works, I guess.

I should title it “Clueless”.

Eventually, when I start painting with oils, I’ll be able to use the tubes of paint, so it’s not a complete loss.

And my fiasco has given me another opportunity to laugh at myself. I really felt a little foolish when I admitted to my husband what I’d done — which was right before he kindly gave me a bit of gasoline to help me get the worst of it off my hands so that I could drive to Hobby Lobby, along with the advice to buy some turpentine while I was there.

Yes, I did remember the turpentine and I finally got most of the paint off my hands. The rest, I guess, will gradually wear off.

So why am I posting this tale of woe? I’m hoping someone reading this might say, “Hey, you’re not the first one to make that mistake.” Or, maybe I am, but maybe you’ve made art mistakes of your own.

Please, tell me about your art blunders. Hearing your stories won’t take the stains from my hands, but it will make me feel a whole lot better.







  1. Really nice post! Funnily enough there exist water-mixable oil colours and it is possible (not recommended by manufacturers) to blend them with acrylics and watercolours and experiment with this – different drying rates mean you can get unstable or cracking mixtures though so be careful. They do wash off in water but are still pretty oily and can be difficult to clean away at times. You might like them more than traditional oils as you don’t have to use turps and there are many water soluble oil mediums and solvents on the market, plus they will blend with ‘normal’ oil paints and solvents too. Btw Dioxazine is a really strong staining pigment and a little goes a very long way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am intrigued by the new “water soluble oils” available. I can’t imagine such a thing. There are lots of fun things we can try in art, that’s for sure. I really didn’t intend to try mixing oil and water LOL. What a mess I made. I will certainly be more careful when shopping in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. what a great post!!! loved reading it. many many accidents happen along the way. love your attitude 🙂
    a quick tip I learned recently….. oils can be cleaned up with cheap vegetable cooking oil! no toxins… yay 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, good to know about the vegetable oil. I’m hoping maybe I’ll be able to salvage a few of the brushes I used that day. I tried one last night and I think I did get all the oil-paint residue out of it. I was able to use it for a watercolor wash. I’m going to look again at the other ones. I think they’ll be all right, too.


  3. I actually made a similar (though less messy) mistake with neocolors…I and II are NOT the same! Only II mixes with water. But then I’m known for my lapses of attention, so I just sighed and made sure I separated them completely for future work.
    By the way, I like the result of your experiment. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Deep deep belly laugh. That was a good one! Love this story. Two words….dish soap. Did you notice a price difference?

    My hands are permanently stained. We went out a few weekends ago and I had to use a pumice stone on the bottom of my thumbs!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You got the phthalo blue because you are gonna get some lemon yellow oil paint one day and make a beautiful turquoise and you are gonna mix your own greens so you needed it for that also.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yup!!!! Careful, it is addicting! All your clothes will be ruined and your house will be filled with wet paintings.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, well when I was putting those starry dots on the Petroglyph painting, I got splatters of paint on my face, the wall, the granite, the tile floor and my clothes but it sure was fun.


    2. It’s finally worn off my hands, but not my nails. I actually trimmed my nails to get rid of the worst of it! This was the first time I’d ever bought a single tube of paint, so I didn’t have enough knowledge/experience to even question the prices. I still can’t believe I didn’t realize the problem sooner. LOL

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You had to tell us a story…if you hadn’t done that I wouldn’t have started my day with a good laugh! Thank you for that.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. LOL! I never saw it coming Judith – I just kept wondering what the heck was going wrong! 🙂 In fact, I just recently did a painting with lovely dioxazine violet 🙂 Thanks for sharing your funny adventure, and the painting is actually kinda lovely 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. LOL, I figured the title of the post would give it away. When I went to Hobby Lobby after the fiasco, I did buy some dioxazine violet – Winsor & Newton – and I’m sure I’ll enjoy using it. For all that I went through, I was glad that I at least ended up with something “interesting” to show for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I feel bad about laughing at your tale of misfortune but you told it so well with that build up and all of the clues. You are an engaging story teller even when you are the butt of your own joke. I am glad you are able to see the funny side of this little episode. I have, incidentally, made many art mistakes over the years but not (yet) this one.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Darn it! LOL I was hoping at least one person would raise their hand and say “Oh, yeah, I did that, too!” So far, nobody else has, or at least, nobody is admitting to it. When I make blunders like that, I have to laugh. I’m glad it gave you a laugh as well. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Funny! I once bought Neocolor I instead of II and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t paint them out with water. At least you got a lovely little painting out of it and a funny name to go along with it!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I had a hard time eating my sandwich while reading this lol! I felt bad laughing at your ‘mis’-adventure but I couldn’t help it. The way you told the story was just too funny! But don’t worry. We’ve all been through something similar. Here’s one of mine: I took a tiny sip from a bottle of Coca-Cola forgetting it was the water I used to rinse my paintbrush. Pro-Tip: never put your drinks anywhere near your rinsing bottle.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, yuck! LOL. I haven’t done that one yet, so I’ll take your advice and keep my rinsing cup far away. No need to feel bad for laughing. I’m still laughing over the whole experience myself. It is reassuring to know that other artists have made “boo-boos”, too. 🙂 Thanks for sharing yours.


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