How to Create a Painting Using Oil on Water

Updated April 17, 2017

Painting using oil on water is called swirl painting because of the swirls of paint that are left when using the oil-on-water technique. Swirl paint works because of the chemical properties of oil and water that allow the oil to float on the surface of the water. This swirl painting technique can be used on heavy paper, wood, masonite and many other objects. Guitarist Steve Vai popularised swirl painting on his Jem guitars.

Spray your wood panel with an oil-based matt primer to seal the wood. Let it dry for two to four hours or until dry to the touch.

Fill bucket or tub three-quarters full with water. Add 28.4gr of Borax per gallon of water. Stir to dissolve.

Select two to three colours of oil-based enamel paints. Humbrol Enamels work well, but most brands will float on the water. Drip several drops of each colour into the bucket of water.

Stir or shake the bucket to swirl the paint colours. Continue until you like the pattern on the surface of the water.

Dip your wood panel vertically into the tub, slipping it through the swirled paint.

Use your other hand, stir stick or other item to move the leftover paint on the surface of the water away from the wood.

Lift the panel straight out of the water and allow it to dry for 8 to 12 hours before handling.

Things You'll Need

  • Matt oil-based primer
  • Oil-based enamel paints
  • Water
  • Borax
  • Bucket or tub
  • Wood panel
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About the Author

Leah Newman has been a professional writer since 1999, writing about fine arts both in print and online. She specializes in how-to articles covering DIY projects. Newman holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Georgia and a Graduate Certificate in Children's Literature from Pennsylvania State University.