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Can You Get an Oil Painting Wet?

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There’s nothing worse than making, or buying, a beautiful oil painting just for it to be ruined. Of course, protecting your paintings is the highest priority. But, life happens. If you end up getting water on your oil painting, it’s important to know what the impact will be. Is it catastrophic, or not a big deal? Can oil paintings get wet in the first place?

Oil paintings cannot get wet. If an oil painting suffers from water damage, it can cause the canvas to buckle and warp. The canvas may even be moldy. Additionally, the oil paint may start to flake and fall off the canvas after getting wet.

There are a lot of paints that can get wet. Heck, we would have quite the issue if our houses, fences, murals, and signs were constantly dripping and falling apart. 

oil painting of cityscape

Unfortunately, oil paint is not one of those water loving paints that can get wet all of the time. Oil paintings can be completely ruined if they get wet or are exposed to even small amounts of moisture.

I know it can sometimes seem like taking care of our artwork is an annoying task. Sunlight, water, greasy fingerprints, careless house guests; they can all cause damage to our precious pieces of artwork.

But, that’s the responsibility we take on in exchange for creating and enjoying art.

Here’s what happens when oil paintings can get wet.

What Happens to a Canvas When it Gets Wet?

If your painted canvas gets wet, it can warp, swell, and/or shrink. This will not only distort your painting, but it could also cause the paint to flake and fall off of your canvas altogether. In extreme situations of water damage, your canvas might also become so stretched and weak that it will tear.

When we think about the damage that can happen when an oil painting gets wet, we have to go back to basics and consider the impacts that water can have on our painting’s canvas.

Forget the paint; the damage to the canvas alone can be enough to ruin your painting beyond repair. 

The amount of water damage that your canvas suffers is dependent on how much water it was exposed to and for how long. 

This can be tricky to navigate because creating an oil painting on a wet canvas is a fun technique. But, it can go to far.

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Here are some things you might notice:

-your canvas is warped. When your canvas gets wet, it can shrink. To add to the mess, the wooden stretcher bars might swell. A shrinking canvas + swollen stretcher bars = lots of warping.

 A warped canvas will look like it’s turned to the side, or it may be curled up on itself. The greater the warp, the more damage the painting will have sustained.

-your canvas is dirty or discolored. If your canvas gets wet, it’s not always with pristine spring water. Sometimes, your canvas will be splashed or submerged in dirty water, salt water, or even substances other than water (that can get really interesting!).

We’ve been talking about “water” damage but, of course, your painting can have the bad luck of coming into contact with any type of substance. Lemonade? Dish soap? Slime? Who knows what life will splash on you.

-your canvas will be moldy. Depending on how long and how much the painting has been exposed to water, it may develop mold and mildew. 

After mold starts to grow on a canvas, it’s usually game over for that painting. Mold can spread to the paint, on the canvas, and to the stretcher bars. Clearly, this is a big deal depending on how far the mold has spread.

These are things you’ll notice about your canvas itself if it has suffered from water damage. But, of course, if your canvas has a beautiful oil painting on it, you’ll notice the damage on the painting itself.

This is why we have to talk about what happens to the paint when water gets exposed to it.

What Happens to Oil Paint When it Gets Wet?

-your paint will start to peel off of your canvas. If water gets under your paint and starts coercing it off of your canvas, you may see chips or peels of paint laying around. The areas with exposed paint will appear lighter than the rest of your painting. 

-your paint will crack. When water gets in between the layers of paint, it can cause your paint layers to expand and contract at different rates. Cracks will appear on the surface of your painting as a result. 

-it may start to flake off or flake away. A lot of times, if water gets under the paint, that’s where it stays. But sometimes, the surface of a painting can get wet enough that some parts of it start to flake off or fall off altogether.

-you may notice a cloudy effect. If you used varnish on your painting, the water might seep in between your varnish and your paint, which will leave you with a frosty and cloudy look.

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Do Not Put Oil Paintings Outside or in Water Prone Areas

A lot of artists believe that their paintings should be able to withstand any weather condition. If you’ve been in the art world for a while, you may even have heard this from a well-meaning teacher or professor who has told you to hang your painting outside, even during rainstorms. 

However, it’s not true that we should all be painting in inclement weather and hoping our paintings will hold up. Sometimes, we aren’t around to protect our oil paintings, which means that we need to do our due diligence to make sure that we place them in areas that will be protect.

This means placing your oil paintings indoors, in rooms that are from sinks, showers, or eating areas. These are all areas that can get pretty damp, which is why we don’t want our paintings to be here. 

If you do want to put your oil paintings outside, make sure they’re hung in a sheltered area that is protected from water exposure. And even if you happen to have a shed or barn where you hang your painting, hang it inside the shelter so that it’s protected from the rain and other harsh weather conditions (like snow or sun).

There are a lot of great water-resistant paint choices. If you really want to create a piece of artwork for an outdoor or water prone area, the best practice is to simply avoid oil paint and choose one of the many water-resistant paint options.

Oil paintings are not meant to get wet. Protect your existing oil paintings from water/liquids, and don’t intentionally create oil paintings that you plan to place outdoors.

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