Medium Madness: How to Pick the Right One
New to painting, or wanting to test the waters with a new medium? Well, you’re in luck! Below is a sneak peek excerpt pulled from Create Perfect Paintings: An Artist’s Guide to Visual Thinking by Nancy Reyner. This roundup includes lists of pros and cons for the most comment painting mediums.
In addition to those listed below, paintings can be made with many other mediums such as gouache, oil pastel, ink, pencil, markers, spray paint and silkscreen among others. Experimenting with new mediums, even for a short period of time, can be fun and inspiring, and expand how you use your current medium once you return to it. Enjoy!
Painting with Oil
Pros: Oil paint is slow drying, allowing for more time to make changes and to blend colors. Oil refracts the color pigment in the paint for a beautiful, rich glowing color.
Great for realism, blending and detail, oil can also be used for experimental and playful methods of abstraction.
Cons: Working transparently (such as glazing) requires the use of oil mediums that often contain toxic solvents. Oil paint alone is not toxic, but some mediums used to extend oil paint are toxic. Reduce toxicity by using non-toxic mediums in the paint and baby oil to clean brushes.
Oil paint never fully cures even when dry to the touch, so correct care must be taken for handling and storage. The painting must not be shipped or varnished too soon. Layering requires correct chemistry so a more flexible layer is always applied over a less flexible one.
Oil has the potential to crack, especially if used thickly. Most oils turn yellow over time, dramatically reducing luminosity in white and light value colors.
Painting with Acrylic
Pros: Acrylic paints, media and products are almost all nontoxic. Acrylic is known for its fast drying qualities but is also available in slow-drying forms.
A wide variety of acrylic products are available to customize paint and to personalize preferences in surface absorbency, texture and sheen. Fast-drying acrylic paints are great for layering while slow-drying acrylics imitate the look and feel of oil.
Paints are available in varying consistencies (viscosity), so acrylics can imitate both watercolor and oil in look and feel. Acrylics can be as thin as ink or thick and heavy bodied for textural effects.
This medium offers the widest range of possibilities and is now considered more archival than all other mediums. When used correctly it will not crack or yellow, and fully cures in about two weeks. It can be used in conjunction with many other mediums such as creating a fast-drying underpainting for use under oil paint.
Cons: Acrylic binders usually contain ammonia. And although considered nontoxic, this can cause sensitivity with some people, especially when used without proper ventilation.
Painting with Watercolor
Pros: Watercolor naturally creates transparency. This medium’s water-soluble nature allows for some changes even after it has dried.
Cons: Because watercolor is usually applied to paper, the paint will sink into and stain the surface, making the paint difficult to remove fully once dry.
When finished, watercolor paintings need protection, such as being framed behind glass, due to paper being not as archival as panel or canvas as well as the nonpermanent nature of the watercolor paint.
Painting with Chalk Pastel
Pros: Pastel is actually a drawing medium. But finished works in pastel are often referred to as paintings. Drying times are not an issue when working with pastel, making it portable and an excellent choice for working outdoors.
Good quality pastels can produce a unique and luscious sheen in the final surface. Colors come in a wide range and can be blended and mixed directly onto the surface.
Cons: Pastel remains delicate on a surface and requires protection with glass and framing. Alternative protection, such as spray fixatives and sealers, will diminish pastel’s color and sheen.
Painting with Mixed Media
Pros: Combining paint and painting mediums with other materials expands possibilities and adds an immediate contemporary appearance.
Cons: Non-fine art materials, such as those made for craft and commercial use, can fade over time with exposure to light and air. UV or other types of protection, such as sealing applications or framing with UV glass, is required.
When one type of material is layered over a different one, it may need extra procedures for proper adhesion between them.
A Word About Painting Mediums
The word medium has different meanings depending on its context. It can designate a discipline such as oil or acrylic, or it can refer to an actual binder or extender used in the chemistry of that discipline. For example, linseed oil is a medium and is used with the medium of oil paint.
More from Nancy
After choosing the right painting medium, how do you go about choosing the right colors for your palette?
Below is a preview of the video workshop, Nancy Reyner’s Perfect Color Mixing, which includes insight into the seven essential you need to mix and match any color.
What is your favorite art medium? Tell us in the comments below!