choosing the best painting medium

What is the best painting medium for the artist?

Humans have been creating art for centuries, ever since the caveman days. People have an innate desire to express how we feel and what we see.

Over the centuries mankind has used various types of painting mediums. The oldest paintings in existence are over 40,000 years old.

Best-painting-medium-oilOils paintings last for centuries.

What is medium in art? The term medium is used three different ways:

  1. Medium is the type of art such as carving, printing, painting, etc.
  2. Medium is the material used to create an artwork for example, acrylic or oils are mediums.
  3. Mediums are mixed into paint to thicken, thin, extend it, slow or speed up the drying time.

Media and mediums are both plural forms of medium in art.

What painting medium should we start out with?

Oils, watercolor, acrylics and alkyds are all good choices for the beginning artist.

Our best painting medium is a matter of individual preference. Most artist try several different painting mediums before settling on a favorite.

let's compare:

Ease of use: Acrylic tends to be the most beginner-friendly, while oil and alkyd require a little more patience and skill. Watercolor can seem intimidating, but with practice, it can lead to some truly beautiful and delicate works.

Oil paints are deeply loved for their rich, luminous colors and the ability to blend incredibly smoothly. They are slow drying, but the possibility to rework paintings even months later is an appealing feature. Odorless mineral spirits is recommended for clean-up.

Watercolors are known for their beautiful, translucent effects. Watercolor can be challenging to learn because the colors can move and blend in unexpected ways. It dries quickly. It's unique characteristics that cannot be duplicated with other media.

Acrylic paints are known for their versatility and ease of use. Beginners often feel comfortable starting with acrylic due to its fast-drying speed and ability to be used on various surfaces. Color vibrancy is substantial, making it an excellent medium for bold, striking artwork.

Alkyds is a modern kind of oil paint. Their alkyd resin speeds up the drying time and gives them intense durability. In terms of ease of use, they sit between oil and acrylic, drying faster than oil but slower than acrylic. Their cost is much the same as high-quality oils, and color vibrancy is excellent. They are a modern fine art paint.

Drying time: Acrylic and watercolor are the fastest. They dry within minutes to hours. Alkyd comes next, it dries fully overnight. Oil paint takes the longest, typically taking days to weeks to fully dry.

Color vibrancy is important to the artist. This can often come down to the specific brand and quality of the paint.

Generally, oils, acrylic, and alkyds offer the greatest saturation and depth of color. Watercolors offer a vibrancy of light and luminescence rather than saturation.

Longevity: Oil and alkyd paints are the most enduring. Acrylic, is also considered durable in most situations. Watercolor typically has a medium-longevity They require framing under glass and careful handling to ensure their longevity.

Remember, the lifespan of your artwork also greatly depends on the conditions under which it is stored and displayed.

Cost: Watercolor and acrylic are usually the most economical options. Oils and alkyds can be more expensive. However, they extend farther due to their thickness and high pigment load.

Keep these comparisons in mind as you choose your best painting medium and embark on your artistic journey.

Before you begin painting, find answers to frequently asked questions.

early types of art mediums

Graphite has been in use for centuries. It was discovered in England in the 1500s. We all probably used graphite pencils in grade school.

Graphite pencils are a common art medium.Lovely graphite artwork by Ermir Kolonja

Many times, the best painting medium is what's available. Common yellow pencils are #2 pencils.

  • Art pencils labeled from B up to 8B are soft pencils, suitable for darker values.
  • Pencils labeled H thru 6H are hard pencils generally used for sketching and light values.
  • HB and F are between the soft "B pencils" and the hard "H pencils".

Modern artists, also have a wide selection of colored pencils.

Is drawing a necessary skill for painting?

Charcoal was one of the first painting mediums. Cave dwellers did charcoal art around 28,000 years ago. Charcoal is still used by artists today for sketching or doing complete charcoal paintings.

Black ink: Around 5,000 years ago, charcoal was ground into a powder and combined with liquid to make black ink. Later the Chinese used plant dyes to make colored inks. Modern artists have a vast array of inks to choose from.

Early paints were made from iron oxide ore. Today we know them as; yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt sienna, raw umber and burnt umber.

We still use these earth paints today because they are reliable, color-fast and economical. They are an excellent addition to the artist's palette.

fresco

Many fresco murals and paintings were done during the time of the Italian Renaissance.

In the early 1500s Michelangelo did nine fresco paintings portraying the book of Genesis on the ceiling of the chapel. The most famous one is the Creation of Man (Adam) in the painting below.

Painting-Medium-Michelangelo-creation-of-manMan has been painting since the "Creation of Man"

Fresco was the best painting medium for the interior, plaster walls. The paintings are created by mixing powdered paint pigments with water. The mixture was painted on top of a thin layer of wet lime plaster.

As the plaster and paint dry, the two were fused together and dry into a lovely matte finish. They are extremely durable in the absence of water.

tempera

Tempera is paint pigments mixed with egg yolks. It is also called, egg tempera. Tempera is fast drying and permanent. It is not flexible, so it needs to be painted on a rigid surface.

It has been used for centuries, as far back as the third century. The Egyptians used tempera and casein for their murals and paintings.

Tempera was the favored painting medium during the Middle Ages from about 1200 until 1500 when the Renaissance began.

today's best painting mediums

All art paints use the same pigment colors. The only difference between the mediums is the substance that carries the paint pigments.

Casein

Casein is a painting medium similar to tempera. It is mixed with milk instead of eggs. It is thinned with water.

Today casein is considered one of, if not the best painting medium for painting murals.

See a casein butterfly painting.

gouache

Gouache is another painting medium that has been around for centuries. It is an opaque water-based medium that dries fast. Their pigments are combined with gum arabic or dextrin and white paint.

Many modern artists consider gouache the best painting medium for design work, comics and illustrations. Gouache is also used for airbrushing.

pastel

Pastels were first made in the late 1500s. Ground paint pigments are combined with gum arabic or other glues. The pastels are formed into a stick similar to crayons or in a cake form.

In the 1600s Edgar Degas, a famous renaissance artist did 700 pastel paintings.

Pastels are a modern painting medium.A modern pastel painting by LiberalLoner

There are soft pastels, hard pastels, oil pastels and water pastels depending upon how they are manufactured. Pan pastels are soft pastels placed in a small pan. 

Pastels are fast and fun to use. Use pastel paper with a textured surface to grip the pastels.

They can produce a lot of dust during use. Consequently, they are not considered the best painting medium for people with breathing problems.

Finished pastel paintings are subject to fading and may be smeared by touching.  A spray fixative can be used to protect the painting, but it is known for dulling the colors slightly. Finished pastels should be framed under glass.

Pastels may be used over a dry watercolor painting to create emphasis and highlights.

oil paint

Around the 1500s oil paintings became popular. Oil paint pigments are commonly suspended in linseed oil, hence the name oil paints.

Oil paints are slow drying. They are a versatile painting medium that may be reworked until they are dry. If you don't like something, you can scrape it off and repaint it. You may also, paint over a dried oil painting months later.

Actually, I am partial to oil paintings. That is what I used while learning to paint art. With good instruction, they are quite easy to use.

Alkyd paint

Alkyd paint is a modern type of painting medium. They are extremely durable, so car manufactures started using them in the early 1900s.

Winsor & Newton started making alkyd art paints in the 1960s. The color pigments are suspended in an alkyd resin. They dry completely overnight to a uniform matte finish.

Alkyd has been my favorite "oil painting" medium since the 1980s. The finished paintings look just like an oil painting.

watercolor

Most children in the United States use watercolors in grade school. Many schools consider them the best painting medium for children.

Watercolors are thinned and cleaned up with water. They dry quickly and have a fresh appearance.

"Meadow Fritillaries" - butterfly watercolor painting by Carol MayWatercolor is a good painting medium for butterflies.

The watercolor paint is made by mixing the paint pigments with gum arabic.

There are two options for watercolor paints. They may be purchased in dried cubes, called pans. Or we may get moist watercolor paint sealed in tubes.

It is difficult to adjust watercolor after it has been applied to the painting surface, especially after it has already dried.

Watercolor paintings are traditionally done on paper. To protect the finished painting, it must be framed with a mat under glass.

Today watercolors may be painted on Aquabord or watercolor canvas. The paint is easier to remove from aquabord or watercolor canvas.

Dry watercolor paintings on aquabord or canvas can be sprayed with a fixative. Then the painting is framed without glass.

acrylic

Acrylic paint pigments are suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion. It is a water-based paint that dries very quickly. Slow drying mediums may be added to extend the drying time.

This medium may be painted in thin layers to resemble watercolors. It may also be painted thick to resemble oil paints. Some people consider acrylic the best painting medium for beginners.

Finished acrylic paintings are very durable and they are framed without glass. Dried acrylic is flat without any gloss. Therefore, finished acrylic paintings are normally varnished.

Acrylic may be painted on anything from paper to fabric, wood or rocks. I used acrylic to paint fruit and flowers on my kitchen cabinets. When the cabinets were varnished, the paintings were sealed and protected.

Acrylic pouring is a popular modern form of acrylic painting.

enjoy your painting adventure!

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