Painting Mediums explained

Painting – All paints are made up of pigment and binder.  The pigment is a powder produced from an organic or inorganic synthetic/chemical source e.g. an organic source would be crushed and ground stone like ultramarine blue made up of a precious stone called Lapis Lazuli which was finely ground up.  Today a more affordable version is synthesised.

The powders are generally common to all mediums – what essentially differentiates them is what is called a binder.   This is a liquid which holds the powder together.


oil-painting-exampleOil Paint is named for the binder in which the pigment is suspended.  It is usually linseed oil.  It is very flexible and diverse and together with a host of new texture/gel mediums available today it can create a variety of effects.  It can be applied thickly as ‘impasto’ or thinly as a glaze.  Oil painting is a fun medium and, in my opinion, the best teaching and learning medium.  I say this because what I consider is its most important quality is that it stays wet.  This gives the student time to think.  It also has wonderful blending qualities which facilitate greater understanding of how colour works.


acrylic-painting-exampleAcrylic Paint is named after the plastic binder which suspends the powder.  It is a water based medium, although opaque in colour like oils.  This suits a lot of people as there are rarely any associated smells and clean up is a little easier.  It too is a very versatile medium being also used as a mixed medium with others such as pastels and watercolours.  Its only disadvantage I feel for beginners is that it doesn’t have the same blending qualities as it dries so quickly.  This can of course be overcome with proper technique and planning, however it can sometimes require a little ‘muddling through’.

Both Oils and Acrylics are excellent learning mediums because they are opaque and this allows you to correct any mistakes quite easily.


watercolour-painting-exampleWatercolours, like oils, have been around for a longer period than Acrylics and are generally bound with gum Arabic.  It is thinned with water.  It is often under-rated as a medium.  It is also falsely thought to be the easiest medium to master.  I don’t agree with this.  While there are four basic techniques to learn these can be combined in many ways.  Once again, a versatile medium used in its own or in a mixed media approach.  Its secret is in learning not to try to control it too much, and it often requires a ‘muddling through’ period to get used to it.


pastels-painting-examplePastels come in two basic varieties – oil and chalk.  Both are formed like little crayons in sticks and again are wonderfully versatile.  There is a tactility with pastels that doesn’t exist with oils or acrylics.  Oil pastels can be used on board and paper in a dry or wet fashion, thinned with spirits or oils while chalk can also be used on paper in a dry or wet fashion thinned with water.  Chalks are more delicate and usually require a spray fixative to hold them.