Choosing Paint Mediums

From soft and dreamy, to bold and impactful - you can make any kind of art with the right paint.

Watercolour

Watercolour paints are usually composed of pigments dispersed in a binding agent like gum arabic. Other additives are often included to improve various qualities like pigment distribution and shelf life.

Being water soluble makes these paints highly dynamic to work with. The quantity of water, and the method of its application produces a myriad of effects.

Layering watercolours can produce nuanced, complex results, with subtle variations in depth and tone.

Watercolours are most commonly found in tubes and pans, but they also come in liquid and pencil forms. Each has its advantages.

  • Tubes
    • Practical, versatile, and easy to find, these are one of the most commonly used forms of watercolour paint.
    • Ideal for artists who make larger artworks, and for creating washes, because it's easier to load a brush with larger amounts of paint in one go.
  • Palettes and pans
    • These watercolours are dry, and then activated with water when you want to use them. This makes them easy to transport and use outside or while travelling.
    • Palettes and pans are very long lasting. They're used straight from the pan which means nothing goes to waste.
    • Palettes are an excellent way to get a range of colours in one set, without having to select individual tones.
  • Liquid
    • Liquid watercolours are composed of coloured pigment, a vehicle that holds the pigment in suspension, and distilled water. This means they don't need to be activated by the addition of water.
    • They can be used both for painting and for dyeing, as they will stain fabric, wood, paper, or the kinds of craft materials you might use with kids such as rice or foam.
    • Liquid watercolours are highly pigmented, so a little goes a long way. They create vivid paintings, but can also be diluted for softer tones.
    • They're also excellent for hand lettering, producing smooth, even brushstrokes.
  • Watercolour pencils
    • Watercolour pencils are just like regular pencils, but with a water soluble agent binding the pigments together.
    • Like pans and palettes, pencils are easily transported, making them great for drawing and painting on the go.
    • Lots of fun for colouring, and for kids.

Factors to consider when buying watercolour paints:

  • Transparency - this quality refers to the extent to which light can pass through the pigment, and bounce off the surface it's painted on.
    • Highly transparent paints are ideal for layering, as they will create more depth and complexity of colour as they are layered over each other.
    • A good way to test a paint's transparency is to draw a line with black marker, and paint over it. Transparent paints will not show up against the black, while more opaque ones will be visible on top of it.
    • Mixing more opaque watercolours with more water can increase their transparency.
  • Permanence - this refers to how well the pigment withstands exposure to light and humidity.
    • Lightfastness varies according to pigment type, as well as the quantity and type of binders and additives included in the paint.
  • Pigment type
    • While any colour can be made from combining the primary colours, they can become muddied and less vibrant with mixing. Using single pigments produces the best results.
    • Different colours will vary in cost within each brand's range. This is because some pigments are more easily accessed and produced than others.

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Paints & Mediums Buying Guide

Gouache

Gouache can be most easily described as an 'opaque watercolour'. It contains pigment distributed in water and gum arabic, just like watercolours, but it has the addition of chalk, or similar white filler. This filler is what creates the opacity.

This is a quick drying medium, but can be re-wetted, making it more workable than acrylics and oils. The flip side of this is that layering different colours on top of each other can cause the top layer to lift what's beneath it and create a muddy effect.

Paints & Mediums Buying Guide

 

Tube

Pan

Liquid

Pencil

Illustration

Ideal

Ideal

Ideal

Ideal

Fine art

Ideal

Idal

Not Recommended

Not Recommended

Colouring

Useable

Useable

Useable

Not Recommended

Lettering

Useable

Useable

Idal

Not Recommended

Dyeing

Not Recommended

Not Recommended

Ideal

Not Recommended

Kids art

Useable

Ideal

Useable

Ideal

Paints & Mediums Buying Guide

Acrylic

Acrylic paints are water soluble, but unlike watercolours, their pigments are bound by acrylic polymer emulsion. This makes them thicker and more opaque. It also means that once dry they are permanent, because they're not easily reactivated with water.

The binding agents in acrylic paints are water soluble so they can be thinned with water before use. It also means they can be washed from brushes and surfaces without chemicals, making them great for kids.

Acrylic paints vary in consistency. Some are comparatively thin and runny, while others are thicker, and heavy body. The type you choose will depend on your style of painting, and the effect you want to achieve.

 

One of the most appealing qualities of acrylics is that they can be modified with various mediums. For example:

  • Gel medium - this is most commonly used to change the consistency of the paint:
    • Liquid gel medium will make paint thinner while maintaining smooth coverage (thinning paint with too much water will create a patchy finish)
    • Heavy body medium will thicken the paint's consistency, making it more opaque, and brush strokes more visible
  • Slow drying medium - acrylics generally dry quite quickly, which is often a desirable feature, but this medium slows the drying process for when you want to keep them workable for longer.
  • Texture medium - these add different textures to your paint and come in loads of varieties including modeling paste, and other finishes like sand, beads, and fibres. They can either be mixed with your paint, or laid down first and then painted over.
  • Flow enhancer - this medium has multiple effects:
    • Minimises brush marks for a smoother finish
    • On absorbent surfaces, it will turn paint into a stain or dye
    • It slows down drying time, keeping paint workable for longer
    • Can be used to thin paint down for pouring
  • All mediums come in a range of finishes from matte to glossy, and it's worth taking this into account when selecting them.

 

Factors to consider when buying acrylic paints:

  • Viscosity - while mediums can alter the consistency or 'body' of your paint, it's worth choosing a starting paint that you don't have to change too much.
  • Permanence - this refers to how well the paint responds to exposure to light and humidity over time
    • Permanence will vary significantly according to the quality of the paint you choose. Student acrylics are cheaper, but not as permanent. Artist quality ones cost more, but are generally longer lasting.
    • Some individual pigments are longer lasting than others, so permanence will vary by colour even within a single brand's range. Most acrylic paints have a permanence rating on the tube, so you will be able to compare colours before you buy.

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Paints & Mediums Buying Guide

Oil

Oil paints are made with pigment that's mixed with oil - usually linseed. The oil base causes these paints to dry slowly, allowing artists to work a painting gradually, and make changes and alterations as they go. This same quality makes the paint very blendable, allowing the creation of subtle gradations of colour.

Oil doesn't evaporate the way water does, which means that what is left on the canvas after the paint dries is a flexible polymerised solid.

 

As with acrylics, mediums can be added to oil paints to change their consistency, drying time, and finish. For example:

  • Turpentine - this is a solvent that will thin oil paint, and speed up drying time. It's also useful for cleaning brushes and surfaces that have paint on them.
  • Linseed oil - produces a glossy or glazed effect when mixed with paint, and slows down drying time.
  • Stand oil - a faster drying oil than standard linseed. Thins the paint and reduces both drying time and brush marks.
  • Prepared mediums - blends of solvents and oils, varying in composition depending on the manufacturer, which help dilute oil paint. Being premixed makes them great for beginners.

 

Factors to consider when buying oil paints:

  • Permanence - oil paint is the most permanent paint medium, and is extremely long lasting. While artist grade oil paints have higher permanence ratings, many artists use student grade ones without a noticeable reduction in quality.
  • Safety - It's important to note that some pigments used in oil paints are toxic, and many of the associated thinners, cleaners and mediums are highly flammable. These materials should be used with care, and kept out of reach of children.

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Paints & Mediums Buying Guide


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