What are art mediums? A medium refers to the physical material used to create a work of art. This can include anything from paint and canvas to clay and charcoal. There are endless possibilities when it comes to choosing a medium, which means that artists have a lot of freedom when it comes to expressing themselves.
Mediums can be categorised in multiple different ways. Artists can work with 2D mediums like paint and drawing tools, or 3D mediums like clay, stone and marble. The practice of painting and the practice of sculpting are both art practices, albeit very different ones. The techniques used in the art practice and the appearance of the finished piece all depend upon the medium used to make it.
In this guide, we’ll show you some common examples of art mediums and give an overview of how to use them.
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Charcoal is a popular medium for artists who enjoy working with black and white tones. It can be used to create very detailed drawings, or more abstract pieces. Charcoal is made from burning wood until it turns into a soft, black substance. It can be bought in sticks of various thicknesses, or as loose powder. This is one of the oldest art mediums on the list, as humans have been using it for thousands of years.
When working with charcoal, it’s important to use a fixative spray to prevent your drawing from smudging. Charcoal is commonly used as a drawing medium in higher educational settings, such as universities and ateliers.
There are various charcoal drawing supplies, that can be used to create different techniques and effects. For example, artists can brush charcoal powder onto the paper to create smooth blends and soft transitions. Charcoal pencils are great for detail work and tortillion work excellently as blending tools to smooth out edges.
Graphite is the most popular and widely used of all the art mediums. It’s a medium that is often used for more realistic drawings. Unlike charcoal, graphite is a grey colour. It can be found in pencils of various hardness levels, from very soft (8B) to very hard (8H).
The softer the pencil, the darker your drawing will be. The harder the pencil, the lighter your drawing will be. You can also use graphite to create a range of different shades by using different pressure levels.
When working with graphite, it’s important to keep your paper clean and free from smudges. You can do this by using a sheet of tracing paper over your work.
The downside of graphite compared to charcoal, is that heavily shaded areas can appear slightly reflective. If you want to create deep matte dark tones in your drawings, try drawing with charcoal instead.
Regardless of this, graphite is a great medium of choice, that’s cheap and easy to get started with. Plus, it’s easy to correct mistakes, get a kneaded eraser, or a regular eraser to remove unwanted pencil marks.
Soft pastels are a great medium of choice for artists who want to create brightly coloured drawings and paintings. Pastels are made from a combination of pigment, and binder. The binder of soft pastels includes chalk, gum arabic and some soft pastel brands add other inert fillers to the mix. There is a high pigment to binder ratio in soft pastels, which gives them their intensely vibrant colours and soft, crumbly texture.
Pastels come in sticks of various hardnesses. Harder pastels are better for the first layers of a drawing, and softer pastels work perfectly for the final touches.
Brands of soft pastel that are especially soft in texture include Schmincke and Sennelier. These are also some of the finest quality pastels you can get.
Make sure to buy a textured or toothy paper when drawing with soft pastel. This is so that the pastel layers can adhere properly. A pastel paper that has a lot of tooth, like Pastelmat, will allow more layers of pastel to adhere, meaning that you can build up the colours in the drawing, to create realistic effects.
Oil pastels are made from a mixture of pigment, oil and wax. When comparing oil pastels and soft pastels, oil pastels are less messy than soft pastels, as the oil binder helps to hold the pigment in place better. This makes them ideal for artists who want to avoid the dust that soft pastel can create.
Many people will have used crayons before for drawing and fine artists’ oil pastels are made from similar materials. However, fine artists’ oil pastels are made from quality, lightfast pigments that can be used to make artwork that will stand the test of time. Quality oil pastels are often much softer and buttery in texture than the hobbyist crayons.
Sennelier oil pastels are one of the best brands of oil pastel, they feel wonderfully soft and luxurious to use. The pigment load is also very high, giving the pastels their intense colours.
This medium is popular with artists who want to create mixed media artworks. This is because oil pastels can be used on top of other mediums, such as watercolour, without disturbing the under layers.
Oil pastels come in a wide variety of colours and are relatively inexpensive. They’re easy to use and are great for both beginner and experienced artists.
Coloured pencils are favoured by many artists because they’re easy to control, and can be used to produce both detailed and loose drawings. Artists can use a variety of techniques with coloured pencils, such as hatching, cross hatching, stippling and blending.
There are two main types of coloured pencil art mediums, they are each made from slightly different binders. Oil pencils and wax coloured pencils are very similar in their working properties, but differ in that oil pencil cores are slightly harder and more durable. Wax coloured pencils, such as the Prismacolor wax pencils are soft in texture, so cover the tooth of the paper more quickly. However, oil coloured pencils, like the Polychromos pencils are less prone to breakage.
When choosing a brand of coloured pencil, it’s important to select one that has good lightfast ratings. This means that the pigments used in the pencils won’t fade over time. Prismacolor and Polychromos are two brands of coloured pencils that have high quality, lightfast pigments.
Coloured pencils can be used on a variety of paper types, but surfaces like Pastelmat work best, as they provide a tooth for the pencils to grip onto. With coloured pencils, artists can draw on different coloured paper, like toned paper or black paper. Build layers on the surface to increase the opacity of colours.
Watercolour pencils are made from pigments that are bound with gum arabic, just like watercolour paints. The big difference is that watercolour paint comes in a dry form, as the core of a pencil. This means that they need to be activated with water before they can be used.
Watersoluble pencils are a great medium for artists who want to have more control over their watercolour paintings. This is because the artist can draw with the pencils first, before adding water to the drawing. This means that you can plan your composition and work out the details before painting.
When using watersoluble pencils, it’s important to use a good quality watercolour paper. This is because the paper needs to be able to withstand a lot of moisture without warping or buckling.
Legion Stonehenge cold pressed paper is a popular type of watercolour paper that is made from 100% cotton rag. This gives it a strong surface that can take a lot of water without warping.
Watersoluble pencils can also be used dry, just like regular coloured pencils. This gives the artist more control over their drawing, as they can add water at the end to produce a loose painting.
Silverpoint is a traditional drawing medium that has been used since the Middle Ages. It’s made by taking a thin piece of silver and drawing with it on paper. The silver leaves a pale line on the paper that can be built up to create darker areas of shading.
Silverpoint is a very delicate medium, so it takes a lot of practice to master. It’s also quite slow, as each line has to be drawn carefully.
Despite its challenges, silverpoint is a very rewarding medium to use. This is because it produces a very beautiful, ethereal line that can’t be replicated with any other medium.
If you’re interested in trying silverpoint, you’ll need to invest in some good quality paper. This is because the silver can damage cheaper papers.
Arches Hot Pressed watercolour paper is a great option for silverpoint, as it’s thick in weight. It has a smooth surface that’s perfect for delicate lines.
Ink is a liquid that’s made from pigments or dyes that are suspended in a vehicle. The vehicle is usually water, but it can also be oil and alcohol. Ink can be used for drawing, painting and printmaking.
There are two main types of ink: pigment-based and dye-based. Pigment-based inks are made with finely ground pigments that are suspended in a vehicle. Dye-based inks are made with dyes that are dissolved in a vehicle.
Ink is a very versatile medium that can be used in a variety of ways. It can be applied with a brush, pen or airbrush. It can also be diluted with water to create different effects.
Ink is a very permanent medium, so it’s important to be careful when using it. Once it dries, it’s very difficult to remove. To get started with ink, you’ll need some good quality paper like Bristol Board. This is because ink can bleed through cheaper papers easily.
Marker pens are ink based, with a nib that’s filled with pigment-based or dye-based ink. The ink is usually alcohol-based, which makes it quick drying.
Copic Markers are a popular pen amongst illustrators and graphic artists. They are oil, alcohol and dye based, with intense and blendable colours.
If you’re also interested in watercolour painting, watercolour markers contain water soluble ink that artists can create watercolour effects with. Draw with the marker, then wet a brush and paint over the marks to create delicate and vibran effects.
Oil paint is a type of paint that’s made with pigments that are suspended in a drying oil. The most common oils used are linseed oil and safflower oil. Oil paints take a long time to dry, which gives the artist more time to work with them. They’re not water soluble, instead you will have to change the consistency with solvent like turpentine or an added medium like linseed oil.
Oil paints have a very rich and creamy texture, which can be built up to create thick layers of paint. Alternatively, you mix paint with solvent and linseed oil to create a more runny, transparent effect.
This art medium is very versatile and can be applied in a multitude of ways. Apply the paint with a brush, or with a palette knife.
You’ll also need some paint brushes, a solvent and a painting surface. A primed canvas or wooden panel is a good option for beginners. It’s possible to paint solvent-free with oils, however, read our guide to find out how.
Acrylic paint is made with pigments that are suspended in a synthetic acrylic resin binder. Acrylics dry very quickly, which gives the artist less time to work with them. Although acrylics are water soluble, you cannot wet them once they have dried. Dry acrylics form a waterproof film, unlike watercolour and gouache which can be reworked.
Acrylics are another versatile art medium, as they can be thinned down with water to create a more runny consistency. They can also be thickened with a gel or paste to create a more textured effect.
This is one of the best art mediums for beginners, if you don’t mind the fast drying times! The reason for this is that the effects can emulate oil paints, as the paint allows for artists to build texture on the paper, or thin with water or a glazing medium to create transparent glazes. However, you don’t need solvent to clean up and paints are generally cheaper compared to oil paint.
Watercolour paint is a delicate and transparent medium made from pigment in a gum arabic binder. The paint is usually sold in tubes of concentrated pigment, which you then mix with water to create the desired shade.
With watercolour, create washes of colour by painting with a large brush and adding lots of water. Or, you can create more detailed paintings by using a small brush and adding less water.
One advantage of watercolour over other mediums, is that it’s very easy to clean up. Simply use water and soap, and any dried paint will wash away.
There is no white watercolour paint, this means that you have to paint light to dark, leaving the white of the paper to show through for the brightest highlights. If you want to create highlights with white paint, you can use gouache titanium white.
The watercolour supplies you need to get started are quality watercolour paper, watercolour paints, then you’ll also need some good quality brushes, as well as a palette to mix your colours on. Plastic or porcelain palettes are a good option, as it doesn’t absorb moisture like paper palettes.
Gouache is an opaque watercolour paint, made from pigment and gum arabic. The medium dries to a matte finish, which makes it ideal for illustrations.
The ingredients of gouache are almost the same as watercolour, but the opacity of gouache comes from a higher proportion of pigment. Some brands of gouache add extra inert fillers like chalk, or white pigment.
Gouache is very easy to control, as the opaque nature of the paint allows you to cover up mistakes easily. You can use the medium in a similar way to watercolour, by creating washes of colour. Or, you can create thicker, more opaque paintings by painting with colours straight from the tube.
Compared to all the other art mediums on the list, this one is perhaps the easiest to learn. It has the advantages of watercolour, in that it’s cheap and easy to clean. Gouache is water soluble and soluble once dry, so artists can lift colour from paper, unlike with acrylic paint which is waterproof once dry. It’s fast drying and layers are buildable, meaning that artists can choose to add highlights in the final layers, if they mix colours with opaque white.
Tempera paint is a fast-drying paint made from pigment that has been mixed with a water-soluble binder. The binder is usually an egg yolk, which gives the paint a yellowish hue.
The advantage of tempera paint is that it’s very inexpensive and it dries very quickly. However, the paint is not very versatile, as it can only be used in a few ways.
Because tempera paint dries so quickly, it’s not ideal for blending or for creating washes of colour. It’s better suited for creating small, detailed paintings.
Encaustic paint is a wax paint. It’s made from pigment that has been suspended in a beeswax and Damar resin medium. Encaustic paint is heated so that the wax melts, and then applied to a surface.
It’s one of the best art mediums for creating abstract pieces, as you can achieve painterly effects with ease.
This art medium isn’t as easy to control as some of the others on the list. Artists can apply the hot wax with a brush, or palette knife.
Once the wax has cooled and hardened, it can be reheated and manipulated. This allows artists to create textured surfaces, or to build up layers of colour.
Encaustic paint dries very quickly, so it’s not ideal for blending, but the effects that artists can achieve are really striking!
This is a type of 3D art medium. With clay, artists can create sculptures or vessels. The advantage of clay is that it’s very easy to manipulate and fun to experiment with.
Artists can use their hands to sculpt the clay, or they can use tools such as knives, wire brushes and needles. Once the sculpture is complete, it needs to be fired in a kiln so that the clay hardens. Kilns get really hot and stoneware needs to be fired twice, the second firing goes up to around 1200°C. If you’ve glazed the sculpture, the glaze will fuse to the clay, strengthening the piece. You can create some wonderful and interesting effects with clay, for example, melting glass to create interesting decorations and textures on the surface.
Modelling clay is a great art medium for beginners who have the time to invest in learning, as it’s enjoyable and therapeutic to mould.
If you’re interested in sculpting, then clay is a great medium to start with. Enquire in your local area to find classes, as you will need access to a kiln and to follow the right process to build and fire the sculptures correctly.
Glass is a medium commonly used in stained glass windows, but it can also be used to create 3D sculptures, ornaments, jewellery and more.
It is a difficult material to work with, as it’s fragile and can break easily. It’s also a very unforgiving medium, so any mistakes made whilst working with glass are permanent.
Despite these challenges, glass is a really beautiful medium to work with and the results can be stunning. If you’re interested in working with glass, then it’s definitely worth taking some classes so that you can learn from an expert.
Wood is another really versatile art medium that can be used to create all sorts of things, from sculptures to carvings. Woodworking is a skill that takes years to perfect, and it’s important to have access to the right tools and equipment.
One of the great things about woodworking is that there are no rules! You can be as creative as you like, and there are endless possibilities.
Bronze is a metal that’s made by combining copper and tin. It was first used over 4000 years ago, and it’s still one of the most popular materials for creating sculptures.
The advantage of bronze is that it’s very strong and durable. To create a sculpture with bronze, artists first make a series of moulds, then cast the metal.
Bronze sculptures can be finished in a variety of ways, including patination (a chemical process that changes the colour of the bronze) and gilding (covering the sculpture in gold leaf).
Digital art is a relatively new art form that’s created using computer software. It can be used to create 2D and 3D art, as well as animation and video.
Digital art is becoming increasingly popular, as it offers artists a lot of freedom and flexibility. It’s also easy to share digital art online, which has helped to increase its popularity.
There are a number of different softwares for digital art and digital painting. The most popular software that can be considered the industry standard is Photoshop. Photoshop is a versatile program, as it was originally designed as an image manipulation software, but it’s now used for graphic design, illustration and digital painting.
There are lots of different Photoshop brushes that you can download that emulate the effects of traditional painting media, like watercolour and oil paint. Digital painting with Photoshop brushes is easy, simply open a new document, select your favourite brushes and start making beautiful art!
One tool that makes the process feel much more intuitive, however, is a graphics tablet. With a graphics tablet you can draw on the tablet with a pen, which, if you use a HUION or Wacom tablet, will have thousands of levels of pressure sensitivity, so you can control line width and opacity by the pressure you apply to the pen. There are also plenty of 2 in 1 tablet laptops for artists, that allow you to draw on the display with a stylus.
Despite the fact that Photoshop is the most popular program, there are plenty of other digital art software programs that offer a range of features. For example, Corel Painter simulates a traditional painting experience. Clip Studio Paint is a great program for artists interested in creating cartoons, anime or manga art.
Collage is a technique where you create a picture by combining different materials, such as paper, fabric, photographs and more.
It is a great way to create unique and interesting artwork. It’s also a good way to recycle old materials that you might otherwise throw away.
To create a collage, you’ll need to gather your materials. Once you have your materials, you can start arranging them on a surface, such as a piece of paper or canvas. Once you’re happy with the arrangement, you can glue the pieces in place.
Which art mediums do you want to try?
When it comes to art, the sky’s the limit! There are so many mediums to choose from, and each one has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.
The best way to find out which medium is right for you is to experiment, read and watch some tutorials to find which one of these art mediums will be best for you. And most importantly, have fun with the process!
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