Updated: Dec 28, 2020
So far in my journey as an artist, I have experimented with many traditional mediums. When I was young, I began with pencil, crayon and coloured pens and gradually started to try out new materials including oil paints, pro markers, biro, fine liners, charcoal, I even once created a painting with nail varnish! But in this article, I will be giving a small review of the 4 mediums I use currently and speaking briefly about things I would like to spend more time experimenting with in the future. Hopefully this will help you to decide if you would like to explore some of these mediums in your artwork.
Watercolours are really great to work with because of their versatility. Watercolours can be built up with many thin layers to create vibrant colour blends, or you can use larger quantities on your brush to lay down thicker blocks of colour. They can be bought in a powder, tube or solid block form (pans). Depending on the type of watercolour you decide to use, you should be aware of their differences when working with them and choosing the application.
Pan sets are a good option if you want to try out watercolours and are on a bit of a budget. You can pick up a set from Amazon for around £11. Just be aware that these watercolours are much harder to mix, which means your pallet of colours is quite limited. These types of paints also tend to be less vibrant in thier finishes. It is possible to achieve a more vibrant effect with these paints but you will need to use a lot more paint and less water.
In my experience, the colours of the tube paints tend to be more vibrant and of a higher quality. They blend really beautifully and can be used to block in thick solid colour and details, or, you can create quite abstract colour washes. With tubes, it’ very easy to control the amount of paint used (a little goes a long way). Furthermore, they mix nicely, which really opens up the possible colour pallet of your painting.
Tubed paints are more expensive than the Pan options but the price (in my humble opinion) is worth it for the higher quality finish they give your artwork.
Powder is very similar to the tubes in that the results you get from it are very vibrant and high quality. Again, a wide range of techniques can be used to achieve great results with these types of paints too. There is a bit of trial and error to get used to the quantities of paint powder you need for your applications but by adding varying amounts of water, you can really create some beautiful ranges in saturation. Mixing colours is a little bit of a learning curve with the powders as you need to mix them once they have been dissolved with water.
These paints are really fun to use but, they’re so similar to the tubes that I feel if you’re willing to spend a little more money on a good set of watercolours, getting the tubed watercolours would still be a better investment.
When I use watercolours, I really enjoy creating light colour washes in the background, roughing out some shapes but also allowing for a bit of randomness, then I like to layer the piece with expressive brush marks and splatters. I particularly like a technique where You place watery droplets of colour onto the page then abruptly blow the droplet, creating a very expressive splashed-on effect. Once the background is creating sufficient depth, I’ll go back in with my brush and start to create some defined forms and tones. Thus far with watercolours, I have always enjoyed using them for mixed media pieces and going over them with ink or fine liner. This is just one of many styles and I hope to start experimenting more with watercolours because they truly do have so many great capabilities.
It's good to bare in mind that when you make a mistake with these types of paints, you can't always easily cover it up with more watercolour, so, you have to roll with it and try to make it apart of the artwork. Watercolours can be a tricky medium to work with and for that reason, it’s important to spend a bit of time experimenting and getting comfortable. Thankfully, there are countless free or subscription-based resources such as YouTube or Skillshare videos on the various methods you can apply when using them. We all have to start somewhere and there’s no shame in using the abundance of resources on the internet to develop your skills.
Acrylic is the medium I have been painting with for the longest time. I first used Acrylic in Secondary school when I was 14. Acrylic is a great medium for anyone who wants to learn how to paint because they are very easy to get the hang of. acrylics are a much thicker, creamier consistency than Watercolour or Gouache. They can be mixed with water to create thin colour layers. Acrylics are also really easy to mix. If you have a set of primary colours along with white and black paint, then you can mix any colour you want with a bit of understanding if colour theory. One of my favourite things about acrylic is that you can create a very textured, 3D effect by adding on thick layers. You can also use the acrylics to create similar light washes to watercolours, however, you won’t have to worry about light wash colours accidentally mixing with the new layers
When working with acrylics, it’s important to keep In mind that the paints dry reasonably fast so when mixing paints and applying your colours, speed is the name of the game and it’s better to use only small amounts of paint at a time. The fast dry time also means that the paint can dry and harden your brushes, so when working it’s good to keep your brushes that your using in a cup of water, this means you can quickly rinse them of paint between uses, having a cup of water handy also makes it easy to mix the paints and reactivate them a little when they start to dry in your pallet.
I really love the way that acrylics can create a very bold and colourful piece, the colours dry the same colour as they are wet. Due to the fact that acrylics are polymer based (plastic), the finish has a satin or shiny appearance depending on the set you’re using.
Ink is one of my favourite mediums to use when creating an expressive, colourful underlays. Inks dry as vibrant as the appear wet and once they’re fully dry, they don’t tend to reactivate when worked over. Working with ink is a lot of fun. You can be very experimental with the various brush marks and washes that you create with them, and letting the colours bleed on the paper can have some very nice spontaneous effects. When working with paints such as acrylic, oil or gouache, if you make a mistake, you can paints over it and fix it. Ink is a lot less forgiving so once you make a mistake, you have to just be okay with it and try and work with it. I find often times the accidental marks I make with ink end up being beautiful characteristics of a piece.
Inks can be used for large marks or a fine nib pen or brush can be used to create very delicate lines. Similarly to watercolour, the saturation of the colours can be diluted by adding water to your brush. Inks take a Little while to dry so be careful not to smudge any ink that is on your paper/canvas. Often If I’m really into a piece and excited to keep putting ink down, I will just use a hairdryer to help it dry faster.
When working with inks for the first time, it can be helpful to lay down some flight pencil lines to indicate the composition, this can make it easier to know how to place The colours and tones. With practice, it becomes easier to be spontaneous and work from a blank piece of paper, this usually gives the artwork a more lively, organic quality.
Last but certainly not least is gouache. Gouache is the newest addition to my collection of mediums, I only started with it in December 2019 but in the short 9 months since I discovered it, it really has become one of my all-time favourite mediums to work with. Gouache is great because you're getting the benefits of water colour and acrylic combined (yes, you did read that correctly). You can create very similar effects to tubed watercolours in that you can create light washes of colour and slowly build up the piece in layers and if the paint is partially dry, you can reactivate it on your pallet or on the page with some water. Gouache has a similar quality to acrylic in it's creamy consistency and the way it can be applied in thick layers. If you make a mistake with gouache, you can either use some water to blot out the mistake or you can paint over it with a thicker layer and you will be totally covering it. Gouache is really great for illustrative styles of art because it lends itself to precise, detail-oriented paintings. It's tonal change from wet to dry is very predictable, has vibrant hues, and has an extremely fast drying time. One key thing that I would note when comparing gouache to acrylic is that it dries fast... I mean really fast. This sometimes can cause issues if you have spent a lot of time mixing a large batch of a particular colour that you intend to use on your painting. Most of the time, after about 10/20 minutes, if you haven't applied all of that paint to the canvas/paper it dries up on your pallet. You can reactivate it with water but once the paint has dried and been reactivated, the consistency is much less thick and creamy. This is fine for some artwork but, if like me, you like to create an under painting and then paint over it in thicker layers of paint, it can cause some issues. Be mindful not to take too much paint out of the tube at once and be sparing with your mixing, do it as and when you need it.
This really is one of my favourite mediums that I've ever used, most of the paintings I have done recently have been using gouache. Once you have used it for a while and can work quickly with the drying time, the results are really vibrant and have a great matt finish which creates a very nice graphic effect.
Things I'd like to experiment with in the future
At the moment, I would like to spend a little more time experimenting with watercolours and developing my techniques with them. I also have a huge curiosity about using traditional oil paints and water-based oil paints and I haven't used them since I was a teenager. I like the idea that they take a while to dry and can be blended and reworked on the canvas for a long time. Oil paints also have a uniquely vibrant, satin finish that looks really great. Keep an eye out and maybe some of my future works will be made with oils. What mediums are you most curious to experiment with next?
I hope this small review of some of the types of paint I work with has been helpful. I could have spoken at length about each of these mediums but I didn't want you to fall asleep by the time you reached the end of this article. I plan on releasing some YouTube tutorials of how I like to use each of them in future). If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to get notifications of all future content.
In my next blog post I'll be sharing my journey so far as an artist and how I developed my current style. All artists are on a unique journey of constant experimentation and improvement. I look forward to showing you some of the things that have inspired me the most in my life and really helped me to find my style as an illustrative artist.