Choose a medium to paint with

Starting to paint can be extremely daunting for a complete beginner. My first experience with painting, twenty years ago, was in school when we used ‘tempera’. That was really the only medium I was aware of for a while. Sure, I had seen descriptions of mediums accompanying paintings in museums, but these words meant nothing to me. When years later, as an adult, I decided to give painting another go, I went to an art supply shop – and left completely empty-handed.

I had no idea where to start. I stood across huge cases labeled ‘acrylics’, ‘oil’ and ‘watercolour’, stacked with different brands, while there was no sign of my sweet ‘tempera’ anywhere. I went home and messaged a friend of mine asking for guidance. An artist himself, and therefore extremely knowledgeable, he sent a long list of options that left me even more confused.

My solution was to pick a medium randomly and start experimenting. Over time, I switched mediums to try different effects, and after lots of trials and errors, these are for me the absolute basics for anyone wanting to start painting.

Acrylics

acrylics

Pros:
– Non toxic
– Fast-drying, no need to wait
– Great for layering. Once dried you can paint over without affecting other layers
– You can paint thickly (impasto) or with thin layers
– It will not crack or yellow
– You mix it with water to use so it is easy to clean your brushes and other tools or surfaces afterwards
– Can be used on many surfaces without priming

Cons:
– Fast-drying does not allow blending in the same way as oils
– Once dried it is water-resistant; you cannot remove it by wetting it
– Slightly darker when dry

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Cost: you can find ‘student’ tubes from approximately £2. The ‘artist-grade’ acrylics start from approximately £3.5 per tube. You can find a set of paints to start with for as little as £15 but a professional quality set would start at a minimum of £30.

Watercolour

watercolour

Pros:

– Can create really beautiful, inimitable effects
– You can make changes after it dries
– Easy to clean with water
– No need to spend a lot of time to set up and can easily transfer to different locations, eg travelling or painting outdoors
– Often used to paint nature, animals or landscapes

Cons:

– The colours are not as intense as oils or acrylics
– You can’t paint thickly
– The paint sinks into the paper so it’s difficult to remove fully when dry
– Difficult to hide mistakes due to its transparency
– Colours are lighter when dried

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Cost: watercolour comes in solid, liquid or cream form that start from £3 per colour, and slightly more for better quality. A set starts at approximately £30.

Oil

andrian-valeanu-82531-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Andrian Valeanu

Pros:

– Slow drying, allowing you to make more changes and blend
– Beautiful, rich colours
– Great for layering. Once dried you can paint over without affecting other layers
– Can be used for thick (impasto) or thin layers
– Dries true to colour
– Great for realism

Cons:

– Thinned with toxic solvents, need to work in a well-ventilated area
– Extra care needed for storage and handling
– Potential to crack, can turn yellow
– Slow drying, need to wait for several months to ensure painting is dry

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Cost: you can find ‘student’ tubes from approximately £3. The ‘artist-grade’ acrylics start from approximately £5 per tube. You can find a set of paints to start with for as little as £25 and a professional set can cost about £45.


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