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Learn the Basics: Which Medium is Better for Beginners?

Many beginners take into consideration the type of painting medium that they will use to hone their skills in art. While it is possible to master as many mediums as you can, we recommend that you begin using one medium at a time so that you won’t get confused. In addition, working with one medium at a time is simpler. Thus, it is more cost-efficient and convenient on your end, too, especially if you do not have enough space to store all your art supplies. It has been a debate since the beginning of time as to which medium is better for beginners– is it acrylics, oils, watercolor, gouache, or pastels? That’s what we will find out today because the debate is on. In this article, we will be exploring everything you need to know about the basic painting mediums that you can use for a blank canvas to make your next masterpiece. Ready to have a face-to-face comparison? Let’s begin…

A high angle shot of a woman sitting painting a lady with a paint brush in hand

It has been a topic of debate in the art world for a while about which medium is better for beginners. There are different types of materials that you can use to make stunning, beautiful artworks. It has been a trend in modern art recently where most artists and art enthusiasts employ different types of mediums into one single canvas which is known as “mixed media” art. However, as beginners, we want to start at the basics first so that you can find balance and harmony in the materials that you’ll use if you get interested in doing mixed media art soon.

Every medium has its pros and cons that you can use as a reference before you ultimately decide on which one is better for you. The thing is, we cannot fully decide on your end because what may work for others may not work for you so you also need to take into consideration your personal preference, compatibility, and budget. But, before we go to the actual topic, let us have a quick discussion on what a medium is first.

What is a Painting Medium?

You may have heard the word “medium” a couple of dozen times already on this site because of its importance in the overall creative process when making artworks. A medium refers to the materials or substance an artist uses to create a piece of art. It can be either wet or dry but in this article, we will only be discussing the basic mediums of acrylics, oils, watercolor, and gouache which are the conventional and the commonly used ones.

A photo of a woman in a black sweater painting a photo on a table

Which Medium is Better for Beginners?

The most appropriate way to settle this debate that has been going on for years is to provide the pros and cons of each medium and let you decide which is better from your perspective based on your personal preference, compatibility, and budget. There is no winner here, we just want to give you a reference before you decide on what medium you’ll buy for your art projects.

    1.  Acrylic Paint:

Acrylics were first made available in the 1950s as a regular house paint and a decade later, some time in the 1960s, it was made available as an artist-grade paint that can be used for canvases and making artworks. This is by far the least expensive and most versatile medium that you can use as a beginner in painting.  There are many additional substances that you can use to change its properties so that you can manipulate it into the texture, viscosity, and finish that you want. 

Advantages

  • Low toxicity level.
  • Quick-drying time, which means you do not have to wait for too long before you add your next layer/s. However, some artists view this as a disadvantage.
  • Affordable.
  • Versatile.
  • You can add additional substances such as retarders, pouring medium, etc. To imitate oil paint, watercolor, or have the desired finish that you like.
  • Wide range of colors.
  • Can be reactivated with water.
  • Convenient as most acrylic paints are ready-to-use so there is no pre-mixing required.

Disadvantages

  • It is not yet proven if acrylic paints can last as long as oil paints because they were only created during the 1950s. Therefore, additional research is still required. 
  • Quick drying, making it hard to blend pigments so you have to work quickly.

A photo showing paint brushes dipped into various colored paint jars


    2.  Oil paints:

This painting medium has been the most popular and widely-known not just for decades but for centuries. Thanks to Jan van Eyck, the use of oil paints have been popularized and the world’s famous oil paintings include Vermeer’s The Girl with the Pearl Earrings, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.

Advantages

  • Luminous, hard-wearing, and bright colors.
  • Easy to blend.
  • Slow drying time is perfect for artists who need more time when blending pigments.
  • The paint itself can be exposed for weeks in open air without drying.
  • More realistic finish.
  • A wide array of color ranges.

Disadvantages

  • The slow drying time can be a disadvantage for many artists who work in small spaces.
  • Expensive.
  • It takes patience to finish the whole canvas due to the slow drying time.
  • Less environment-friendly than acrylics due to their toxicity level.
  • You must work in a ventilated space when working with oils because inhaling the fumes constantly can lead to irritation and other health problems.

A photo showing large paint brushes various colors of paints with a lit up candle

    3.  Watercolor:

Using this medium is very popular for students due to its portability and affordability, which makes it practical. However, if you’re a self-taught artist, this medium can be pretty hard to grasp on its own. Apart from being affordable, there are also different ways to create your watercolor using purchasable items in the arts and crafts store. If oils or acrylics aren’t your things, however, this may be the medium for you so check out the advantages and disadvantages to help you decide.

Advantages

  • Affordable.
  • Easy to carry.
  • Comes in different forms.
  • Beautiful and lively colors when the right amount of water is used.
  • Works well with mixed media art.

Disadvantages

  • Provides you with a limited working surface to use.
  • Needs proper preparation so that the colors will not deform but rather last long.
  • Not as durable compared to oils and acrylics.
  • Difficult to tame due to its fluidity.

A photo showing various colors in a paint tray with sized paint brushes


    4.  Gouache:

Many people compare this medium to watercolor however, acrylics are more similar to gouache than gouache is to watercolor. This has become a very popular medium in the art world recently with artists of different skill levels and experiences. Gouache is a water-based medium that gives you an opaque to a matte finish, depending on the layers you put on your working surface.

Advantages

  • Earth-friendly.
  • Bright colors.
  • Changeable opacity through diluting water.
  • Non-toxic.
  • Quick-drying.
  • Unique matte results.
  • Easy to clean.

Disadvantages

  • Not durable (artwork can only last for up to five years).
  • The color gets different as it dries.
  • Paint can crack when it’s layered thickly.
  • Hard to blend.

Conclusion

We hope that this presentation on which medium is better for beginners gives you a good outline of what medium you should use to practice your painting skills. Just use whatever works best for you and do not be afraid to experiment for you to find the right one. Of course, once you master using one medium, you can try other mediums as well. 

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