Art Supplies

Different Types of Paints Used By Artists

There are many different types of paint that have been used by artists throughout history. These different materials have been popular with artists at different periods in time. New advances in technology allowed artists to advance the art form of painting. It also often made the process easier. Today, there are still artists that use all of these materials. Some being more popular than others. Which type of paint is best for you really comes to down to personal preference. It is also important to take into consideration the particular artwork. As some styles of painting lend themselves better to some types of paint better than others. Most of my experience as a painter is with oils and acrylic paint. I have experimented a lot with acrylics as there are techniques that are not possible with any other medium. I also love how quickly new layers can be added, and how quickly it can be varnished after it complete. Compare this to oils (which I also love), it is usually recommended to wait 6 to 12 months before it is varnished. Which is slightly inconvenient if you have a show coming up and you need to make a painting before.

Fresco Paint

Fresco paint was very popular during the times of the Romans and the renaissance. Fresco painting involved applying a water based paint into a wall covered in fresh plaster. The plaster would absorb the paint as it dried. This meant that the paint was not just a surface application but actually embedded into the wall. The downside to using this technique was that it was almost impossible to correct mistakes. Seeing the plaster absorbed the pigment, it was not easy to paint over errors (although this was occasionally done with a different type of paint, like tempera). It was common for artists to work in one section at a time. In fact, if you look at many fresco paintings today you can clearly see the different sections that the artist, worked on in different sessions.

Probably the most famous fresco painting is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. This huge artwork was painted by none other the Michelangelo himself.

Tempera Paint

Tempera paint combines pigment with a binder like egg yolk. It was popular in the renaissance and ancient times as well. Examples of tempera paintings exist from many centuries ago. A downside to using tempera is that it dries fairly brittle, so it needs to be applied to a rigid surface. This was traditionally a wooden panel. The usage of traditional tempera paint fell out of favour with many artists once oil paint was invented.

Oil Paint

Many museums, like the Guggenheim in New York, The Louvre in Paris, and The Uffizzi in Florence have large collections of oil paintings. Oil paint was a medium used by renaissance artists like DaVinci (The famous Mono Lisa is an oil painting), later masters like Rembrandt, impressionists like Monet, and 20th century artists like Picasso. Even more contemporary artists like Peter Doig and Daniel Richter use primarily oil paints in their work. It is a wonderful, and versatile medium to work with. Oil paint can create thick impastos of texture. A good example of this technique is Vincent Van Gogh. It can be thinned with oil to produce luminous glazes. Titian, for example, used to use dozens of layers of glazes to create rich colours. The slow trying time of oil paint allows artists to create subtle shifts in colour and tone. It also facilitates blending, that in the right hands, can allow it to model naturalistic depictions of people, animals, still lives, and landscapes. Oil paint is pigment combined with an oil binder. There are additives that can be used to change the properties of the paint. Linseed or walnut oil can be added to create glazes. Turpentine can be used to thin the paint to a stain-like consistency.

There are special techniques like fat-over-lean that should be followed when working with oil paints. This is because if quicker drying paint is placed over slower drying paint, the difference in drying speed can cause issues with the finished painting. This can often result in the paint cracking.

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is a more modern invention. It combines pigment with an acrylic polymer binder. Acrylic paint easily mixes with water to be thinned. There are also a variety of mediums that can be added to it to change the properties. Gel mediums are used to create thick textures. Polymer gloss or matte mediums extend the paint and make it thinner. Glazing mediums allow glazes to be created similar to oil paints. There are also a variety of other acrylic mediums that can help the artist achieve unique effects. Acrylics have gained popularity since their invention. Their biggest benefit is that they dry very quickly. This allows multiple layers to be built up much easier as you don’t have to wait very long for the paint to dry. It is also useful if working with glazes, as the drying time can be much quicker than that of oils.

Unfortunately this is also one of the biggest downsides of using acrylic paint. Sometimes it can dry too fast. Thankfully there are ways to slow down the drying time. Special slow drying paints like Golden OPEN Acrylics were designed with this in mind. They take much longer to dry, which makes blending easier than traditional acrylics. There are also additives like retarder that can be added to the paint to slow down the drying process. Many artists also like to spritz their painting with water to keep it wet while they work. Another acrylic painting technique would be to use it like watercolor paint. By adding water to the paint, it will thin considerably. Then it can be used in a similar way to watercolors.

Watercolor Paint

Watercolor paint is mixed with water to make a thin and transparent glaze. Watercolor paint is most often used on special watercolor paper. The watercolor paper is thick, and allows for absorption of the water without dramatically losing its shape. There are many different types of techniques that can be used with watercolor to achieve unique effects. Free flowing abstracts can be created when the pigment is allowed to freely mix and take its own course on the paper. Tightly controlled realistic images can also be created when using a wet-on dry technique that controls where the water is able to flow on the page.

Water Soluble Oil Paint

Water soluable oil paint combines many of the benefits of oil paints with acrylic paints. Instead of needing harmful chemicals like turpentine to thin the paint, it can be done with water. This also makes clean up much easier. Brushes can be cleaned with soap and water alone.

There are only some of the types of paint used by artists to make paintings. There are others like encaustics, enamels, and spray paint that are also used by many people. Each type of paint has its own properties and its own special set of skills required.