What Are The Different Mediums Used In Art?

The different mediums used in art are oil paints, watercolors, acrylic paints, graphite pencils, charcoal and pastels (oil and chalk pastels).

Remember during your school days, back when you were in kindergarten, when you would color big outlined pictures with wax crayons? Slowly, you started using pencils and drawing your own pictures, rather than just coloring. After reaching primary school, you were encouraged to switch from oil pastels to poster paints. Finally, if you were really interested in this subject, and chose it as an elective, you would use watercolors, acrylic paints and try various other mediums to expand your artistic horizons.

What is artistic medium?

An artistic medium refers to the type of material used to create a work of art, be it paintings, sculptures and everything in between. When you visit art museums, you will likely encounter paintings with a small display card stating the title of the painting, the artist’s name and the medium used to make that painting or sculpture. For example, a painting might have a listing ‘oil on canvas’, while a sculpture might be made of marble or steel.

The term ‘medium’ was first used specifically in the context of art 90 years after Lessing mentioned it in an essay in 1861. Earlier, art was described in terms of the substance mixed with each pigment to make paint. For example, oil and water are different mediums into which paint is mixed to make pigment. Now, the term “medium” is used to convey what material art is made of.

Different mediums used in art

Oil paints

When you think of oil painting, a painting known by almost everyone on the planet is the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci. Oil painting is one of the oldest mediums still regularly used in art.

da vinci painting the mona lisa gioconda - Vector(delcarmat)S

Illustration of Mona Lisa (Photo Credit : delcarmat/ Shutterstock)

It was also used by countless other famous artists, from Picasso to Botticelli. As the name suggests, these paints are oil-based and mixed with turpentine or linseed oil. Oil paintings take a lot of time to dry, since they’re not oil-based, so only start with this medium if you’re a patient person! The value of the paintings is based on the age of the paintings and how old it is. Oil paintings age like wine—the older, the better!

Oil paintings also test your problem-solving skills, if you don’t like what you’ve painted, you must decide to either obscure the mistake by covering it with paint or making something else entirely out of it. Oil painting is very good if you want more blend in your colors. Oil paintings are generally used to make portraits.


Vector rectangular blue watercolor drop. Abstract art hand paint isolated on white background(schiva)s

Watercolors highlight the texture of paper (Photo Credit : schiva/ Shutterstock)

Watercolors are difficult to work around, as once the paint is on paper, there is very little you can do to change it. However, once you master it, there are several advantages. Watercolors are comparatively inexpensive. One tube of color goes a long way, since the paint is mixed with a lot of water to create its signature effect. Watercolor paintings are generally translucent, meaning that you can see the texture of the paper that lies beneath.

Watercolor allows light to bounce off the paper and give the color its effect rather than bouncing off the paint. This gives such paintings a mesmerizing clarity. Watercolors are generally used to paint landscapes, abstract pieces or other subtle subjects that don’t require too much precision. Some watercolor techniques include wet on wet, color lifting and flat washes.

Acrylic Paints

Glowing moon and starry sky abstract background(Freeda)s

Illustration of Starry night (Photo Credit : Freeda/ Shutterstock)

This is the newest medium used in art and was only developed in 1940. Compared to watercolors and oil paints, acrylics have a lot of advantages. It dries very fast, unlike oil paints. It is also very versatile and durable. Additionally, it creates less mess and can simply be scraped off if you spill it on the floor; it can be peeled off the hand like glue!

Pop artists like Andy Warhol used this medium, even in his legendary creation of the ‘Campbell Soup Can’.

Acrylic Pour

Beautiful green and yellow bubbles painting. - Image(Vestart)s

Acrylic pour (Photo Credit : Vestart/ Shutterstock)

Another recently developed technique that doesn’t require you to be an artist is ‘Acrylic Pour’. Acrylic pour is a technique of simply pouring layers of different acrylic colors on a canvas. To make it into a liquid or pourable consistency, you need to mix it with a pouring medium.

To have even more fun, you can add silicone oil and after pouring, use a heat gun or a lighter. You will see the paint separate from the oil (since acrylics are water-based) and form beautiful bubbles on the painting. Although it’s a simple technique, the painting does depend on the way you pour and the colors you have layered.

Graphite Pencil

“Paint me like one of your French girls…”

If you’ve seen Titanic, then you know what scene that quote comes from. Jack used graphite pencils to sketch Rose in that legendary blockbuster. These pencils are similar to normal pencils, but they come in different intensity levels. The ‘h’s are the lightest, whereas the pencils marked ‘b’s like 4b or 6b are the darkest. Graphite pencils are also used by children, as they are the easiest type of pencil and less messy to use than paints. Mastery of this medium requires sketching, shading and blending.

backside of human charcoal drawing - Image(phloxii)S

Charcoal sketch of a boy sitting. (Photo Credit : phloxii/ Shutterstock)

Similar to graphite pencils are charcoals. Charcoal is darker in shade, cannot be erased easily, and requires more hand control. Charcoal comes in two types—soft charcoal for blending and hard charcoal for sketching. Charcoal is used for drawing figures and quick sketches.


Crayon with table white surface. Educational concept. - Image(MawardiBahar)s

Pastel crayons (Photo Credit : MawardiBahar/ Shutterstock)

Pastels come in two forms—oil pastels, which are generally used by children for coloring, and chalk pastels, which are similar to charcoal, but they come in all colors. Pastels are ideal for blending and layering. The tip, cut and side can all be used to create various textures.

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As we all know, beauty comes in all sizes, and since art is a form of beauty, it is no wonder that it comes in various mediums. There is no perfect medium for a particular type of painting, it depends on what an artist is comfortable with, what you like, your budget and availability. And most importantly, don’t forget that the beauty of art lies in the eyes of the beholder!

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About the Author

Anupriya is a graduate in English Literature. She has done ECCE (Early Child Care Education – teaching preschool to primary level) and is currently pursuing B.Ed. Teaching is her passion as she loves to connect with children. Apart from teaching, she also has keen interest in psychology and creative writing. She is an artist (charcoal and acrylics) and a dancer (jazz and contemporary) as well.

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