The Ultimate Guide on Different Art Mediums

“He who works with his hands, and his head, and his heart, is an artist” – St. Francis of Assisi

Throughout art history, people have been using various materials to express themselves. Artists have always chosen concepts and techniques that fit their skills and artistic expression. This quest started with pigmented powder used for drawing on Altamira cave walls and has come a long way to implementing modern technology in creating art.

Our ultimate guide on art mediums will inform you about various art materials people have used over time. It will also point out what you should focus on when determining a perfect medium of choice for your fine art. The following article will help you choose the art medium that best suits you, whether you are starting an art career, selecting an art school, or are wanting to reinvent your artistic style.

Detail from Idealized Portrait of a Lady (1480), egg tempera on poplar panel, by SANDRO BOTTICELLI (1445-1510) | Source: artyfactory.com

Different Types of Traditional Painting and Drawing Styles

Because of the wide variety of painting techniques and drawing styles, painting mediums and drawing tools demand their own section in any comprehensive guide on different art mediums. There are a multitude of surfaces to paint and draw on.

Tempera

Tempera is a term that stands for paint mixed with cohesive materials, such as egg yolk, and describes the painting style and the art medium. This material makes tempera fast-drying and a long-lasting art medium, with evidence of tempera artworks dating back to the 1st century A. D.

Oil Painting

This is a traditional art technique that started being recognized as an artistic medium in 15th century Europe. Oil paints, as the name says, usually contain linseed oil that makes them dry slower than others. The prolonged drying time is the advantage of using oil painting as an art medium. It offers artists an opportunity to change some segments of their work or paint a different scene altogether by adding another layer of paint onto the canvas.

Acrylic painting

Regarding drying times, acrylic paints dry fast, as opposed to oil painting, and once they dry, they become water-resistant. However, you can dissolve acrylic paint with water before you apply it on canvas to achieve the effect of gouache or watercolors. Painting with acrylic allows artists to add layers or textures to their artwork, enhancing glossiness and giving it depth. Or they can add water to achieve a matte effect in their paintings.

Watercolors

Using watercolor paint as an art medium can be challenging for beginners in the art world. Many artists love watercolors because of their seemingly endless color palette. Once you apply these on paper, there is little you can do to change the result. However, watercolors add a translucent quality to paintings and are ideal for capturing the change of light.

Charcoal

This is one of the oldest art mediums used for drawing. Charcoal sticks are made of powdered organic material bound with wax or gum. You can use charcoal to make either pale lines or strong, expressive ones. This artistic material is easily erasable, so it is recommended to apply some fixatives on charcoal drawings to ensure the artwork’s longevity.

Pastels

These art mediums consist of paint pigment similar to the ones in oil paints and a binding material. Using pastels in drawing and painting became popular in the 18th century. Artists can use a combination of different pastels depending on the effect they want to achieve. For example, soft pastels are great for blending, while you use hard pastels to create sharp outlines or sketch the larger composition. There are also pan pastels, a modern version of this art medium that is applied with a soft sponge. You can choose to work with oil pastels that provide an intensity of colors, or water-soluble pastels if you want thinner layers of semi-transparent colors that blend easily.

Chalk

Here is another organic material artists have been using for drawing since the Paleolithic era. Artistic chalk usually comes in three versions, black, white, and sanguine, depending on the material. Black chalks contain soft black stone, whites are made from limestone, and sanguines contain red ochre. Chalks were originally used for sketching but became an independent art medium during the Renaissance.

Graphite pencils

These have been in use as an art medium since the 17th century France. You can use graphite for sketching, outlining, or shading. There are graphite pencils of varying hardness you can use in creating fine art. This is a convenient art medium because it allows you to remake your work by erasing parts of a drawing or an entire work.

Colored pencils

Everyone used colored pencils for drawing and coloring as a child, making your first attempts to express yourself creatively. Colored pencils have come a long way from being a child’s toy to becoming a professional art medium. They gained considerable attention and respect in the modern art world because of the numerous advantages they offer. Colored pencils’ artwork is expressive, deep, and luminescent. At the same time, this art medium gives artists an opportunity to make photographically realistic pieces of art.

Pen and ink

This is also a familiar art medium where you use a pen for outlining and adding color in art forms like pen art or hand lettering and calligraphy. You can choose between different types of pens, like graphic pens, fountain pens, or drafting pens, depending on what you want to do with it. Ink is a powerful but unforgiving art medium, so you really need to master ink drawing skills before you start creating with it. What makes pen and ink artworks so expressive is the ratio of the blank spaces and the ink-filled spaces on paper.

We are going to move on now and explore what other types of art mediums artists have used throughout history to express their ideas and emotions.

Umberto Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1912-1913) from different angles, via zbrushcentral.com | Source: antheamissy.com

The Evolution of Three-Dimensional Art

The most common definition of three-dimensional artwork is a piece of art that can be observed in dimensions of height, width, and depth. Since the beginning of time, people have been creating sculptures using various concepts, techniques, and art materials. Installations, performance art, and decorative art, also fall into this category along with sculpture, which is the epitome of three-dimensional art.

The oldest piece of three-dimensional art is a sculpture of Venus of Berekhat Ram. This stone-carved figure dates back to 230,000 years B.C. It represents a symbol of female fertility and is one of the numerous similar figures scattered around Europe. It is believed that these first examples of prehistoric sculptures had significant roles in rituals and ceremonies.

Three standard sculpture types that the art world recognizes are:

  • A free-standing sculpture that you can look at from any side or angle by walking around it.
  • Bas relief is when the shape is carved out so that it stands out slightly against the background of the original material
  • High relief forms are carved out to stand prominently against the background.

The most traditional art mediums used to create three-dimensional artworks were wood and stone. Nowadays, you can use contemporary materials, such as glass, foam, and plastic, to transform them into a genuine art piece. Artists use numerous techniques to create a three-dimensional interpretation of their artistic vision.

Carving – cutting out pieces of material, usually wood or stone, until you create the desired shape.

Casting – pouring a liquid art medium like iron into specially designed molds to develop parts of a large sculpture.

Modeling – manipulating and transforming soft art materials, like clay or plaster, and letting them harden into the desired shape. Contemporary artists also use different modeling methods for creating fantastic glass art pieces.

Construction is a creative process in which artists assemble a sculpture by combining various materials and using glue, wire, or welding to keep the elements together.

Modern times brought contemporary variations of three-dimensional art. For example, glass has become a significant art medium used in sculpting, installation, and decorative art. Concepts and techniques used in creating glass artwork determine their type. Many glass artforms involve the use of hot glass techniques, such as blown glass, sculpted glass, and cast glass. As the name indicates, artists work with hot glass, shaping it by blowing or casting it into molds.

The warm glass creative process involves heating the glass in an oven or a kiln. Two dominant techniques to reshape warm glass are slumping and fusing.

You can also work with cold glass to create pieces of art. You can grind, polish, or engrave glass to get the desired effect. There is also an etching technique you can apply in glass art to change the glass texture. You can achieve this by sandblasting or acid etching.

Another of these contemporary versions is installation art, where artists combine audiovisual effects and various materials to address significant issues that concern them. Art installations may focus on politics, human rights, or the environment, for example. The most common is light installation art, where light and sculpture blend to create a magnificent artistic effect.

Artists involved in performance art use their bodies or bodies of other participants as a perfect medium to express their core values and convey their unique message to audiences.

Left: Pablo Picasso – Maquette for Guitar, 1912 / Right: Maquette for Guitar at the exhibition of Picasso sculptures in MoMA | Source: widewalls.ch

Mixed Media Techniques and Unconventional Artistic Expression

Art continues to evolve, bringing numerous avant-garde artistic movements to the scene. Artists who want to differentiate themselves seek unconventional art mediums that will express their aesthetic principles and defy deeply-rooted definitions of fine art.

Mixed media art derives from the idea that you can use anything and everything for creating an amazing piece of art. Picasso and Braque first used various materials and everyday objects to created instinctive collages as amazing examples of mixed media art.

  • Collages are art pieces you make by combining various materials, like paper, cloth, newspaper clippings, and everyday objects to create unique artwork. You can even create a digital collage from art online. 
  • Assemblage is a three-dimensional version of mixed media art created by arranging different objects and materials on a specific surface.  Artists like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg adopted it as an anti-aesthetic approach to making assemblage art which became widely used in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Found objects are a mixed media form where artists use everyday objects and transform them into art pieces by putting them into a specific artistic concept.
  • Altered books technique involves physically changing a book and using it as a medium in an artistic process. You may cut out pages of a book to change it, or you can use cut pages as material for separate artwork.
  • Art journaling represents a way to enrich your record of different events, memories, and thoughts by adding the artistic touch to it. You can use a wide variety of art concepts and techniques in a mixed media art journal, or you can step up your game and start with mixed media journaling, also called junk journaling. This version of art journaling incorporates different items, like postcards, concert tickets, washi tape, decorative paper, or pictures from magazines. You can use various recycled items as art journal prompts. You can start with digital art journaling if you are an ardent fan of digital technologies and are exploring vast possibilities of implementing technology in creating art.

Photography as an Art Medium

Ever since its invention, photography has had a significant impact on the way people perceive history and everyday life. This powerful medium preserved some captivating moments in time to mark periods of groundbreaking social changes.

Technology development has provided people with numerous possibilities to express their artistic principles through photography. Artists have an opportunity to affect the final presentation by choosing different cameras, lenses, or films and setting parameters for framing and timing before they take a shot. The photography equipment and techniques used in the creative process rely heavily on the subject matter, tone, and the original impression the artist wants to achieve with their work. For example, portrait artists who focus on capturing single subjects will opt for larger cameras with shallow depth of field to keep the focus on the subject. Landscape photographers will choose quite the opposite camera and technique.

The same goes for choosing to work with black and white rather than colors. Black and white photography leaves a long-lasting impression by bringing lines, texture, and tone into the limelight.

  • Documentary photography aims to capture significant moments in history or everyday life that will faithfully depict an era. This type of photography is closely related to photojournalism and plays a significant role in pointing out burning social issues.
  • Landscape photography originated from landscape painting. Here, photographers focus on the environment, takingpictures of natural and urban surroundings and using framing and cropping methods to create extraordinary compositions.
  • Portrait photography has been around since the invention of the daguerreotype. This artistic photography style replaced portrait painting as a much faster and affordable way of capturing someone’s image. The technological progress enabled artistic photographers to go out and use natural surroundings and light to create mesmerizing portraits.
  • Nude photography dates back to the invention of this art medium, and nude photographers originally wanted to evoke the classical ideal of beauty by presenting their subjects as nymphs or ancient heroes. As opposed to this, avant-garde nudes presented the human body as an independent entity liberated from all art conventions.
  • Digital photography has appeared with the rise of digital technology, offering an array of new possibilities for creating fantastic art pieces. Now photographers can create, edit, and retouch their work with the help of advanced programs and apps. 
Artist Refik Anadol uses large collections of data and machine learning algorithms to create mesmerizing and dynamic installations. | By Wired on YouTube

Advanced Technology Provides Extraordinary Art Mediums

These are times of unprecedented progress in digital technology. The idea of using new computer technology in creating art appeared in the sixties with the first examples of digital art. Later, some tech and art enthusiasts started incorporating digital technology into their artistic installations. But the groundbreaking event that has opened new worlds to digital artists is the appearance and rise of the internet in the nineties. This enabled artists to create their art and present it to global audiences using various social media platforms.

Nowadays, the modern art scene is booming with artists that include digital technology innovations into their art installations to express their concern about significant issues. Some artists use lasers to create fantastic multimedia projects that present the perfect combination of light and sound. Others use 3D printers to embody their artistic visions and create memorable art performances. Therefore, advanced technology is reinventing the art scene by introducing extraordinary art mediums as a means of artistic expression.

Final Words

We compiled this complete guide on different mediums you can use in creating your art to present a short recapitulation of various art mediums throughout art history. We also focused on essential questions you need to answer before you start searching for an ideal medium for your artwork. Whether you are making your first steps in the world of art or are an accomplished artist seeking a fresh artistic expression, you need to choose your medium wisely.

The materials you will use to create works of art should reflect your unique idea and original message that you want to send to the world. Also, make sure that you use materials you enjoy working with because art creation should bring joy and satisfaction to the artist, not make them struggle all the time. With this in mind, you can choose the art medium that will fit your artistic identity.

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