Various Painting and Drawing Mediums and Techniques

Various Painting and Drawing Mediums and Techniques
Vincent Van Gogh’s oil on canvas, The Starry Night (Image: MoMA) | Source:

Painting has always been one of the most expressive art mediums that has allowed artists to experiment with different styles and techniques until they find their own unique artistic expression. Everything started in prehistoric times when people used pigmented powder to sketch scenes from everyday life on cave walls. We can say that these earlier artists used mediums and techniques cleverly to preserve their artwork to this day.

From these ancient times on, artists around the world have continually been developing painting techniques and styles to express their aesthetic principles in the best way possible. This continual search resulted in different methods of painting and drawing techniques and styles. This article will lead you through the history of painting by presenting various types of paintings styles and methods used worldwide, including Western and Eastern art history.

Birth of Venus, (1485), tempera on canvas by Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi, Florence, Italy | Source:

Painting Techniques and Styles in Western Civilization

Here, you will find various painting medium arranged chronologically to form a timeline. This should help you follow the development of painting throughout art history as a medium and an art form.

1.   Encaustic Painting

This term is characterized by paintings containing hot beeswax as a cohesive material. Artists applied this encaustic or hot wax painting on a surface (usually a wooden panel) and then reheated the painting to achieve a glossy finish. One of the advantages of this type of painting, originally from Greece, is its short drying time. It can also be reworked and remodeled to fit in a collage painting or some other mixed-media form. Apart from being highly-adaptable, this art medium is also eco-friendly, thanks to the organic origin of the cohesive material. Many medieval icons are perfect examples of encaustic painting.

2.   Fresco painting

This is a painting method where colors are mixed with only water and no additional binders. This characteristic made it perfect for covering plastered walls because the color pigments penetrated the wall as the paint dried. The most famous examples of fresco paintings are Michelangelo’s Genesis and Last Judgement that cover the Sistine Chapel’s walls and ceiling.

3.   Tempera

Instead of using beeswax as a binding agent, artists used a mixture of water and egg yolk in tempera painting. They had to prepare the surface before applying tempera paint in several thin, see-through layers. Although tempera cannot achieve the depth of colors found in oil painting, it still offers numerous advantages that have made this painting method remain for centuries. One of the main benefits of tempera painting is endurance. Tempera paintings remain fresh in color for along time, unlike oil paintings that get darker with time and whose colors slowly fade. Tempera was a dominant medium in medieval art, used for icons or illustrating the religious books known as illuminated manuscripts.

Tempera’s decline started with the appearance of the oil painting technique that offered some new expressive quality to the art pieces. Flemish painters were the first to abandon tempera painting in favor of oil paints, and then the Italian renaissance artists followed.

4.   Oil Painting

Oil painting used linseed, poppy seed, and walnut oil as a drying and binding agent. It appeared in the 16th century when numerous artists embraced it as a dominant art medium. Oil painting became a widespread painting medium due to the richness of colors and glossy finishes, which tempera could not provide. It also alleviated the work on fine details by allowing the sfumato technique. Sfumato is a delicate blending of colors to get a “smokey” effect. Leonardo Da Vinci applied this technique in painting the timeless Mona Lisa.

Besides sfumato, oil paints were also perfect for “impasto” (applying undiluted colors in thick layers to get the impression of relief). Artists loved using the impasto technique for its numerous advantages. First, the light reflected differently upon the painting’s surface, giving it a specific broken texture quality. Secondly, its risen surface gave paintings a three-dimensional feel. And finally, this compelling look of thick layering enabled expressionist artists like Van Gogh to closely translate their thoughts and emotions onto the canvas.

Some other famous artists that used the impasto technique were Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, his wife, and Willem De Kooning from the Abstract Expressionism era. We can also include Impressionist painters, such as Cézanne, Monet, Degas, and many others.

5.   Watercolors

As the name says, these are water-soluble colors with an incorporated binding agent. Using watercolors demands excellent artistic skills because once you apply them on paper, there is no room for correction. The advantage of watercolor paintings is that they dry fast and are perfect for adding fine details. Although many relate watercolors only to paper, you can use them on stone, canvas, wood, or fabric.

However, the significant downside of this artistic medium is that colors fade away when exposed to light for some time. Various watercolor techniques, also known as scroll painting and ink wash painting, were part of the Chinese and Japanese art tradition for thousands of years. On the other hand, Western artists used watercolors for preparatory sketching until the 18th century when many painters discovered that they are perfect for landscape painting.

When you add white to watercolors, they become opaque, and this medium is known as gouache. This watercolor variant possesses four major advantages that add specific quality to pieces of art done in gouache. Because of the opacity, brushstrokes remain hidden. Also, gouache is fast-drying paint that leaves a smooth matt finish, and it can be applied in layers ranging from super-thin to impasto. Gouache may come in an extensive range of colors, including fluorescent and metallic finishes. 

6.   Acrylic Paint

Since acrylic paint appeared in the ‘40s, it has gained significant attention in the art world, thanks to its many positive features. Acrylic paint dries quickly, and once it dries, it becomes water-resistant. You can apply it in as many layers as you need and on any surface imaginable. For all these reasons, acrylic has been a medium of choice for many artists, including Andy Warhol, Kenneth Noland, and many other contemporary artists.

Zhu Wei (朱伟) Album of Vernal Equinox, No. 13 (开春图册页之十三2011), Ink and Colour on Paper | Source:

Painting Mediums and Styles Typical for Eastern Art

Chinese painting

The Chinese painting method involves the same techniques as calligraphy, so it is based on neatness, precision, and attention to detail. Chinese artists were using ink-wash watercolor techniques long beforeEuropeans, making minuscule, precise brush strokes on paper or fabric. The Chinese involve spirituality in their artwork, believing that every object they paint has a soul. Thus, the primary goal of painting is capturing the soul of painted objects.

Japanese Painting

Not only do Japanese people have extraordinarily rich painting traditions, but they also foster unconventional art principles. Japanese painting styles absorbed Chinese and Western influences while remaining authentic. The significant features of Japanese art are achieving depth in a painting and expressing a straightforward, artistic message.

The Most Significant Drawing Styles and Techniques

Drawing has always been perceived as a fundamental art form that we are taught as children. Here are the essential drawing styles and methods.

Pencil Sketching

As the name suggests, this method involves creating sketches with a graphite pencil. This drawing style originates from17th century France, and some famous sketching artists are Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Paul Cadden.

Charcoal Drawing

This is an ancient drawing technique that probably originated in Japan. Charcoal sketching and shading give the artwork an amazing impression of remarkable depth. You can apply different charcoal drawing techniques, like hatching, rubbing, or blending, to achieve various effects.

Chalk Drawing

This is another drawing technique that stems from ancient times. Artists only used chalk for sketching until the Renaissance, when it became a significant art medium. Rubens and other artists of the 16th and 17th centuries created drawings using black and white chalk. This drawing technique is also known as drawing “aux deux crayons.” Artists in the 18 century upgraded this technique by adding sanguine chalk to the mix and started drawing “aux trois crayons.” Numerous 20th-century avant-garde painters, like Henry Mattise and Picasso, used chalk as an art medium.

Various Painting and Drawing Mediums and Techniques
Edgar Degas, Dancers in Blue, pastel, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, Russia | Source:

Pastel drawing and painting

This art technique involves using pastel crayons to create artwork. Pastels are made of color pigment and can come in various versions. Soft pastels are the best choice for blending or smudging, while people use hard pastels for sketching and outlining their work. The artform depends on the way you are using pastels. When you apply pastels by blending or smudging, you are making a pastel painting. However, when you make short lines using pastels, this is regarded as pastel drawing. Pastel drawing and painting techniques were at their peak in the 18th century and then revived in the following century with artists like Edgar Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec.

Pen and Ink

Artists use various types of pens to outline desired shapes and fill them with ink. The appeal of this drawing method is in the cleverly created contrast between colored and blank fields. Ink is an unforgivable medium, so you need to have excellent skills to master this drawing technique.

Short Summary

The purpose of this article is to arrange all significant painting and drawing mediums and techniques chronologically that have shaped art history. This is a kind of universal painting glossary for those entering the mesmerizing world of art.


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