Wednesday, July 01, 2009

MAM Poll July: Which are your preferred media for painting in the studio?

The Making A Mark Poll for July is taking a look at which are our preferred media for painting in the studio.

This is so we can round off our perspective on the media people like to use. Last month we looked at your preferred plein air painting media and in May we found out which media people like to use when drawing or sketching

Cornelissen's - the pigment and paint counter
(see Art shops in London)

photo copyright Katherine Tyrrell

What is "painting"?

That's a really good question - as the word relates to both the process and the end result. Here's a couple of definitions from the Glossary maintained by the Tate Museum and the Encyclopedia Britannica.
What we call art in all its forms – painting, sculpture, drawing and engraving – appeared in human groups all over the world in the period known as the Upper Paleolithic, which is roughly from 40,000 to 10,000 years ago. In Europe, sophisticated and powerful paintings from this period have been discovered in caves such as Lascaux in France. In 1994 possibly even more astonishing works were found in the Chauvet cave in the Ard├Ęche Valley, also in France. Cave paintings consist of pigments such as coloured earths rubbed onto the rock. In some cases they appear to have been mixed into a paste first. The paintings mostly represent animals but there are some human images. Since then painting has changed in essence very little. Supports evolved from rock faces, through the walls of buildings, to portable ones of paper, wood, and finally cloth, particularly canvas. The range of pigments expanded through a wide range of earths and minerals, to plant extracts and modern synthetic colours. Pigments have been mixed with water and gum to make a paint, but in the fifteenth century in Europe the innovation of using oil (linseed) produced a newly flexible and durable medium that played a major part in the explosion of creativity in Western painting at the Renaissance and after. At the same time subject matter expanded to embrace almost every aspect of life (Genres).
Tate - Glossary - painting

painting - overview
Art consisting of representational, imaginative, or abstract designs produced by application of coloured paints to a two-dimensional, prepared, flat surface.

The elements of design (i.e., line, colour, tone, texture) are used in various ways to produce sensations of volume, space, movement, and light. The range of media (e.g., tempera, fresco, oil, watercolour, ink, gouache, encaustic, casein) and the choice of a particular form (e.g., mural, easel, panel, miniature, illuminated manuscript, scroll, screen, fan) combine to realize a unique visual image. Painting as an art form dates back to prehistoric cave paintings.
Encyclopedia Britannica

I'm going to keep this really simple and say that from my perspective, I'd differentiate painting as a process and a formal painting as an end product from a sketch or a preliminary study by saying that painting involves:
  • the application of media using a brush
  • and/or converting pigment into a liquid medium
  • and/or typically covers the support completely
Having said that - pastel is included because the earliest cave paintings are created from dry media!

Media options for painting in the studio

The pros and cons for painting in the studio are a little different than those related to painting plein air. If you have a particular view or perspective on this please do comment on the pros and cons of different media.

The media options in the Opinion Poll are as follows:
  • traditional oils
  • water miscible oils
  • alkyds (fast drying oils)
  • acrylics
  • watercolour (pans and tubes)
  • gouache
  • casein
  • artist quality ink
  • tempera
  • soft/hard pastels
  • oil pastels
  • coloured pencils
  • encaustic (hot wax painting)
  • mixed media
You'll note that I've added in coloured pencils (many artists use this with solvent) with solvent and encaustic.

You can find the poll in the right hand column - underneath all the smiley faces of my blog 'followers'. As last month, the poll allows multiple responses based on media used on a regular basis rather than those you might use occasionally.

The Poll finishes early on 31st July and I'll post an analysis of the results later the same day. Then the next poll on a new topic will start on 1st August.

Why do you like your chosen media? Do you have any tips you'd like to share?

Please comment - I'd love to hear about why you chose the medium you now work with.
  • If you use a different media in the studio compared to when painting plein air I'd be interested hear your reasons behind this decision.
  • If you've got any tips for working in the studio with your chosen media please leave them as a comment
Making a Mark reviews......


  1. Katherine, by tempera, are you referring specifically to egg tempera? (Sometimes 'tempera' includes the paint which has glue size instead.)

  2. I use coloured pencils because they are very easy to clean up and I'm not going to pass out from the fumes using them ;) They work just like paint for me when using a solvent so am able to get many of the same techniques with them that I would with paint.

  3. I started using water miscible oils a few years ago instead of water colour/mixed media because there was more 'status' given to paintings done in oils. Water miscible oils are almost fume free and does not cause me any asthma problems. I learned the hard way that the low odor solvents may not smell but are still noxious chemically. If someone knows of a better way to clean picture varnish from brushes I would be keen to hear of it.

  4. Lorna - have you tried Zest It? It's environmentally friendly, non-flammable, non-toxic and biodegradable,

  5. Thanks, Katherine. Egg tempera has been my primary medium for over thirty years for several reasons:

    1) great capacity for textural effects and detail
    2) quick drying time (almost immediately to the touch)
    3) capacity for layering--unlimited glazing and scumbling are possible in egg tempera
    4) luminosity--the translucent quality of the medium combined with layering permits greater luminosity

  6. My favorite painting medium-acrylics! When I began painting way back when I would use both oils & acrylics. One day while at the Art Students League my instructor Issac Soyer asked what was wrong. I told him that the fumes from the paint thinner were making me sick. He suggested that I work with acrylics each time I paint. Since then I have never looked back. I love acrylics because I find them to be user friendly. If I stuck in a creative slump I can take a canvas and begin to rework a failed painting w/o having to worry about if all the underlying layers are dry. I find that since I began to use a Sta Wet Palette I have cut down on wasted paint . Also by using one the paint is more fluid which means that I need to cut the paint with less water. I like the simplicity involved- I do not have to worry about lean over fat, which colors use more binder etc.I have few problems matching colors but since using the Sta Wet Palette that problem has been eliminated. I liked the fact that acrylics did not need to be varnished. In the thirty years that I have been using them as my primary painting medium research has shown that while it is up to the artist acrylics like oils could benefit from a final varnish. Since acrylics need an isolation coat before the final varnish the technical support people at Golden suggested that I practice first on a painting that I have no intention of selling or showing.
    I use water and sometimes gloss medium and at times gel medium. I have been experimenting with some of the Liquitex mediums that allow for more open time. Since I tried and used Chroma Atelier with the Thick Slow Medium and the Sta Wet Palette outside plein air is now possible. I usually draw outdoors with graphite and/or colored pencils so the Atelier acrylics have "opened" up new possibilities for me. I was seriously considering using water miscible oils before I bought Atelier and leaving the acrylics for the studio. My preferred brands are Chroma Atelier, Golden- Heavy Body & Fluid, DaVinci Fluids, Stephen Quiller, Liquitex, Soft Body and Regular and Daniel Smith. Each of these brands provide full rich color.
    I find that using the fluid acrylics for my initial layers helps to prevent that plastic "dead" look that can happen when one paints with acrylics on a prepared canvas. Sometimes with the thicker bodied acrylics you can build up the paint to the point that the canvas texture is gone. The fluids are great for underpainting.
    I use watercolors for mixed media work especially with colored pencils. Those two mediums make a great combo-the same with oil pastels and watercolors. I am thinking about working with soft pastels especially the Pan Pastels. BTW- I have nothing against oils. I love the smell of a completed oil painting. If I were to use oils I would consider the water miscible oils such as Duo. One more point- acrylics are tough on brushes. Out of habit I use hog hair bristles which wear down to some interesting shapes. I have been using synthetic hair brushes in addition to the hog hair ones.


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