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How is The Word Medium Used in Art?

Oil paint tubes on a work surface

The art world can seem out of reach for non artists who would like to collect and display art in  their homes. At Embrace Gallery, we are making it our mission to take down the barriers and help make everyone feel welcome. We are doing that by sharing excellent art by talented regional artists online. We are always available to help you through the process of selecting art that is right for you. You can find our contact information here. Today we thought we would explain the term medium and how it is used in the art world.

Medium is the term that refers to the substance used to create a piece of art (acrylic, oil, canvas, or wood). When you look at the descriptions of the paintings in Embrace Gallery, you will see that our current artists work with either acrylic paints or oil paints. Currently our gallery contains paintings on stretched canvas or wooden boards. I believe we have one framed watercolor on watercolor paper available in our gallery. Debbie Black prefers oils, but uses watercolors when she is away from her studio because they are easy to transport and clean up. Carolyn DiGiovanni is a “mixed media” artist combining acrylic paints with materials that add texture to her pieces.

There are other types of media commonly used by artists today-pastels, textiles, watercolors, colored pencils, graphite, charcoal to name a few. Typically an artist will explore various media until they find the one that works best for them. Art of course, art is not limited to two dimensions. Examples of three dimensional artists are sculptors, potters, and ceramic artists who use their own varied types of media such as clay, marble, metals etc.. Today there are artists whose work only exists in the digital realm being displayed on monitors. I am sure you have heard of the NFTs -non-fungible tokens that have been all over the news.

Before the 1500’s tempera paint was the primary painting medium in the west until it was overtaken in popularity by oil paints. Tempera paint is a fast drying medium of pigments (colors) often mixed with egg yolks. Poster paints of today are often called tempera paints but are very different from the original.

Oil paint consists of pigments (colors) that are held together with an oil that dries when exposed to air. Originally the pigments were ground substances found in nature, but now we have the ability to create synthetic pigments. The benefits of painting with oil is the slow drying time giving the artist time to blend paints and easily create gradients of color and shading. The disadvantages can also be the slow drying time making it take longer to create a piece of work. The oils can be toxic so care must be taken with this medium. Special cleaners must be used on brushes to remove the paint.

Acrylic paint is made of pigments suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion, plasticizers, silicone oils, defamers, stabilizers or metal soaps. The benefits of acrylic paints is that they dry quickly so artists don’t have to wait as long to apply paints with hard lines. Clean up is easy with soap and water. Disadvantages are that paints dry so quickly, it can be difficult to blend and shade areas of the painting. 

Artists are always looking for ways to improve their paints. They have developed various additives they can mix with paint to slow drying time of acrylic paints or speed the drying time of oil paints giving the artists more time.

We hope you have found this information useful! If you have an art topic that you’d like to learn more about, let us know in the comments! Have a wonderful day-go out and see some art!!!

Featured Image of oil paints by Melissa Wiese