This page provides a brief overview of
the common media used in pictures shown on this web site.
Oil. This media is the
classical one used by artists who pretend to high quality. It ensures
that a picture might last several hundred years without significant
degradation. Even if the varnish which is traditionally used as a final
protection on the surface becomes dirty, faded or damaged with age, it
can be renewed with care - although often pictures are now over
enthusiastically cleaned so as to give them a false "as new" look. The
thickness of the paint itself helps to preserve the picture and make it
easier to repair (ie. retouch). Oil paint is based on pigments dissolved
in a natural oil binder and in the past painters often made up the
paints as necessary, although in the last one hundred years they tend to
be ready made by artists suppliers. The paint is applied to a canvas or
board surface, which can require time consuming preparation.
This media has the advantage that as
the paint takes time to dry out, it can easily be removed and reworked
if necessary. However that also makes it a slow process as the paint has
to dry for some time before additional coats can be applied. The result
is that this technique is typically used in a studio and as the painter
may be working on several canvases at once, a lack of spontaneity
results. Also the extended time scale and expensive materials means that
such pictures were always expensive to produce. Oil paintings are
typically higher priced than those in other media.
Oil painting can not just use solid
pigments, but also transparent binders and pigments to create what are
called "glazes". For example J.M.W.Turner often used multiple glazes in
layers to give depth and subtlety to his pictures.
Watercolour. This media depends
on the pigment simply being dissolved in water and typically applied to
a paper surface. The image presented tends to depend on the reflection
of light from the white paper surface showing through the paint, instead
of the reflection from the dense paint surface as in oil paintings. You
can see that therefore the amount of paint and pigment used in
watercolour paintings is much less than in oil paintings. Hence they are
much cheaper to use. Also the small paint quantities and water base make
them quicker to apply and more portable, so they can be easily used on
the spot to paint landscape scenes. For the same reason, they are often
used to do simple sketches which are worked up into more substantial
paintings back in the studio.
The quick drying of watercolour makes
than fast to use, but also means that there is little room for error
when painting so skill and experience is just as important when using
The thin layer of paint on watercolour
paintings does cause a number of problems over time. For example fading
is a common fault that appears and watercolours should never be hung in
direct sunlight. Fading is particularly common in certain pigments,
especially greens and blues, so older landscape paintings tend to look
much "browner" than the artist envisaged as the greens have faded
leaving the brown hues. This is not necessarily unpleasant and a small
amount of fading does not significantly affect the value of the picture.
Some pigments also change colour over time (as they do in oil paintings
also of course over a longer time). An example of a picture badly affected by
fading is shown on the right (this is a work by William Woolard
painted in about 1900 and entitled "Roslin Castle").
The paper surface can also cause
problems with watercolours, particularly if the paper was originally not
of very good quality. For example it can darken with age. If
watercolours become damp, then dark fungus spots can appear (called
"foxing"). These problems can be tackled by a good picture
Note that watercolours should generally
be framed under glass to protect the surface from atmospheric dirt, and
this can exacerbate the problem of damp if the pictures are not kept in
a dry atmosphere.
Watercolours really became popular as
an "original" medium rather than a sketching material in the Victorian
age in England. The demand by the new middle class for original art at
reasonable prices could not be met by traditional oil based painting so
hundreds of artists catering for this market appeared.
Some watercolours have patches of
opaque paint, particularly white, where it is used to highlight parts of
the subject. This is known as body colour.
Gouache. This is basically a
water based medium but the pigment is thickened with gum or other
materials to make the paint opaque. The resulting pictures tend to look like watercolours
because the paint is used with a similar technique as in watercolours.
Pastel. In this medium, the
pigment is held in a solid binder formed into a "crayon" or "stick".
Obviously it is impossible to mix the colours on a palette or on the
painting surface in the same way as is done in oil or watercolour
pictures, so the painting surface tends to be built up by applying
different colours in a hatching or drawing technique. The result is a
high thickness of paint which is long lasting, and with a brightness of
hue due to the high density of pigment.
Acrylic. This medium is the most
modern. It has many technical advantages over both oils and
watercolours, although in practise it can be used in the same way as
either of those techniques. For example it can be mixed and applied in
heavy layers or even with a palette knife as with oils, but is quicker
drying. It can also be diluted with water and hence used in the same way
as watercolours. However it is not yet commonly used for more
traditional subjects, even though the technical properties and life of
the material may be superior.
To Gallery Page
Panvertu is a registered trademark of Roliscon Ltd. Copyright ©
Roliscon Ltd 2003-8. All rights reserved.