ArtisanHQ’s Top Ten: Mediums In Art

We have decided to construct this post to fulfil a suggestion brought to our attention by one of our subscribers (Thank you for the suggestion). This post is intended to help you discover a wealth of different art mediums for you to consider and offer you an insight into their unique properties. The amount of different varieties of art materials available to us today is vast and it is little wonder why people are unsure where to start so we will contain for you within this list links to artists who are specialists in their desired medium as well as links to videos which offer instructional advice on how to use them.

In no particular order,


Since the dawn of man regressing back to the days of the primitive ‘Homoerectus’ charcoal was used as a communicative method to bind with basic lingual skills to illustrate a plan or describe thoughts. The cooled embers from a fire left charcoaled nuggets of wood which were used to illustrate their thoughts with on caves walls and numerous other flat surfaces. These illustrations and fundamental drawings evolved as the centuries moved forwards and evolution took its necessary precedence and intelligence grew amongst human kind.

In the modern world (the last millennium or so) charcoal was used in a powdered form and sometimes mixed with other natural colored resources to create unique illustrations and drawings. Closer still in the last century many of the great masters of the Renaissance period and Impressionist movement amongst others indulged in charcoals as a medium for their preliminary sketches for its ability to create fast accurate drawings which they based their paintings upon.

To this day there are three different varieties of charcoal available to work with. These are vine or willow charcoal, compressed charcoal and powdered charcoal.

Vine/willow charcoal:

This type of charcoal is very cheap and is in the form of organic shapes sticks of varying lengths and widths. They are the most natural form of charcoal and made specifically for use on their own as they will not work with the likes of chalks which are commonly paired with compressed charcoal. Vine and willow charcoal is ideal for intricate work as well as quick sketches on the go and also for preparation drawings leading up to a painting or possibly a sculpture. The lines which are produced using vine charcoal are smooth and soft and easy to blend with the likes of your finger or a blending stump. When turned on their side you can use these charcoals to cover large areas of space very quickly which is another defining characteristic of this type of charcoal.

Compressed charcoal:

Compressed charcoal can come in the form of sticks which can either be square or round in shape but more sought after is in the form of a pencil. These charcoal pencils consist of compressed charcoal powder bound with gum to hold their shape within the wooden cylinder of the pencil casing. Many modern sketch artists use these types of compressed charcoal pencils for their innate ability to draw fine detailed lines. They also range in their softness/hardness to create tailored drawings summoned by the artist. These charcoals are becoming more widely used primarily for their range of textures, colors and quality- all very necessary traits to produce superb detailed drawings which are becoming more and more sought after by art fans.

Powdered charcoal:

Powdered charcoal is basically used to achieve both large and small areas of tone and can be used with both the compressed charcoal and the vine charcoal as a complimentary secondary medium. This is also very cheap to buy and is great to practice transitional shading with ready for your finer sketches.

Charcoal is extremely versatile as a medium and serves as a great tool to aid the novice and professional artist. They are extremely workable and easily corrected which makes them a firm favourite amongst many art fanatics.

Acrylic Paints

Acrylics are among the most popular paints in the world for their ability to be used as watercolours when thinned or as oils when they come direct from the paint tube. You can also gather a range of different consistencies in between by using acrylic mediums or water to thin down the acrylic paint. The amount of companies on the market today manufacturing acrylic paints is vast so the competition for price and quality is also there too. As with the likes of oil paints and gouache you have the lower end entry level paints and the professional high quality acrylic paints where the pigment concentration and durability is vastly superior. Depending on your needs as an artist and ability levels it is for you to decide which acrylic paints would best suit you.

Unlike oil paints which are made up from color pigment and a binding oil like linseed or walnut oil acrylics are water based paints which means that you can do all the same things to them as you would with oil but instead use water. This means cleaning your brushes or mixing the paints to achieve your desired consistency or opacity. Acrylic paints can be used as either opaque colors (if you used them straight from the tube or added a thickening medium/gel) or transparent paints (if you dilute them down heavily with water to take away the main body of the paint) but you must know that when painting with acrylics and experimenting with their textures and consistencies then the rates at which they dry will vary. Acrylic paints dry very fast as it is so a general rule to follow would be ‘the more water you add the longer the drying time’ and be aware that by using acrylic mediums in some cases you will be starving the acrylic paint of moisture thus considerably accelerating the drying time.

As the major pitfall of acrylics is its drying time there are a range of acrylic mediums available to help increase or decrease the drying times as well as improve the flow (flow improver medium), change the viscosity amongst other mediums. Another way to get around the acrylic drying too quickly and not affect your painting is to spray a fine mist of water every so often to your acrylics to keep them moist and pliable. If they dry on the palette you may not be able to get them back to a workable state as they will have formed a skin or a crust so it is crucial to keep them moist. There are also a range of ‘stay wet palettes’ on the market which use the same principle of keeping the acrylic paint moist but in a very different way. In simple terms a stay wet palette is a tray filled with water with a semi porous wax sheet laid on the top. This sheet remains damp whilst your acrylic paints sit on it so there is no need to worry about the spray bottle, the slight disadvantage of these stay wet palettes is they are table top bound so you haven’t got the freedom of movement you usually have with a traditional thumb hole palette.

Blending with acrylics is usually much harder than the likes of watercolours again due to the drying time so when you are applying washes be sure to not leave the paint too long to dry. There is a benefit to acrylics which watercolours can’t offer and that is their ability to be layered. Once the acrylic paint has dried fully another color (light or dark) can be applied directly over the top to mask the dried layer, this is perfect for the artist who chooses to you heavy layers in their work. A few more pros for the acrylic paint is they can be used as a glue in some instances like when you are performing collage work in a mixed medium piece. Also, they can be used happily used with masking fluid much in the same way that watercolours are used with it. This can create some great negative space techniques and add some great variety to your paintings.


Pencils are probably the most used medium in art to date. Their functional quality is second to none and their adaptability to every form of art is astounding. Derived from the Latin word ‘penicillus’ meaning ‘little tail’ the word means ‘an artist’s fine brush of camel hair’. Pencils are the preliminary hub for creation used by artists from all around the world.

As we know it a pencil is a writing graphite implement and it is this concept which was introduced to society from the late 16th century.

Throughout the world and in most European countries the European grading system is used using a continuum from ‘B’ to ‘H’ which stand for blackness and hardness. The letter ‘F’ is also used to represent the midway value which lies between ‘H’ and ‘HB’. Contrary to common belief, the ‘F’ does not stand for ‘fine’ it is merely the letter selected for its purpose to represent the midway value as previously mentioned. ‘HB’ is the standard writing pencil and is the most commonly known around the world. For mechanical drawing and quite linear art work which doesn’t require shading the use of a ’H’ pencil would be much more suitable as opposed to the ‘F’ or any of the ‘B’ values which are perfect for sketching with heavy blending. Pencils used within this scale are graded from 2 to 9 with 2 being the least soft/hard and 9 the most soft/hard. Mechanical pencils have also taken precedence over the years with more and more people choosing to use them as there is no need for a pencil sharpener and the thin lead sticks are cheap and easily replaced.

There are several varieties of pencil available for use. These are graphite pencils, solid graphite pencils, charcoal pencils, carbon pencils, grease pencils, colored pencils/ crayons and grease pencils. Each of these different types of pencil have their own unique properties suited to different areas of art but aside from the charcoal variety can all work in harmony with one another producing some very interesting techniques. There has never been a better time than now to take advantage of the huge wealth of pencil selection brought to us by manufacturers. Grease pencils for example can be used to write or draw on virtually any surface whereas watercolour pencils can add tremendous detailing through a variety of bold an sharp pencil strokes when combined with your watercolour paints.

Most people assume that all pencils are encased in a wooden cylinder. This is the case for 99 percent of pencils but there are a few varieties which can be encased in plastic, paper or even metal. The core of a pencil is usually graphite using clay as the binder and once applied to the paper or surface leave a gray/black mark which can be simply erased using either putty or an eraser itself. The markings of a pencil are moisture, chemical and UV resistant making them a great choice for artists and other professionals all over the globe.

Whichever type of art you undertake, make sure you do your research thoroughly so you don’t miss out on what’s on offer to you. There really are some fantastic pencil brands out there and from brand to brand the quality of the pencil does vary dramatically and you may run the risk of working within a false economy if you go cheap and cheerful.

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