Popular Painting Mediums – Oil, Acrylic, Watercolour and Mixed Media

Viewing art can be an overwhelming process, particularly with so many different styles, subjects and mediums in use. Below we take you through a simple guide to the different painting mediums available to artists and why they might choose one over the other.


Oil paints are one of the most widely used mediums for artists. Its use proliferated from the 15th Century and it continues to be considered the gold standard of painting medium with its own dedicated institute. Made from binding pigments to oils such as linseed oil, the paint is pliable, slow drying and rich. The properties of the oil allow for swift and broad brushstrokes whilst its slow drying time (sometimes months) offers artists extended working time, allowing for adjustments and changes to be made to paintings between sessions.

Some of Forest Gallery’s most successful still life artist rely on the slow drying time of oil paint to maintain consistency of colours as they work to reproduce the scene they are capturing.

oil painting by artist lion feijen of pears in a basket
‘Pears in a Basket’ by Lion Feijen. With a painting that relies on maintaining subtle shifts in tone and colour, ensuring your palette of paint can be worked with over the course of days is essential, and oil paint offers this flexibility.



Acrylic paints offer the body, colour, and durability of oils without the expense, mess and toxicity issues of using heavy solvents to mix them. As a result, they are extremely popular amongst professional artists and hobbyists alike. One of the key differences between acrylic and oil, aside from the base used, are their fast drying times.

For artists who like to work quickly and maintain clear colours when painting over parts of the canvas already covered, acrylics offer the preferred attributes. Unlike with oils, acrylics can be touch dry within minutes and ready to take on another layer of paint without mixing with the layer underneath.

abstract painting by artist peter vaillant titled pure brightness
‘Pure Brightness’ by Peter Vaillant. With the faster drying times of acrylic Peter is able to layer on multiple swatches of paint and keep the purity of each colour.

For some artists texture is fundamental to the appearance and effect of their artwork. Water based painting mediums offer the broadest selection of materials to work with ranging from impasto gels to sand impregnated mediums and iridescent tints to ceramic matte finishes.

original painting by artist grace ellen featuring a summer day over holywell bay in cornwall
‘Light Breeze, Holywell Bay’ by Grace Ellen. Grace uses mediums to give a gritty sand texture to her coastal artwork, bringing another dimension into the evocative artwork.



One of the oldest painting mediums, watercolour is named simply for its solubility in water. Made from pigment and a binder of gum-arabic, the medium is highly transportable and accessible. However, be under no illusion, watercolour is one of the trickiest mediums to master. Although available in an opaque (widely known as gouache) and transparent form, the transparent watercolour medium is more familiar to most and relies on the whiteness of the paper underneath to reflect light back through the applied colour.

Watercolour paintings hold a sense of immediacy that can be conveyed in a few, well placed brush strokes. Using the technique wet-in-wet allows colours to flow and drift into each other, creating harmonious and soft transitions between them. Conversely, dry brush work can render unique appearances of texture within the work.

original watercolour painting by artist oliver pyle picturing Bosham harbour at sunset
‘November Light at Bosham’ by Oliver Pyle. The two most commonly used watercolour techniques are displayed to great effect in this painting by Oliver, with dry brushwork in the foreground giving a wonderful texture to the mud flats and a wet technique offering a gentle transition of light in the sky.


Inks and Mixed Media

Combinations of painting mediums are sometimes used to create effects that one single medium cannot do alone. Pen and ink are a staple for may artists and provide artists with a fluid medium that is able to convey a great sense of dynamism within the work.

ink art by marc allante featuring a rhino
‘Pallas’ by Marc Allante. Marc employs fluid mediums including ink to generate stunning contemporary animal portraits filled with atmosphere and movement.


naive contemporary art by Kev Munday
‘Utopia’ by Kev Munday. Using a wide range of painting mediums including marker pens, spray paints and acrylics enables Kev to generate his clean and contemporary style.


There is no definitively better or worse painting medium, rather they each have attributes which may suit one artist’s style better than another. An artist will choose that which best allows them to impart their skill into the art and ultimately convey their vision.

When viewing art you may find yourself enjoying one medium more than another, but remember the medium is simply the means by which the artist is conveying their work. The most important element to consider when viewing art is how it makes you feel, after all artwork is a viewing experience that can influence a multitude of emotions not by the means of how colour is fixed to canvas, but by the marks on that canvas.

To see the collection of works by the artists shown in this article follow their hyperlinked names. More work can also be seen by the featured artist, Marc Allante, through the button below.


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