Need to decide which is the best paint for you?
Watercolours, acrylics, oils and pastels are each inspiring and exciting in their own way. Which set of marks, textures and colours will inspire you?
Oil paints have a richness that is unparalleled. Finely ground pigments are carefully milled into a drying oil, usually linseed but sometimes if it’s a pale colour safflower or walnut oil. Different pigments have different particle sizes and absorbency, which means that some paints end up being more saturated, thicker or with a greater staining capacity than others. Oil paint is slow drying which means colour can be blended on the support – how you might imagine a sky by Constable would be painted. The ability to move and lift colour with a rag can lend the painting process an almost sculptural quality, as in ‘Impression, Sunrise’ (1873) by Claude Monet, where traces of lifted colour remain and exist alongside thicker applications of paint. Rubens-esque flesh tones can be created with layers of delicate glazes. Buttery impasto effects can be built up in thick layers to create rich colour and texture, effects that may bring Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ to mind. Paints are thinned and brushes cleaned with the use of artist’s solvents such as turpentine or Zest-It. Drying times can be sped up with the use of alkyd mediums or driers so you really don’t have to wait around if you need to quickly capture the likeness of your sitter or the first light on the hills. Water-mixable oils get around the problem of needing solvents, while oil sticks allow you to draw straight on to canvas with pure colour and discover a direct, tactile and expressive way of working.
Cons: Slow drying, require solvents
Acrylic is the state of the art choice for today’s most modern painter, and is made from pigment suspended in an acrylic resin. It is possible to formulate resins to different degrees of fluidity, which explains the many different varieties of acrylic paint available. As with most acrylic mediums, most resins when wet have a milky appearance that turns clear as it dries. This causes a colour shift; as the paints dry the ‘milkiness’ disappears and the paints appear darker. Some painters who are looking to match a previously used colour mix find this a problem. However for versatility it’s hard to beat. No other kind of paint offers as much room for customisation – there are gels, pastes and fluid mediums that allow you to alter sheen, drying times, transparency, and texture – and it’s also possible to combine mediums and paint ranges to give your paint the exact qualities you’re looking for. Acrylic is great for mixed media artists as it creates a stable ground for almost all wet and dry media and with no solvents required for painting or clean-up, it’s a convenient choice for those painting in the home.
Cons: Naturally fast drying, true longevity of paints has not been tested, colour shift from wet to dry paint can make colour matching difficult
Cons: Colours are not as saturated as oils or acrylics, less mark making variety
Cons: Finished work can be fragile, very few mediums to control behaviour of pastels
Once you’ve chosen what paint you’d like to work with…
…the next decision to make is which brand? Mixing brands within a medium is fine so if you like the sound of several, why not try a few? Often brands will have characteristics unique to them e.g. Professional Acrylics by Winsor and Newton have no colour shift, and Schmincke Mussini oils are made with natural resins. Paints are categorised as being professional (the highest pigment to binder ratio), artist (slightly less pigment than professional but usually made using the same processes) or student quality (reliable paints made with just enough pigment to make vibrant work possible).