All throughout the history of humankind, our species has expressed itself through an array of artistic mediums. But what is a medium in art? A simple medium art definition would be the various tools and methods that artists used through the ages to create their works of art. From the early pigments created by cave dwellers to mark their hands on walls, through to the tools used for painting and drawing, and even including new formats of expression such as computer-generated graphic designs, humans have expressed themselves in a way that reflects the technological advancements of the era. This guide will introduce you to the different art mediums available to you so that you can choose which types of art mediums suit your project best.
Table of Contents
- 1 A Painting and Drawing Art Mediums List
- 2 Three-Dimensional Art Mediums
- 3 Mixed Art Mediums and Unconventional Media
- 4 Photographic Art Mediums
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
A Painting and Drawing Art Mediums List
Out of all the artistic mediums, drawing techniques and painting styles have the most variation in terms of the different art mediums available to choose from. Painting and sketching have been the most commonly applied mediums in art history, and the art mediums list for this section will cover what materials there are available to choose from.
Tempera is a type of painting medium that has been used for many centuries due to its quick-drying ingredients and long-lasting pigments. Some examples of tempera paintings have been dated as far back as the 1st century AD, but most of the examples we have left today are from the 12th century until the 15th, after which oil paints became more popular.
Tempera is also called egg tempera, as it is usually made of pigments that have been bound to a water-soluble emulsion such as the yolk of an egg.
Tempera was a popular medium in art until the arrival of oil paint, which then became the traditional artistic medium in Europe in the 15th century. Oil paint is a slower drying artistic medium and is made from various pigments mixed with oil, such as linseed. Oil painting became a popular artistic medium due to its slow-drying properties as artists could easily change their paintings by adding more layers to the canvas. This was hugely advantageous to artists as they weren’t stuck with the mistakes typical of using tempera as a medium in art.
Acrylic paints dry much faster than oil paints and are water-resistant once dry. To create an effect similar to watercolors, you can dissolve the paint with a bit of water before applying it to your painting. The advantage of using acrylic paint is that you can add textures and depth by applying layers of acrylic paint until you reach the look you desire. You can also add more water to create a kind of matte look in your artwork.
Watercolors are hugely popular because of the large array of colors one can create from them. However, working with watercolors can sometimes prove to be a bit tricky for first-time users. Although the range of achievable colors is a great advantage, once you commit the paint to your chosen canvas, very little can be done to change the end result.
Watercolors are great for creating landscapes due to the luminosity of the pigments.
Artists have always created art out of the available materials around them. Fire has been a part of human development and culture for a very long time, meaning that charcoal has been one of the most readily available types of art mediums throughout the centuries.
Charcoal sticks can be made by binding organic powder with a waxy substance. Charcoal is a rare medium in art materials as it can easily be erased, so if you are planning on trying it, do some research on how to apply fixatives to your canvases to extend the life of your artwork.
Pastels use pigments that are quite similar to those used in oil paints, and are created by mixing these pigments with a binding material. Having been a popular medium in art since the 18th century, there are a variety of pastels that can be used in many ways depending on the techniques you want to apply. Harder pastels are great for overall composition sketching and outlines, while softer pastels look amazing when blended. Another version of the pastel artistic medium uses a sponge for application, called pan pastels.
Depending on whether you want softer toned pastel creations that look similar to watercolors or you want vividly colored vibrant artworks will determine which pastel art mediums to use.
Due to its organic content, chalk is another of the different art mediums that have been used since the earliest days of human art. Materials such as ochre, limestone, and black stone were used to create colors such as sanguine, white, and black. Although originally used for sketching, chalk was soon considered of equal importance as the other types of art medium during the Renaissance period.
Graphite pencils were first used by artists in France during the 17th century. They are great for outlining compositions, creating sketches, or even for applying shading to your artwork. Graphite pencils are one of the types of art mediums that are great for beginners as you can easily edit and change your art by erasing your mistakes and trying again until you get the desired result you are after.
For most of us, color pencils were a commonly used medium in art classes growing up. Not only are they perfect art mediums to learn your skill with, but they are also used to create beautiful works of professional art. Color pencils can be used to create very simple line drawings or they can be used to create highly detailed and expressive works of art that can even look photorealistic if applied properly.
Ink and Pen
Pen and ink have also been used as art mediums for centuries. Ink is great for creating solid outlines but must be used with a steady hand and great care as there is no way to erase the ink. Ink and pen have been used to create intricate graphic art as well as text-based art forms such as calligraphy for centuries. Depending on what you intend to use your pen for, you can find a multitude of suitable drawing tools such as drafting pens, fountain pens, and graphic pens.
Now that we have answered the question, “what is a medium in art?” and looked at several types of art mediums traditionally used with paper or canvas, let us now expand our art mediums list and look at some other techniques that you can use to create your next work of art.
|Tempera||Quick-drying and long-lasting paint|
|Oil Paint||Slow drying and can be layered|
|Acrylic paint||Quick-drying and can be layered|
|Watercolors||Has a large and luminous color palette|
|Charcoal||Readily available and easily fixable|
|Pastels||Great for outlines and shading|
|Chalk||Easily available and easy to use|
|Graphite Pencils||Great for shading and outlining|
|Color Pencils||Great for detailed and colorful art|
|Ink and Pen||Perfect for solid outlines and details|
Three-Dimensional Art Mediums
Three-dimensional art refers to sculptures, wood carvings, and aspects of architectural design elements. Simply put, it is an art that is observed in dimensions of depth, width, and height. Figures carved out of stone are some of the earliest examples we have of art and human culture, revealing much about the people who created them and the times they lived in.
A Brief History of Three-Dimensional Art
Certain goddess fertility sculptures have been dated as far back as 230,000 years B.C., such as the Venus of Berekhat Ram and others found in archeological sites across Europe. Scholars today recognize three distinct types of sculpture design, being free-standing, bas relief sculpture, and high relief sculpture.
Freestanding sculpture can be viewed from any angle, bas relief extends slightly out of the background, and high relief extends significantly beyond the background. Stone and wood were the most commonly used materials traditionally. However, nowadays artists use many various materials such as plastic, hard styrofoam, and even glass to create their sculptures.
Many artists incorporate various materials to further highlight a message their art would like to portray, such as natural materials or litter materials that represent an environmental message to the viewer.
Various Three-Dimensional Art Mediums
There are a few methods you can use to create three-dimensional artwork. Many artists used to carve into stone or wood, while others would mold or construct them. Let us take a look at a few methods you can use to create three-dimensional artwork in this sculpture art mediums list.
Carving and Casting
You can take a raw object such as a stone or piece of wood and can carve pieces out. You can also choose to smoothen them with various techniques to create the desired shape you are after. Another method is called casting, which involves pouring a liquid into some kind of pre-made mold of the shape you wish to create. Once the liquid has hardened, the mold can be removed and the remaining artistic medium is then polished off.
Another method you can use to create three-dimensional artworks is by modeling them with art mediums such as plaster or clay. This medium is great to work with as it stays soft and malleable, allowing you to create the shape you want before letting it dry. You can easily add some water to your clay if it is drying too quickly, and other tools can be used to scrape and cut at the clay to add textures and designs to the surface.
The construction phase of many contemporary artworks is similar to modeling but incorporates other elements such as wire mesh, glue, and other building materials that assist in the framework and design of the art piece. Modeling also includes the delicate and intricate art of glass blowing and glass molding as created by skilled glass artists. These techniques require a furnace or kiln with which to heat the glass in order to shape it using techniques such as fusing and slumping the glass.
Many techniques can also be applied to the cold glass, such as grinding, polishing, and then etching or engraving the glass using various methods to decorate the glass surface.
Another form of three-dimensional art is known as installation art. These exhibits are usually created using various media such as audio or visual clips along with three-dimensional objects to relay some kind of personal, social, or political commentary that is important to the artist. Artists also often incorporate elaborate lighting effects to create a multi-sensory experience for the observer. Performance art is another art form that goes beyond the canvas and involves artists using their bodies as the medium of expression.
|Carving||Carve the desired shape from wood or stone|
|Casting||Pour a liquid into a prefabricated mold|
|Modeling||Use clay to model shapes as desired|
|Construction||Build structures out of raw materials|
Mixed Art Mediums and Unconventional Media
Throughout art history, various movements have risen and become the prominent style of their era, and are often followed by reactionary movements that want to upend the status quo of the academic establishment and create something unique and new that represents their personal artistic view of the world. By using anything as a potential source of inspiration, artists were able to mix and blend mediums to create new styles and aesthetics in the contemporary art world.
In this art mediums list, we will look at some of the avant-garde and unique uses of art mediums in modern art.
The word collage comes from the French word meaning “to glue” and was first pioneered by French Cubist artists like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Collage art is created by combining bits of everyday objects such as newspaper cuttings and cloth and combining them in a way that portrays a unique idea out of existing visual materials. With the wide accessibility to royalty-free images and intuitive software, it is easier to make digital collage art today than ever before.
Assemblage art is almost a kind of three-dimensional collage, consisting of apparently random bits of material and objects that have been placed on a flat surface to create something creative out of nothing. This style was made popular by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in the 1950s and 1960s.
Similar to assemblage, these mixed medium artworks consist of everyday objects re-assembled on a canvas to create something beautiful and meaningful out of repurposed junk. Many street artists in South Africa use found objects to recreate scenes of township life, with soda cans and pieces of wire used to create imaginative art.
Art journaling serves as a visual diary of past events, such as a scrapbook with various objects that have a special connection to a specific time or event, such as bus tickets from a holiday, postcards, feathers, concert armbands, and so on. The concept behind art journaling is to create a multi-medium experience that has been artistically created as a constant source of good memories.
|Collage art||Paste newspaper cut-outs in unique patterns|
|Assemblage||Add objects to a 3D collage|
|Found Objects||Up-cycle garbage to make art|
|Art Journaling||A multi-media diary of daily objects|
Photographic Art Mediums
First invented in 1826, photography has been a significant factor in the changing manner in which we record our daily lives and the history of society. Certain moments of history can be painted to portray a certain feeling or impression of a moment, but no other medium can so easily and clearly replicate reality as well as the camera.
In the modern era, it has become exceptionally easy to use photography as a medium of expression as well as historical documentation.
Today’s generation is all too familiar with the abundance of photo editing apps available at their literal fingertips. Developments in technology have led to devices that are quick and intuitive to use, and software that can take your image of reality and manipulate it in a near-infinite amount of ways to create your digital masterpiece. A good photographer, however, will know that it is important to capture the best image possible from the start. Certain situations will require specific lenses, settings, and light requirements to get the best capture possible.
Let us look at a few examples of photography styles.
Similar to photo-journalism, documentary photography seeks to capture the real historical moments, emphasizing the zeitgeist of the moment by framing the situation through the correct angle and lens.
Landscape photography is the modern version of the old tradition of landscape painting. Artistic photographs of landscapes capture the flowing forms and vivid colors of nature. Although one might think that a photographer would be limited in creative input with a realistic scenario such as a landscape, yet just as with landscape painting, a photographer can use perspective, color filters, and framing of unique subject matter to tell a story and impart an artistic idea.
Portrait photography is another one of those styles that have roots in older traditions such as portrait painting. The art mediums may have changed over the years, but the concepts have remained the same. Although portraits capture the real image of people, depending on how the photographic artist positions the camera and uses lighting, one can bring out certain characterizations of the subject in very creative and artistic ways.
This form of photography is almost as old as the invention of the camera itself. The naked human form has long been a symbol of beautiful form and proportion, so it is no surprise that it has been a form of photographic art for many years. Many artists also use the human form out of the normal context to paint and position them in various ways to visually represent something else entirely.
With the advances in modern technology, it is now possible to create art out of the most basic of visual resources, layering and manipulating them in whichever creative manner you wish. The speed and capacity of modern home computers make photographic editing one of the most popular modern types of art mediums.
Video art is another popular form of digital media used by modern-day artists. Made popular by prominent art figures such as Andy Warhol with actual videotape, today’s artists are no longer restricted to the tape medium, and with modern digital tools, they can create fascinating visual stories that impart graphic ideas, concepts, and reflections of the modern world through a modern medium.
A new emerging medium that has added another dimension to interactive art is video mapping and projection.
This allows digital artists to overlay a digital image of a scene over the actual scene by using a light projector. The software can accurately map a surface, and once projected back onto the surface, it can be manipulated in an array of interesting ways to create out-of-this-world artistic digital effects.
|Photography Style||Subject Matter|
|Documentary||Real-life candid moments|
|Landscape||Scenes of urban and rural life|
|Portrait||Capturing unique character|
|Nude||Exploring the beauty of the nude form|
|Digital||Endless possibilities of subject manipulation|
|Video art||Interactive three-dimensional modern art|
Today, we have learned about the various methods by which artists have expressed themselves throughout history. From the earliest days of sourcing their charcoal from the communal hearth and scratching on the cave walls to the modern artists who can digitally project anything onto those same cave walls, our technology has always determined the mediums that we use to create art. We hope you have been introduced to some new potential art mediums to explore when creating your own art.
Take a look at our different art mediums webstory here!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Art Medium Should I Use to Paint With?
That depends on the look and aesthetic you are after. The various mediums all have different advantages and disadvantages, so deciding on which paint to use can be tricky if you are a beginner. Certain types of paint dry very quickly, and once they have been layered onto the canvas it can be hard to fix a mistake or make changes. Watercolor is beautiful for the various color shades you can use but is hard to fix if you mess up. Oil paint is slower to dry, meaning that you can add more as you go along to change and adjust your painting.
Are Pencils and Paints the Only Mediums I Can Create Art With?
There are so many different types of art mediums to experiment and explore. In today’s art mediums list, we have covered most of the artistic mediums available to use, from the ancient methods of charcoal and chalk all the way through to the modern era of digital mediums. Today, we are fortunate to have more variety of art mediums to choose from than ever before, and in the future, we can expect even more additions to the medium art definition.
Where Can I Get Mediums to Create Art With?
As we have seen from the above mixed-art mediums list, many artists source their materials from pawn shops and rubbish dumps. Many styles upcycle materials that are thrown away, so visiting your local arts and crafts shop need not even be necessary if you are resourceful.