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watercolor pans in pans

Types of artist paints For Your Next Project.

In todays world, the one thing we have a lot of is information. It’s unfortunate that many times, the information we seek isn’t what we necessarily find. I have often looked on sites whose keywords were enticing, but whose content left me wanting more. In light of that thought, this article deals with different types of artist paints and their strengths and weaknesses. I won’t get into all the sub areas of every type, just the main qualities of each.


types of artist paints
Acrylic paint

Acrylic Paint – Is it the one?

Of all the types of artist paints, acrylic is possibly the most easily used. There is little if any toxicity, and needs nothing but water for cleanup. The paint can be either opaque or transparent, and it is easy to paint in layers without fear of spoiling what is underneath. And it drys quickly, and depending on your projec that can either be a good thing or not.

Also, it comes in as many colors as can be imagined, and can be purchased either in tubes or jars. There are different consistencies of acrylic, depending on brand and can either be thickened or thinned without losing color or vibrancy.

Using acrylic one can create works that look like watercolor or oil paints if you are so inspired. If you haven’t heard about acrylic pouring or if you haven’t done it, can be a wonderful experience. the paint can be used on almost any surface, but some surfaces are better than others. Best to experiment before committing to an unknown surface.

There is very little smell, and the mediums are low odor as well, so if smell is a factor, acrylics might be the answer for you.

Watercolor – Is transparency for you

tubes of watercolor paints -types of artist paints
Tubes of watercolor paints

Watercolors are an instantly recognizable medium. There is a translucent quality to the paint that allows the underneath to shine through whether the paint is opaque, translucent or somewhere in between.

As a result of this see through quality of watercolor, it takes a bit of practice before it becomes easy to use. Watercolor paint dries about three shades lighter than it starts out.

Most watercolors are nonfugitive, meaning that while it will fade slightly, it will stay true for a long time as long as it is protected from UV. Like the rest of us. And the size of the pigment particles (based on color) determines if the color granulates, or slightly mottles on the paper.

There are staining and non-staining colors. Using a non-staining color allows the white paper underneath to be revealed, however the staining watercolors will penetrate the paper and stain it.

The lovely thing about watercolor is that an artist who loves different papers is in luck. There are many different watercolor papers that produce different looks with the paint, something many watercolorists enjoy immensely.

Personally, I feel that watercolor takes the greatest amount of skill to use. It is hard to wing it and  love the results without a lot of practice (although it has been known to happen). The unique and sometimes haunting appearance of a beautifully painted watercolor is truly a wonderful sight to see.

Gouache – The other watercolor.

For comparative value, gouache is an opaque watercolor, kind of. Gouache has been used for over 600 years, being one of the oldest paint types next to oils.

It is a flexible medium that can be thinned to act like watercolor or applied to take advantage of its opacity.

Gouache can be used in glazes to build up color slowly and can be changed after it is dry by applying new paint, as well as using a damp brush to remove color.

The color is fun to work and experiment with, but your finished work must be protected by glass or acrylic sheet due to the fact that it is never stable; if water is applied, things will change.

Oil Paint – If you like to fiddle for a while

painters palette- types of artist paints

Painters palette

Oil paint takes the longest to dry. In real terms it means that the paint can be fiddled with for quite a while. There are different oils that are used with the paint in order to make colors either yellow with age, which is okay with some colors, or crack but stay true, like, say a blue sky.

Oil paint is seen as an opaque medium. In many cases the casual viewer of an oil painting may not even notice that there are many translucent layers in certain areas of a painting. Skin tones being a perfect example.

Modern technology has improved many issues with oil paints, but when using it as transparent glazes it is important to understand the chemistry and what it takes to avoid cracking.  Cracking is caused by the top layers drying before the ones underneath do.

It is easy to overwork a piece and leaving it with muddy colors and at the worst, cracking or yellowing. Oil painting is a medium that has been used since the 15th century. The old masters gave up using fresco painting and egg tempera in favor of oils because of the beauty of the colors and the colorfastness of the paints themselves.

Pigments – If you are ready to mix your own paints

If you are an intrepid experimenter and want to make your own paint, it is possible. Pigments are easy to purchase from many art supply stores. Organic material such as earths, fruits and even mosses and algae can be used as well

There are many binding agents for use. Many of the organic and biodegradable ones, while interesting and people friendly have drawbacks.

For instance, milk can be used as a binder in paint. In colonial times milk paint was used to paint furniture and houses. The paint is definitely durable. However, if not used within a few days the milk will sour and the paint will be unusable.

Pigments-types of artist paints

Egg tempera paint is also an option. It is a versatile paint that can be used on wood, canvas, paper or plaster. It can be stored in the fridge, but again it has an expiration date of a few days.

Watercolors can be made with pigments, or if you are on a budget, with food coloring. They can be stored far longer than tempera or milk paint, but again, there is an expiration as the colors degrade over time. So using them quickly is best.

Fingerpaints and cornstarch paint are also two options for those either allergic to paint ingredients or who just want to know what ingredients are in the materials they use. There are few limits for those who consider themselves studio chemists and enjoy preparing and making their own paints.

Inks – Alcohol inks.

Alcohol inks are amazing. They are used on almost any surface and the colors are jewel like. They dry quickly and the color dosen’t lighten when dry. What you see is what you get. And they work for any number of artist pursuits.

Alcohol Ink-types of Artist Paints
Alcohol Ink

While ink is not an artist paint, it is an artist staple. Alcohol inks and colored inks are used for both drawing and painting. Both dry quickly and stay true to color.

House Paint – Yes indeed.

Okay, this may be a stretch for some, however look at from my perspective. You can get any color.  They come in those little sample cans so you don’t have to buy a gallon of every color. They are cheaper, especially when considering the size of the sample can as opposed to a tube of paint. These paints are available at any hardware store that carries paint.

They are water based, they can be thinned with water, mediums or Flotrol and they behave like any other paint when using them.

What’s not to love. And remember, Jackson Pollack used house paint in his work. Artist paints can be almost anything as long as you consider lightfastness and ingredients.

Spray Paints – Unleash your inner tagger.

Spray Paint - Types of artist paint
Spray Paint

.Everyone is familiar with graffiti artists, and the fact that they use spray paint. The main difference between taggers and artists, (although not exclusively) is that taggers paint over street signs and on walls and whatever they deem suitable. They paint their name or initials or gang membership sigil. Whereas there are artists who paint pictures on canvas, or walls, in public spaces with spray paint.

While this may not be a type of artist paints that is generally thought of for use on a canvas, or board or piece of plexi or glass, it is amazingly freeing to hold down the nozzle and to go town. Windsor Newton and Liquitex have a full line of colors, but any spray paint wil do the job.

Choose new artist paints for your project, and have fun.

I can’t imagine a world without paints and color. Putting the two together in a pleasing manner to create something that pleases me is always my goal. I hope this helps give you an idea of what is generally available and what the pros and cons of each type of artist paint. You can make an informed decision when starting that next project.

Good luck and if there are any questions or suggestions for more posts that you would like to see, please let me know.


Alcohol Ink - Types of artist paints
Alcohol Ink






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