I threw myself wholeheartedly into mixed media art about 3 years ago. In that time, I’ve tried out a lot of supplies and paints or art mediums. Over time, I’ve found I have favorites that I reach for daily, while some others I don’t use much. Below I rank my favorite mediums from least used to most used. My absolute favorite medium to use is funny to me now because before 2018, I was too scared to use it. (And now it’s my number 1 favorite!)
7. Watercolor Paint
I used watercolor a lot back in 2016 when I did most of my art on paper. Since I switched to working on canvas, I just don’t use it much anymore. With watercolor you have to build up the color quite a bit, so there’s a lot of layering, letting it dry, adding more colors, etc. When I used watercolor, I would often add other art mediums on top like colored pencil, ink, or paint pens. This gave everything I did in watercolor an illustrator type quality. I tried both tube and pan watercolors and found I preferred pan. This is a personal preference, and you might be different.
Pros: Affordable and easy to get started. Once you establish your drawing you can often “color” it in with your watercolors.
Cons: In order to make watercolor art look good, you do have to learn proper techniques, such as making boundaries between colors by wetting first and then adding color to the water so the color only stays within the wet area. Also, to make white areas in a watercolor painting, it is best to leave those areas unpainted and just use the white of the paper, since watercolor “white” is never going to be that bright or vibrant. Or, you can top with a white paint pen for pops of bright white.
6. Acrylic Paint
Acrylics were my art medium for years! I did many paintings in acrylic because they are so versatile and quick drying. There’s no waiting around for paint to dry, in fact you often have to hurry up and paint before the paint dries. The cool thing about Acrylics is that there are so many ways they can be used and so many effects you can get. Thick paint with a brush or palette knife will hold texture, while thinning with water makes them more like watercolors.
Pros: Very inexpensive and very forgiving. Once one layer of paint dries, you can paint right over it again if you made a mistake. Acrylics are also extremely versatile. You can experiment with many styles and techniques.
Cons: The fast drying time can be tricky. Sometimes the weather affected my paints and I swear I would be fighting drying paint within minutes, making it really hard to blend colors. Also colors vary widely between brands. You can buy some acrylics extremely cheap, but sometimes that does diminish the quality of the paints.
Gouache is a fairly new art medium to me. To be honest, I tried it once before and hated it, so I decided it just wasn’t for me. Turns out, I was just using it incorrectly! When I first tried it, it was during a lesson for an online class. We were supposed to make a portrait using gouache. Mine was almost complete when I went back in and ended up pulling all the color up on areas of the face. I was so mad! I broke up with gouache after that.
However . . .
Fast forward 3 years and my art mentor did a lesson using gouache. I learned that gouache stays workable almost indefinitely, so if you go back after it has “dried” you are working with your current color plus all the original layers because once you rewet them, they are basically like new. His suggestion for using them was to put the gouache where you wanted it to go and then use water to remove it in areas that should be lighter.
Again, like watercolor, I have used both tube and pan gouache and I much prefer pan.
Pros: Quick drying like acrylics with some watercolor-like qualities, although gouache is a lot more matte in finish.
Cons: Learning how to properly use gouache helps a LOT!
I use ink on every background I do. Metallic, watercolor, alcohol and regular inks. I love the effect it creates, and also how free and random I can be with my inks. I just drop the colors around my canvas, spray with water and let them roam freely like little herd animals.
Pros: Good for doing intuitive or abstract works. I have not really tried to do controlled “painting” with my inks.
Cons: You have to know how the ink you’re using works. Alcohol inks can be transparent while spray inks can mix with layers on top of them, which can be surprising (and frustrating) if you’ve forgotten they do this and you’re expecting to be able to paint white over your ink.
3. Watercolor Crayon
My favorite watercolor crayon is by Caran D’Ache. I did a whole blog post about it, if you would like to check it out here: Fun Mixed Media Supplies: Watercolor Crayons
I have used watercolor crayon on my backgrounds and to make portraits and paintings by using them like traditional watercolors. While I don’t do much with using them as watercolors anymore, but I use them on all my mixed media backgrounds.
Pros: Easy to use and fairly inexpensive depending on which brand you buy. Fun to use in backgrounds because you can literally scribble like a little kid. I also like how they offer more pigment than watercolor paints.
Cons: I honestly can’t think of any cons. I just love watercolor crayons!
2. Traditional Oil Paint
When I used acrylics, I was sure I would never use oil paints! I found them to be extremely intimidating! But then I was able to observe an artist using oil paints, and I learned how to use them and what you can and can’t do with oil paints. Suddenly I was obsessed with oil paints, and now I won’t create a painting without them.
Pros: Mix like a dream, and stay wet for a long time, so you don’t need to rush. Can be applied thick and layered or thin like a wash or glaze. Blending with oils is unlike anything else. You can get really nice skin with oils.
Cons: You have to use turpentine or solvents. Clean up and brush maintenance is important.
1. Water Mixable Oil Paint
The only thing better than oil paint? (In my humble opinion, of course). Water mixable oil paint! All the benefits of traditional oil paints, none of the toxic solvents! So all the cons I said above don’t apply if you can find water mixable oil paints. Also called water miscible or water soluble oil paint. Just mix and clean up with water. I first learned of these in the book Pop Painting by professional painter Camilla D’Errico. She recommends Duo Oil paints by Holbein, so I ordered a set and have used them ever since! (Not an affiliate link, just put the info there if you’d like to check out the book!)
Pros: Great if you work in a small space and don’t want fumes, have health issues, or want to use the most environmentally friendly paint materials possible – but still want to have all the pigment and blendability of regular oils. In fact, if you still have traditional oils on hand, you can mix with the water mixable paints.
Cons: It helps if you have never used oils to learn the proper way to use them, either from a painting teacher or even with websites or YouTube videos. There is a bit of a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it gets much easier. Also, these do still have a longer drying time like regular oils, so you’ll need to plan for that.
I hope you’ve found my ranking of my top 7 favorite art mediums entertaining and helpful! Is there a favorite that is not listed here? Please let me know in the comments what your favorite is. I love to try new art supplies.