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  • Russ Ramsey

Paint Mediums (Not a Typo)

For this Art Wednesday we’ll look at painting mediums. You’re wishing I said “painting media,” aren’t you? Well, that looks confusing to me, so we’re going with “mediums” as the plural of “medium” here. This is a free column, so you can’t really get that upset with me, now, can you? I’m glad we were able to work through that up front. Let’s start with watercolor—pigment in water-soluble vehicle, creating a translucent, layered appearance.

Edward Hopper, The Mansard Roof, 1923 (watercolor)


Enamel: painting a substrate like metal with powdered, colored glass, and then firing it until it melts into a fused lamination. Think Faberge Egg, class ring, or lapel pin.

Faberge Yellow Gold, Diamond, and Blue Enamel Ring (enamel)


Tempera: a permanent, fast-drying medium made of pigment and a water-soluble binder—often egg yolk. Tempera paintings can last centuries without changing much.

DaVinci, Mona Lisa, c. 1516 (tempera)


Fresco: another water-based method. Fresco applied color to a surface that absorbs the surface onto which it is applied—like plaster. As oils or temperas adhere, fresco absorbs.

Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, 1508-12 (fresco)


Oil. Pigment is mixed with a slow-drying oil—often linseed oil. Oil painting is a very portable medium, versatile on a myriad of surfaces, allowing for a painter to take their time.

Xie Dongming, Father and Son, 2010 (oil)


Acrylic. Very user-friendly water-based medium, and readily available at your local hobby store. Fast-drying mix of pigment and acrylic polymer.

Warhol, Soup Cans, 1962 (acrylic)


Pastel. Essentially painting with chalk—powdered pigment in stick-form binder. Pigments in pastel works are very pure, but the surface of a paster painting can be easily disturbed or smudged.

Millet, Shepherdess and Her Flock, 1864-65 (pastel)

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