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Are you using the best paint for your style?

Stephen Lursen free Painting basics stephen lursen

In this video and blog post I'm talking about the most popular types of paint. If you have looked at art online and seen an artist use acrylics or oils and thought "What's the real difference? I wonder why the artist chose to use that?" Then this info should be very helpful! The painting media I include are:

  • Acrylics - water based, quick dry time, can be mixed with a huge variety of acrylic mediums to change the paint's consistency, opacity, drying time, texture, finish, etc. Can be thinned with water but only to a max of 30%. If you dilute acrylics more than 30% with water, then the adhesion suffers and the finished paint (once dry) can be dusted off in small amounts because the particles are spread too thin to be held together by the acrylic polymers. If further thinning needs to occur, fluid mediums must be used such as airbrush medium. The most beneficial reason to use acrylics is the quick drying time and the waterproof nature of the finished product. This medium is best for artists who don't sweat the tiny details but want to be able to start and finish a painting in as little as one session. Mixed media paintings are compatible with acrylics from a material standpoint. Stylistically, the most compatible styles with acrylics range from abstract to semi realistic styles. If you want to go for photorealism, then oil painting will be better for you as it gives you more control via extended drying time.  
  • Acrylic ink - similar consistency to india ink but the binder is acrylic not water or shellac as in india ink. quick dry time and very fluid.
  • India ink - very fluid. Can be water proof or not water proof depending on brand and type. Can be diluted with water to decrease value and opacity. can be painted with a brush or drawn with a drawing tool such as a calligraphy pen or ruling pen. If not waterproof, it will need to be sealed with an aerosol spray varnish to prevent running if contact with water ever occurs.
  • Oil paint - Linseed oil is primarily the binder used to create oil paint. Slow drying time, directly proportionate to the quantity of paint applied. In some cases some oil paintings take months to dry. Drying time, consistency, opacity, and sheen can be changed by blending oil based or wax based mediums in with the paint. Oil paint has been known to eat away at the surfaces on which it is painted because of its acidic pH. This is why you always paint on a primed surface to protect the substrate from corrosion and make the painting last indefinitely. As far as drying time goes, imagine you pour some oil into a skillet on the stove but never turn on the heat. How long do you think it will take to dry up? A long time for sure! The benefit of a long drying time for those who love oil painting is that it gives you so much control over the blending of one color passage into another. No other medium in this list gives you the ability to blend so seamlessly from one color into the other and create natural glazes. Furthermore, no other medium in this list gives you the opportunity to lay down a layer of paint, then have the opportunity to go to sleep, come back , and then decide you don't like it anymore and wipe or scrape it away. This is not to say that you can't paint with urgency and lay down paint very quickly, of course you can, it just stays viable for a long time in case you change your mind or want to work it further. Typically oil painters will work on multiple canvases at once to have the opportunity to work while paintings are drying.
  • Gouache - Water based medium. Typically purchased in tubes. Once dry the paint becomes chalky, opaque, velvety and flat. The painting process is similar in ways to watercolor but is more forgiving as white is used as an additive where watercolor doesn't ever add white. Finished painting is vulnerable to the touch and moisture and therefor needs to be sealed or framed behind glass.
  • Watercolor - Water based medium. Some believe it to be the most difficult because of its unforgiving nature. What I mean by that, is that in acrylics or oils, if you make a mistake, then you can just paint over it. In watercolors, you can't just paint something out because the paint isn't opaque and white paint is not to be used. In fact the easiest way to fix a mistake in watercolor painting is really to start over. If necessary, you can saturate the painting in the area of the mistake and try to absorb the paint with a dry cloth, but that will only pull so much as the fibers of the paper draw the pigment into itself. Watercolors are beautiful however and once mastered have the potential to create luminous paintings that other media only wish for. Watercolor paints can be purchased in dry cake form or in tubes. The paint is transparent and able to have endless degrees of value, intensity, etc simply by the amount of water used to dilute the paint. Watercolor paintings are never permanent or waterproof because they can be reactivated after drying is complete simply by adding water (either intentionally or accidentally). This makes them vulnerable and requires all finished paintings to be hung behind glass for protection. Also white paint is not to be used in watercolor as the white of the paper is supposed to be maintained as the lightest and brightest parts of the painting. In addition, watercolor paint is to be absorbed by the substrate which is very different than acrylics or oils that are painted onto the surface and sit atop the substrates. This is why you don't prime watercolor paper or paint on primed/waterproof surfaces with watercolor paint.
  • Gesso - Modern gesso can be an acrylic product, but traditional gesso is made from glue and plaster mixed together and painted on the substrate. This pH balanced layer of paint acts as a protector of the substrate (canvas, panel, paper, etc.) from the acidic or sometimes basic nature of many paints. It also makes a white surface upon which colors can shine their brightest. painting on an unprimed surface will create drab colors because the material of the substrate absorbs much of the paint pigment instead of it sitting atop the substrate. Gesso can be used to paint out parts of a painting that doesn't work or even completely white wash an old painting to start again fresh.
  • Tempera - Originally made by combining egg yokes & vinegar/water/or white wine as a binder, blended with pigment. The more yoke in the mixture, the more transparent the paint would be. This paint has been used for centuries dating back to cave paintings and Michelangelo's panel paintings. Tempera painting continues to be used in Greece and Russia where it is the traditional medium for Orthodox Icons. It dries very quickly, and if heavy on the egg yoke, the finish cracks frequently. Once dry, tempera is water resistant but not water proof. Due to its vulnerability and maintenance needs, it is not popular today as easier options exist.

If you have any questions, thoughts, ideas, or otherwise, please feel free to leave a comment below and I'll happily read it and I'll respond! Also make sure to subscribe below to receive free offers and enter to win some of my paintings in my regular give aways!

Happy painting!
Stephen Lursen Art

If you are interested in a more in depth online workshop, please visit https://stephenlursen.com/collections/online-workshops-educational-videos

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  • Rebecca on

    Hi Stephen!

    Found your blog through the Ever After links (omg can’t wait). Thank you so much for this video. I came late to this art “thing” often find myself feeling intimidated by everything I don’t know.

    I’m going to keep digging to see whatelse I can learn!

    Have a great day!

  • MArvi on


    I really enjoy your videos and am learning a lot. Will you please do a video on the different types of watercolor? What is the difference between the trays and the squeeze tube that Donna likes? And how do the properties differ from what one would get from watercolor pencils like stabilo woody and prismacolor?

    Thank you!

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