When we start painting many are confused by the paint media, there is acrylic, gouache, oil, watercolour so what are the differences? Which one are best for the beginner? I will explain the characteristics of each type of paint media.
Acrylic paint is fast-drying paint, water-soluble and becomes water-resistant when dry. The paints are made from a by-product of the plastic industry so they are fairly new as a media and have become much more popular in the last few decades.
They are easy to use for beginners, they can be used in a diluted way in washes a bit like watercolour or thicker to achieve an opaque finish. You can layer the paint layers with ease because the paint dries quickly so you can go over areas again and again. The fast-drying qualities of the paint does make blending challenging as you will get lines where the paint dries.
There are ways around the fast-drying qualities, you can buy mediums to slow the process. The other tip I have is not to use a plastic palette, they will dry and stick to plastic making removal very difficult and damaging the palette. You will need to buy a ‘Stay Wet’ palette, this is a type of non porous surface with a moist layer underneath that allows the acrylics stay moist. See my post What are Acrylics? for more advice.
Watercolours are traditionally used in watery washes where the paints are diluted with water and colours are layered to build up stronger colours. They are water-based and come in tubes or blocks. The blocks or tubes are fairly small as they are designed to be diluted with water so you don’t use much paint.
There are two techniques; ‘wet on wet’ and ‘wet on dry’. As the names suggests ‘wet on wet’ means working with wet paint on wet paint sometimes on moist paper. This technique is quite loose and requires some skill and confidence as the washes bleed into one another and can create quite nice but unpredictable results. ‘Wet on dry’ is as the name suggests, working with wet paint on dry paint and paper, this way of working is a bit more controlled as colours are build up with each layer.
Watercolours do need good absorbent paper and good quality brushes for the best results. They are suitable for beginners but do get the correct materials and don’t expect to master all the techniques quickly. There is much to learn when it comes to applying washes. See my post What are Washes? for more advice.
The best way to describe oil paints is that they are oily! They have a buttery consistency and you can layer and blend colours extremely well. They are a challenging medium for beginners because of the long drying time; days rather than hours. They also require solvents to dilute the paint and wash the brushes such as turpentine or white spirit. There are alternatives however, see my post Do I have to Use Turpentine? for more advice.
In recent years water-based oils have become popular which still have the qualities of oil-based oil paint but you can dilute them with water. They contain an emulsifier that allows them to be mixed with water and they dry quicker; days rather than weeks. The new water-based oils have solved some of the challenges that traditional oils posed for beginners. They are now much easier to use and cleaning is much easier as they are water-based. See my post What are Water-based Oils? and What are Oils? for more advice.
A lesser known paint medium by beginners but one which is very easy to use for those starting out. Think of gouache as thick watercolour paint, it is water-soluble and dries to a matt finish. It is good for flat colour if you were working on something more graphic in style as it will give you good coverage.
You can re-wet the paint like watercolours and shift the pigment. It dries fairly quickly (quicker than oils) and can be used in conjunction with watercolours.
The only way you can know if a media is for you is to use them, so if you are not sure why not give them all a go!