Finding that Happy Medium

In yesterday’s post I mentioned that I’d be sharing more information about painting mediums, or, I suppose media might be the technically correct form of the plural. Let’s not quibble over it, all right?

When I first began learning about oil painting — November 2016 — my first questions involved the use of medium. As a neophyte painter, I wasn’t even sure what medium was, let alone how to use it or why I would even want — or need — to use it. I didn’t have a clue.

So, let’s start with the most important question: why do artists use medium? There are a number of reasons, but behind each lies a single purpose.

MEDIUM IS USED TO MODIFY THE RESULTS OBTAINED FROM OIL PAINTS.

Oil paint is sold in tubes, and the viscosity — that is, to say, the consistency — may vary markedly from one manufacturer to the next. To achieve the right consistency, an artist might need an additive. Paint straight from the tube, as a general rule, is far too thick to use, so a painting medium is added to make the paint more fluid.

To muddy the water a bit — or, in fact, to muddy the paint a bit since that’s exactly what happens so often when learning about mediums — the term medium may refer to solvents and thinners as well as to oil-based products.

Confused yet? Well, when I first started learning about oil painting mediums — or media if you prefer — I was definitely confused. And when I heard discussions about thin mediums, fat mediums, and even medium mediums, and heard all the talk about “fat over lean”… oh, my goodness. Talk about headaches!

I’ve simplified my life as an oil painter by switching to water-mixable oils, thereby eliminating the need for nasty, toxic solvents. If needed, I can thin my oils with a little water, and I can also easily clean-up paint messes with soap and water.

But back to mediums. Toxic solvents and thinners aside, what mediums are available to help improve the paint flow? A quick search will shows that many products are available. I think every manufacturer of oil paints also produces a medium to improve the flow. These mediums are typically oil-based but include additional thinners. Oils can also be used alone to change the consistency of oil paints. The oils most often used are linseed, safflower, and walnut stand oil.

Even with water-soluble oils, it’s possible to make your own mediums by using a special “water-soluble thinner”, such as this one by Artisan. 

A “thin medium” is one with more solvent than oil, a “thick medium” has more oil than solvent, and then there’s that happy “medium medium” made by mixing equal parts. When I was using traditional oils, I did make and use different mediums. With my water-mixable oils, I’m content to use ones I’ve purchased, such as the Liquin Original I have near my easel. I’m wondering, though, if Liquin is truly the best choice for me, so I’m still testing out different products so that I can find one that suits my needs.

The reason I’m questioning the Liquin Original is because mediums have different purposes beyond changing the consistency of paint. Liquin Original is designed to help reduce drying time. Other fast-drying mediums include Galkyd by Gamblin.

While many artists want to reduce the drying time for oils, there may be times when you want to slow down the drying. This is where the “fatter” mediums — or oils — come into play. The more oil in the oil paint, the longer it’s going to take to dry. Makes sense, right? You can use paints with these “fat mediums” for final layers, increased transparency, and glazing.

Another reason to use a medium is for textural effects. Here is where cold wax mediums come into play. My painting style typically utilizes a lot of impasto techniques, visible brushstrokes, and thick applications of paint. I have a cold wax medium, and I definitely love using it.

With all this said, I’ll still admit to being a bit confused when it comes to choosing and using mediums with my oil paints. Any search for oil paint mediums will bring up a vast array of products — gels, liquids, oils, thinners, and varnishes, as well. Trying to sort through all the information has been challenging, but the basic information I’ve covered in this post has been helpful for me. Maybe you’ll find it helpful, as well.

Where do I go from here? Now that I have a better idea of what I’m looking for — mediums that create a more fluid consistency for my paint — I’ll probably pick up the Artisan Thinner and try mixing it with various oils. Or I might try another brand of pre-mixed medium.

I’m open to advice and suggestions from all oil painters who follow the blog, or those who might just happen to stumble upon this particular post.

WHAT OIL PAINTING MEDIUM DO YOU USE…AND WHY?

I look forward to any responses to the questions, and maybe between us, we can figure it all out and make the best possible choices when we’re shopping. Thanks!

 

17 Comments

  1. Oil paint is one of the few things I’ve never tried, though I did get some water-mixable oils in a ScrawlrBox subscription. For some reason, they always seem much more daunting to try than anything else…

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    1. I felt the same way. I was scared to try oils, even after a bought a small set. I bought canvases, too, then put them aside because I was afraid to try. Finally I got my nerve up, took out the paints, and found out that oil painting is much, much easier than acrylics! It’s definitely easier than watercolor. It’s fun, and while there are some frustrations (especially for beginner artists like me) overall, it was much easier than I’d expected, and it is very enjoyable. Give it a try! Those water-soluble oils are awesome. I won’t use anything else now.

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  2. I’ve always used linseed oil. However, I recently took an oil painting tutorial where the artist recommend walnut oil. It’s non toxic and apparently works well, perhaps better than linseed oil.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks. I’m using linseed oil, and sometimes safflower oil. For me, a lot of the problem is knowing how much — or how little — to use. I’m planning to get out an old canvas and just practice brush strokes with different oils and medium.

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    1. I love the water-soluble oils now. It felt a bit different when I first started using them, but as I’ve become more familiar with them, I’m loving them. I would never consider going back to those nasty solvents! Another advantage is that the water-soluble oils are acceptable when our art clubs have “open studios” or other activities. No toxic materials are allowed, but the water-soluble paints are fine. 🙂 Of course, we haven’t been having any meetings, and everything is still “on hold” for the foreseeable future. Hopefully we’ll begin moving past COVID-19 soon.

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  3. I use water-mixable oil paints and love them! I don’t use thinners, only water to control my paints viscosity. I don’t know if this is a “proper” way to use the paints, but it works for me. I paint on canvas and most of my paintings are done in one or two sittings. I like working fast and in the moment. BTW, loved your December miniatures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! When I first started using the water-mixable oils, I only used water for thinning the paints. I had a tendency to get them a bit too thin, though. I do still use water at times, but I like using a bit of oil now, as well. I’m going to be doing a lot of practice, practice, practice until I learn how to get exactly the paint consistency I want.

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      1. I had some experience with acrylic paints so the learning curve wasn’t too great, but I remember getting the paints too thin and reminding myself that they weren’t watercolors, haha! Do you aim for a buttery consistency, or do you like a thinner consistency? I used to go thin a lot when I was short on cash and didn’t want to waste my paint. But I love the buttery texture of oil paints, so I got over that fear and stopped worrying. The rest came with time and lots, lots, lots of practice with cheaper water-based paints.

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      2. I like a buttery consistency for most of my oil painting. In places, though, I like thick brushstrokes. I’m going to be doing a lot of practicing in the coming weeks, trying out various oils and thinners. It’s all good practice.

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