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!