So you are thinking about buying your first piece of art and starting your first art collection.. But the gallery owner or the artist’ website (in case you’re buying art online) just throw terms at you you’ve never heard of! An abstract acrylic mixed media painting? A baroque oil painting? A surrealist landscape? That’s a lot of types of paint…

When you are new in the art world or you want to buy your first piece of art, it’s hard to find your way through these terms. The bad news: we cannot teach you everything in one blog post (even if we would know it all..). The good news: let’s start out small. With 5 different types of paint, why they differ and why they may influence your choice.

Oil Paint

Oil paint is one of the most commonly used types of paint and as the name already spoils it. This type of paint has its color pigments embedded in an oil. This can be any type of oil such as linseed, walnut or sunflower oil. The most well-known characteristic of oil paint is that it dries (very) slow, especially when the painter uses thick layers of the substance. This can also be seen as a useful thing, as it’s easy to correct the work until the paint has dried up.

When it comes to preserving artworks, oil paintings are known to change color over time due to the influence of light. In the case of oil paintings, when they are not exposed to light for a longer period (i.e. weeks or months) the (linseed) oil may start to darken. Exposing the painting to light again should revert this.

Oil paint has been used for centuries, although no one really knows when the first use was. One of many famous oil paintings is “The Little Street” by Johannes Vermeer, dating from 1658.

types of paint oil paint

Houses in Delft, the Netherlands. Also know as “the little street”’, Johannes Vermeer, ca. 1658 || by Rijksmuseum

Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is one of the most common and most cost-effective paints used by artists. It attaches to most bases (wood, canvas, metal..) and as opposed to oil paint, acrylic paint dries very fast. The substance that embeds the color pigments is a water-based acryl emulsion. So, where oil paint is based on oil, acrylic paint is based on water. When the paint dries (usually a bit darker than it initially seems), the water evaporates and the paint that is left is much less vulnerable and prone to influence from humidity, temperature, and light than oil paintings. When the water has evaporated, the layer of paint is not solvable in water anymore, so you need to rinse your brushes very well or they will become stiff with paint. Depending on how much water is added to the solution, acrylic paint can either resemble watercolor or oil paintings.

Funfact: #acrylicpaint is also a very famous hashtag for artists that use Instagram.

Probably the most famous artist that used acrylic paint often was Andy Warhol. He is famous for his pop artworks and one of his most remarkable pieces is the below Marylin Dyptich.

types of paint acrylic paint (1)

Acrylic Paint on Canvas – Marilyn Diptych 1962 by Andy Warhol || By and on display at the Tate. Source: Wikipedia

Watercolor Paint

Also named aquarelle (from French), watercolor paint is made from pigments where a water solution (with gum arabic) is used as a binder. But the name watercolor also refers to the color of the final artwork which is usually transparent. Because of this transparency, the quality of the paper (that will be visible through the paint) used is of extra importance. Watercolor paint is assumed to first have been used by the Egyptians, on papyrus. After that, this technique was found in Chinese work and only later during the times of the Renaissance, the first watercolor works were found in Europe.

Albrecht Dürer (German Renaissance artist) was one of the first artist to use watercolors to make detailed paintings. Below you find one his most famous paintings “Young Hare” from the year 1502.

Types of paint water color Durer_Young_Hare (1)

The Young Hare by Albrecht Dürer (1502) || by Totallyhistory.com

Gouache paint

Gouache is a type of paint that’s very similar to watercolor paint but also has characteristics of acrylic paint.  What makes Gouache different from watercolor paint is that it contains chalk to make it more opaque and reflective and thus is a heavier paint. However, as it is waterbased it is also sensitive to water (and paintings should be varnished to avoid any issues). This type of paint comes in a large variety of colors and is therefore extra useful for poster art and comics.

One famous artist that is famous  for his use of Gouache is Henri Matisse.

Types of paint gouache Matisse (1)

Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954). The Codomas (Les Codomas), 1943 – Gouache on paper || By Huffinton Post © 2014 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Ink paintings

In the types of paint, ink is not them most used one. But, painting with ink is definitely that you see more often these days. You will see this style a lot on visual social media such as pinterest or instagram. Ink painting is a technique from East-Asia and was used for calligraphy. The calligraphy masters would train years and years to make the perfect strokes. Artists use black ink not only to reproduce the topic of the ink artwork, but to capture its spirit. Artist can use apply more or less pressure on their brushes to make darker or lighter strokes. These days, we see a large variety in colored inks.

Not necessarily a  very famous painting but just one that we found to be very pretty 🙂

types of paint ink paintings (1)

Mori Shūhō, Horses, a 4-fold screen painting. Japan Edo period, late 18th century AD || by British Museum

5 types of paint – which one is for you?

This blog about types of paint is by far not exhaustive or a detailed explanation of each type of paint. We aimed to give you a quick overview 🙂 Every artist and collector have their own preferences. So now you know what you’re talking about, feel free to ask gallerists and artists all about it 🙂

Featured image from Unsplash

About me

This post was updated in July 2018 and written by Sabrina Bos, former founder of art startup accessART and now traveling and working around the world as a digital nomad.

Disclosure

My blog contains articles and links to and about several companies and products. I do this to be able to finance and maintain this blog. I only recommend products or services that I have used myself. If you have any questions about the links or articles, feel free to drop me a message!

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