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What is a Medium in Art?

Photo by russn_fckr on Unsplash

Some things you simply can’t know until you look them up. But there’s no need to worry, we’re here to help.

When it comes to the fine art world, countless terms can be confusing or misleading when you first start out. A great example of this would be the term “medium”, a word we all know as a clothing size or a literal description meaning somewhere between easy and hard. But within the art world, it takes on a completely different meaning altogether.

So let’s take a look at mediums found in art, explore their meanings, variations and just how you can best use them in your work.

What are the Mediums of Art?

Unfortunately, there is no one answer to this question, for medium refers to different things across the artist universe. Some of these definitions overlap while some remain completely separate from one another. Take a look below for the various meanings of an art medium.

So, in Art, what exactly is a Medium?

When it comes to artwork, this is as close to a trick question as it comes.

There really is no one definition of the term “medium”, with options ranging from the method of creativity itself, various additives and even the surface used. Perhaps more confusingly, although these are separate from one another, on occasion, they can overlap.

In an effort to demystify this & help guide you on your way, we’ve compiled the most common examples you may come across when starting out.

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

Mediums as Art Methods

One definition refers to the various methods of creativity or categories found in the art world. For instance, painting, sculpture, printmaking etc.

Medium as Artist Material

Our second (and perhaps most obvious) definition is quite literally the material an artist uses to create their work. As an example, a sculptor would work in the medium of marble, clay or bronze. Quite often, this can also include the preferred surface used & refer to this combination, such as “acrylic on canvas” or “watercolour on paper”.

With the art world being such a large, varied & open environment there are of course countless combinations of both methods (paint, pencil, charcoal) and surface (paper, canvas, wood).

You can experiment with any of these to find your preferred artistic method. There’s even what’s referred to commonly as ‘mixed-media- work, which utilises multiple “mediums” in one piece (as an example, painting with acrylic over collaged images, in order to create interesting textures).

Anything you use to create art is regarded as an art medium, with the most popular including:

…and many more. You can find a wide range of colours, brands, and types of all these artist mediums at great prices here at Cowling & Wilcox.

Mediums as Additives

Our final definition is possibly the most useful & common when researching the subject, referring to products typically mixed with paints. These are used to alter various elements including viscosity, drying time, finish and much more.

Specialised for different paints, below you’ll find some examples, to help you on your way.

Please remember, as with all creative endeavours, working with mediums takes time, practice & patience.

We here at Cowling & Wilcox can offer expert advice, along with personal experience, for a wide range of techniques detailed throughout our blog, including using pouring mediums & other paint mediums.

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