Virtual Art Academy
water soluble oils

A Guide To Choosing Painting Media

How To Choose What Media To Paint In

You can choose to work in whatever medium you like. Oils, acrylics, watercolor, pastels, colored pencils or digital media such as ArtRage are all perfect for the Virtual Art Academy course. This is because the program covers mainly fundamental artistic principles that apply to all media. Those principles are far more important to learn than specific techniques. If you know the principles you can produce a masterpiece with a finger and a few tins of house paint!

If you are a photographer, you can also take the course (about 70% of the lessons are applicable to photographers).

Oils (regular oils or water-soluble oils) and digital media will be the easiest to learn though, because of the ease of scraping off and starting again. Also these media allow for interesting brushwork. Even though some of the lessons may be easier in these media, you can easily adapt the principles to your own chosen media.

Water-soluble oils

If you are worried about using solvents, use water soluble oils. Holbein water soluble oils have been recommended as better than the Winsor & Newton and Rembrandt brands. (Winsor & Newton water-soluble oils are sticky and gummy as of 2013. Barry does not like them).

Alkyd oils

Alkyd oils are basically the same as regular oils in every respect except they dry quickly. You can mix alkyd oils with regular oils with no problems, and it makes the regular oils dry more quickly. Barry takes alkyd white with him when traveling and uses regular oils for the rest of the colors. Since you mix white with most colors, the paintings dry in one or two days. It might be a good idea to have some alkyd yellow as well, because you often need to use yellow with no white mixed with it.

Digital media

There are many inexpensive software products that you can now use to paint on a computer or on a tablet such as an iPad. We have researched all of the products on the market and recommend ArtRage as the best product we have found. The great thing about painting on a computer is the undo and redo buttons. You can instantly explore lots of different compositional ideas much faster than with real paint.


Watercolor is a popular medium for beginners, but in fact it is the hardest medium of all to do well. You can quickly get decorative effects, which is perhaps why it is popular. However, once you have put down a color, it is very hard to change. Also it is quite an unpredictable medium. You never really know if you have laid down enough paint, or if you have mixed in too much water. It takes a lot of experience to understand how the medium behaves. So if you want to learn about composition, form, color matching, color harmony, and so on, a more forgiving medium such as oils, or acrylics might be your best choice.