Virtual Art Academy

A Guide To Choosing Painting Media: Oils, Acrylics, Or Watercolor?

water soluble oil paints

Types of painting media

Often students ask what type of paints are best for beginners? When doing the Virtual Art Academy program you are free to 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).

What type of paint is best for beginners?

In spite of what people often say, watercolor is a very difficult medium to use, and acrylics are quite difficult to control because of the fast drying time.

There is a reason why most professional artists choose oils. Oils (regular oils or water-soluble oils) will be the easiest to use when learning how to paint. This is because with oils you can easily scrape off the paint and start again. You can also easily rework and blend the paint on the canvas.

Digital media is another alternative.

Here are some specifics about each painting medium.

Water-soluble oils

If you are worried about using solvents, use water soluble oils as an alternative painting medium. I recommend Holbein water soluble oils. Winsor & Newton and Rembrandt brands are another alternative. Because of the flexibility of oils and the ease of cleaning I think if you were to ask what type of paint is best for beginners, then water-soluble oils are a good choice.

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. I take alkyd white with me when traveling and use 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.

alkyd oils painting medium
Alkyd Oils

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 painting medium
A watercolor painting set

Watercolor is a popular painting 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.

However watercolors are great for when you are traveling to record painting ideas, or if you are a hobbyist painter. I recommend a small pocket watercolor set like the one shown in the picture.


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