Now I have worked in a number of different mediums and still do to an extent. Watercolours I haven’t used in many years, charcoal I use for nearly all my sketching and oils are actually my favourite to work in though I don’t often get the chance. My paid work is generally done in either pastel, which I use for my pet portraits, or acrylic which I prefer for portraits of people or personal paintings. I’ll be discussing briefly why I use these two mediums and listing some pro’s and cons for each.
Pastels are a dry medium, meaning you don’t apply the paint wet and therefore don’t have to wait for it to dry. They are blocks/sticks of ground up colour pigment mixed with a binding agent and formed into either rectangular blocks or cylinders. Best bought in a set when starting out and usually come in half stick sizes to save a little money. They also come in different hardness. It can take a little experimenting with different brands to find what you like. It’s also useful to have some hard and some soft for different stages of the painting.
You hold pastel sticks in your fingers and apply them directly to the painting surface as you would a stick of chalk or a crayon. Fingers and other tools such as tortillons can be used to move the pastel about on the surface. Paper with some tooth is required, especially if you’ll be building layers of pastel. I’ve taken to using velour paper which can hold a huge amount of pastel. Pastels can be mixed to a degree by building light layers on the paper but generally you will want to use a pastel stick very close to the colour you need. This means a large number of pastels are usually required.
You can get pastel pencils for more precision, they are a harder compound than sticks generally.
Using pastels will create dust. It isn’t a good idea to inhale it. It does build up on the paper as you work but don’t blow it off, tip the paper and give it a little knock so the dust falls off the paper. Finished pastel paintings can still lose pigment as they get moved, it can fall off the surface. A fixative can prevent this if sprayed onto the finished painting but this can also darken it. I sometimes do this, sometimes don’t, I decide on a case by case basis. Pastels should be framed behind glass.
Pros – No drying, Don’t need brushes, Quick to setup, No real colour mixing – generally grab the colour you need
Cons – Dusty (be careful not to inhale particles), you’ll need a lot of pastel sticks, never fully fixed without a fixative, easily smudged, can be messy to use
Acrylic paint usually comes in tubes. It’s a wet medium so you apply it wet and wait for it to dry. Good news is it drys pretty quickly. It is water soluble so can be watered down without the need for any solvents and your brushes are easier cleaned.
There are many ways to paint with acrylics but I’m going to go over the way I use them which is straight from the tube. Almost like I would use oils, I mix it thick and apply it thick. Except when applying washes later when it’ll be well watered down.
Because acrylic paint is wet it can be mixed so for the most part you can get by with only a few basic colours, mixing what you need as you go. You can get stay wet palettes to keep your paint from drying out. What I tend to do though is take paint from the tube as I need it, remember how I mixed any colours I might need to make again and if I have paint left on the palette at the end of a session I can cover it in cling film and put it in the fridge. It’ll be good for a few days like that.
Acrylic paint can be applied with brushes, knives, hands, whatever you want so you can achieve a huge variety of marks. Applying it thickly can add texture to your painting too. I work on pre-stretched canvas or canvas board when using acrylic. Finished paintings can be varnished for extra protection and I do on all of mine but it isn’t always necessary. Acrylic paintings don’t need to be framed behind glass.
Pros – Quick drying, mix most colours from a few tubes, water soluble, can create great texture, pretty clean to use, versatile
Cons – Can dry too quickly depending on technique, requires some setup before use, you’ll need a few brushes