Art Media & Techniques



Oil paint is a slow drying paint that is created by dispersing pigments in an oil, usually linseed oil. Oil paints are usually opaque, but can also be applied as a translucent glaze. Since the sixteenth century oil painting on canvas has been a standard medium for artists as it can be easily manipulated and has great flexibility, making it possible for an artist to achieve a layered or smooth, rich coloured canvas.


Watercolours are translucent water-based paints. Based on a transparent or glaze system of pigmentation that utilizes the colour of the paper for its highlights.


Developed in the middle of the twentieth century, acrylic paint is a type of synthetic resin based on polymer colours. The paint is made by dispersing pigment in an acrylic emulsion. The artist can thin these colours with water, but when dry the resin particles coalesce to form a tough, flexible, rubbery film that is impervious to water. This paint is popular because it dries quickly, enabling an artist to work over a painted area almost immediately. Although acrylics lack the manipulative qualities of oils and watercolours, artists can produce a matt, semi-matt or glossy finish by mixing them with the appropriate mediums.


Gouache is an opaque form of watercolour, and is different from transparent watercolour in that it has a definite, appreciable film thickness and creates an actual paint layer. It has a brilliant light-reflecting quality and is most popularly used in a high chromatic key or in strong contrasting values.



Carving is a reductive or subtractive technique in which the artist removes the material through cutting or abrading a block of material to create a piece. Wood is very pliable and is therefore easy to carve, though subject to humidity and extreme temperatures as it breathes more than stone, and must be dried and cured prior to carving to prevent splitting or warping. Marble, the stone used most since antiquity, is very hard and difficult to carve; alabaster, which has a similar aesthetic property to marble, is soft and easy to carve; limestone, granite and sandstone are also popular media.


Modeling is the process in which a three-dimensional form is shaped from clay or wax. Clay works are then fired in a kiln to make the clay permanent and durable.


A fluid substance such as plastic, clay or molten metal is poured into a cast (a mould which is made from a clay or wax model). Bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) is often used in casting, but concrete and resin can also be cast.


The term refers to work such as welded metal constructions in which pre-formed elements are joined and was evident in the revolutionary art movements during the first quarter of the twentieth century in France, Russia and Germany.



Lithography consists of drawing or painting with greasy crayons and inks on limestone that has been ground down to a flat, smooth block. After several subsequent manipulations the stone is moistened with water, wetting the sections not covered by the crayon and leaving the areas of the greasy drawing dry as grease repels water. Oil-based ink is then applied with a roller and is repelled by the wet parts of the stone. The print made by pressing paper against the inked drawing is an autographic replica, in reverse, of the original drawing on stone.

Monoprints and Monotypes

These two terms are often incorrectly assumed to be the same, but there are important differences. A Monoprint has a single underlying image (such as an etched plate or screen) that is made unique through a process of hand colouring or surface alteration to the printed image. A series of monoprints may be similar but are not identical. Monotypes are unique images and do not have a repeatable matrix (etched plate or screen). Instead, a thin even film of ink is rolled on to a plate which the artist then manipulates by drawing into it, or by rubbing sections off. The print image is taken directly from the plate.

Intaglio Process Prints

Intaglio prints can be created through a number of processes, the common element is that the printed area is
recessed. These recessed areas are filled with a greasy printer's ink and then the surface is carefully wiped clean so that the ink remains only in the incised design. Types of intaglio include; Etching, Drypoint, Aquatint, Mezzotint, and Collagraphs.


The metal plate is coated with an acid-resisting wax or ‘ground’ that the artist draws into with a variety of tools, removing the ground from the areas that are to print black. The plate is immersed in an acid bath, which ‘bites out’ or etches the exposed areas. The etched plate is inked and the surface is wiped clean, leaving ink only in the etched depressions. Finally the plate is run through a press with dampened paper - the pressure forces the paper
into the etched areas of the plate, transferring the ink onto the paper. Rembrandt van Rijn first popularized this technique.


Artists working in drypoint draw the image directly onto the plate using a steel tipped ‘pencil’ that produces an added richness due to the burr (or shaving of metal that is turned up at the furrow). As the burrs are delicate and crush easily under the weight of the press, usually less than 50 impressions can be made.


Aquatint is an etching technique which allows large areas of varying tones to be printed by means of a textured plate. The area to be etched is dusted with a powdered resin and then heated to melt it onto the surface. The plate is then placed in the acid bath to etch away the tiny areas not protected by the granulated resin.


This is perhaps the most labour intensive intaglio process and involves a plate being ‘rocked’ with a curved, notched blade until the surface is entirely and evenly pitted, creating a rough surface that prints black. Scraping the burr off or polishing the plate smooth creates half-tones and light. Colour mezzotints require a separate plate for each colour which will be printed consecutively.


Derived from the word 'collage,’ Collagraphs are created by building up an image on a plate surface (cardboard, metal, or plastic) with glue and other materials thereby creating recessed areas where the ink is retained.

Relief Printing

This is the oldest printing technique and refers to the cutting away of part of the surface of a block of material so that
the image area to be printed stands out in relief. Woodcuts or woodblock prints are made by cutting into the surface of a smooth piece of hardwood with a knife, and V and U gouges are used to create more delicate lines. When printed, the area that has been cut away remains white and the raised surface prints. A separate block is required for each colour. Printmakers rarely use more than three or four colours for aesthetic reasons. The linocut, a twentieth century adaptation, uses linoleum in place of wood and while it is easier to work with, it will not take very delicate or subtle cutting.

Screenprinting / Serigraphy / Silkscreen Printing

A twentieth century multicolour printmaking technique developed in America. The stencil process involves placing designs on a silk or nylon mesh screen that is attached to a wooden or metal frame, with the screen fabric at the
bottom. Various film-forming materials, as well as hand-cut film stencils and photo-sensitive emulsions, are used as resists. Colour is poured into the frame which is placed in contact with the surface to be printed on. The colour is scraped over the stencil with a squeegee and deposited on the paper through the meshes of the uncoated areas of fabric.

Sugar Lift

Sugar Lift allows the artist to make a brush drawing directly on to the etching plate. After painting with a mix of sugar and ink, the whole plate is then covered with an acid resist. When dry, it is immersed in hot water, dissolving the sugar and exposing the brush drawing, which can now be etched. This is often used with aquatint to produce tone.

Other Media

Pencil / Charcoal / Chalk

Ordinary lead pencils are made of graphite mixed with variable amounts of clay according to the degree of hardness required, with the softest varieties containing little or no clay. The paper texture must be coarse so that it ‘files’ down the pencil.
Charcoal, due to its crumbly nature, can be used either for wispy strokes or shading, and is good for creating strong dark lines – the drawback with charcoal is that it smudges and tends to break easily.
Chalk is usually used for shading.


Pastels are normally sold in three grades: soft, medium and hard. The soft is universally used, the other two mainly for special effects. The soft texture of pastels allows them to be easily manipulated. One of the charms of the finished drawing is its texture, as manipulations of the crayons produce a varied effect: thin or thick, smooth or rough, level or impasto.


Ink has been used for many centuries in the Far East, and used to be sold in sticks that were rubbed with water in shallow mortars. Modern ink is sold in liquid form, either soluble or waterproof; the former is more suited to fine lines and delicate manipulations and effects, and coloured ink can be applied to wet paper to produce magnificent spreading effects.


Collage became recognised as a serious art form in the early twentieth century. The term is derived from a nineteenth century craft called ‘papiers collés’ in which a variety of found objects including fabric, newspapers and cardboard are adhered to a flat surface to create a work of art.

Digital Art

The term ‘Digital Art’ encompasses three categories:
Digitally produced reproduction of an artwork already existing in another form, like a painting. Work produced to be viewed via digital means, which cannot be easily ‘owned’, such as web-art. Work produced digitally, or using a computer as a tool in the process, which results in a work existing outside of the computer – perhaps in the form of a lambda or giclee print, so that this digitally produced print can be considered to be an ‘original’. Work in this category may also exist in the form of a video, or more recently, a DVD. Such video’s and DVD’s will often be sold in limited editions, as with prints.



Otherwise known as a Chromogenic Colour or Colour Coupler print, C-Type is the generic name for a modern colour print. Colour sensitive layers of emulsion on the paper respond to the colour information in the negative when light is shone through it. After the initial development, chemical compounds called dye couplers are added to form a layer of hues that produce the full colour image.

Digital C-Type / Lambda / Lightjet

The Lambda, or Lightjet, is a C-type printed from a digital image file (captured digitally or scanned from a print or film). The image is projected onto light sensitive paper using sophisticated laser technology.


An edition is a predetermined number of prints at a specific size from a single image. An edition print should be of exhibition quality and will be individually numbered (e.g. 5/10), signed and dated, either on the print itself or on an accompanying certificate. Often an ‘Artist Proof’ will exist separate to the edition and is usually the first or last to be printed. Editioning is more common among contemporary photographers and gives the collector an assurance
of authenticity.

Gelatin Silver Print

Known as the most common form of black and white printing. Photosensitive particles called silver halides are suspended in a thin layer of gelatin on paper. When the paper is exposed and processed, the particles react and change according to the concentration and brilliance of the light.

Inkjet or Giclée Print

Inkjet prints, also know as Giclée prints, are produced from a digital image file by a computer driven printer that
sprays minute droplets of ink onto paper. The term ‘inkjet’ covers everything from cheap throwaway prints to exquisite works printed on fine paper. The development of stable, archival inks and dedicated papers is ensuring the popularity of these prints.

Iris Print

Similar to an inkjet but produced on a machine that spins the paper on a drum. This process uses similar inks to inkjets and is sometimes referred to as a Giclée print.

Lith Print

Different to lithographic printing, a Lith print is made by over-exposing the print and then under-developing it using powerful Lith chemistry. Usually printed from black and white negatives, Lith prints are typically grainy and contrasty, with dark shadows and soft highlights, and can take on different hues depending on the paper and age of the chemistry used.

Platinum Print

A form of black and white printing that uses platinum instead of silver salts. Platinum is reduced from light sensitive iron salts to form an image as platinum particles become embedded in the paper. Known for their wide range of subtle tonal variations and fine grain, platinum prints have a significantly longer life expectancy than silver prints. Palladium is often used as an alternative to platinum, giving similar results.


Polaroid is film that develops moments after exposure giving an instant positive or negative print that is completely unique. Polaroid has many creative possibilities. Artists experiment with emulsion lifts and image transfer. Emulsions lifts involve soaking the Polaroid in hot water and separating the emulsion from the photographic
paper. The emulsion can then be shaped or stretched onto a new piece of paper and worked into using paint and other media. Image transfer is where the Polaroid is prematurely peeled and then placed against a new receptor paper to develop normally.


A colour print made by the reversal process from a positive film (transparency or slide), you can also print from positive film using Ilfochrome, which incorporates a dye-bleach process, resulting in purer and more permanent colour.

Modern Print

A print produced a significant amount of time after the photograph was taken. For example a 1950’s print reprinted in 2000.

Vintage Print

A print produced within 5 years of the making of the negative. Valuable to collectors as it is thought to demonstrate the photographer’s initial intention, the print will perhaps reflect process-based trends from the time when the photograph was taken. A vintage print may not be the best quality of print available of the desired image, but is sought after due to its telling properties.

courtesy AAF

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