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The Painter’s Fortune Teller – Mediums

By Nancy Rowe

While it might seem like Oil Painting 101, I still struggle with understanding and properly using all of the different painting mediums available. I’ve looked up tutorials on YouTube, asked painting instructors, and chatted with artist friends about what they use. I’ve experimented with many different types of mediums – Gamsol, linseed oil, walnut oil, and something that was supposed to be “all-natural” but took forever to dry. It seems there’s neither a consensus nor a magical formula for using mediums. Of course, much of it depends on the paint consistency you’re looking for, where you are in the painting process, how fast you want your paint to dry, etc. Sometimes I believe if I could find that perfect paint consistency, that creamy feel that spreads like buttercream frosting, gives the perfect sheen, and dries just right, I would be guaranteed a masterpiece! I would only need to push the paint where I wanted it to go and… Voilà!

Only once have I felt like my paint spread in the exact way I wanted and had the perfect sheen, and I do say it was a glorious painting session. I still look at that painting and think, “What the heck did I do?” It was a painting of my deceased mother, also a painter, and sometimes I think it was divine intervention from the spirit world. She was notorious for hating pictures of herself, so I imagine it was her way of speaking through a medium to make me paint her in the most flattering light.

But seriously.

In my quest for the perfect medium or mixture of mediums, I decided to ask some painting experts out there what they use. Luckily, painters are often kind and generous souls, and so I share here what they shared with me.

“Most often when I’m working with oils, I just use paint and Gamsol or Chelsea Classical Studio’s Lavender Spike Oil. It’s a safer natural solvent and smells nice too. Other than that, I may use Liquin to help speed things up when I need to get a painting out the door.” – Jessica Lewis

Jessica Lewis, "Autumn's Gold," 9x12", oil

“I’m probably not the right person to ask, since I don’t use any medium. I mainly use the paint undiluted and work paint into paint. Sometimes, when I’m blocking in, I will thin it down with Gamsol to simply get a tone over a large part of the canvas, but mostly I apply straight paint and then spread it around with a pallet knife, brush, or silicone rubber tool and then work wet-into-wet on top of that. I like the feel of painting paint into paint in a more sculptural manner. Once it’s dried, I will paint on top of the dried paint with straight paint in layers as well to show texture or to repaint areas.” - Scott Burdick

Scott Burdick, "Poet Musician," 20x16", oil

“I normally use 3 mediums – OMS, a premix medium from Utretch which contains Damar and Linseed, and Neo Megilp. I would say in my younger years, I would use a premix medium more than I do now. It helped with keeping the paint wet for a few extra days so I can layer and blend slightly. It helped things look smoother, thinner, and gave it a more flowing look. But these days, I like to mix everything all at once since my goal is to create various textures. So really anything goes for the time being. The more sessions, the better the texture.” – Juan Ramirez

Juan Ramirez, "American Goth," 12x12", oil

“I like to keep my mediums simple. I use Gamsol to both clean my brushes and as a way of loosening up the paint, which works well in the early stages of a painting. I then switch over to safflower oil, which slows drying time, keeps the paint creamy (for areas without impasto), and does not yellow as much as linseed oil, so has a cleaner and cooler overall cast. It also helps keep the painting healthy by using the fat-over-lean rule by maintaining a strong film that locks in the pigment and protects the paint from cracking.” – A.J. Alper

AJ Alper, "Natalie in Profile," 11x14", oil

“I’ve tried lots of different mediums, but one I keep coming back to is Liquin. It’s a fast-drying medium that I can use to oil out a section of a painting for working back into it. Because it’s so fast drying, I can repeat the process the next day and the day after that, which helps me move along at a faster pace than I would have without any medium.” – Anna Rose Bain

Anna Rose Bain, "Mother's Arms," 24x16", oil

“I use two mediums mostly – ‘oil painting medium’ which is a mixture of linseed oil and turps; and some simple turps. I use turps only at the very beginning, as I want to stain the surface/create some marks. I usually don’t add any medium while I paint unless the paint is too stiff to move around. That’s when I add a drop of the oil painting medium. If I work on several sessions, then I definitely use the oil painting medium for the top layer.” – Rosso Emerald Crimson

Rosso Emerald Crimson, "Young Girl as Harlequin," oil

Most likely, many of you out there already have mediums that work for you, and by no means is this an exhaustive look at the topic. But if you’re like me, this may help you on your journey for that perfect bit of medium magic!


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