5 most popular watercolor mediums for artists

5 Of The Most Popular Watercolor Mediums That Artists Use

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Last Updated: January 15, 2020

Whether you’re a master painter or you haven’t touched a brush since grade school, you probably have some familiarity with watercolor paint.

It’s clean and easy to use, it can be applied to many different styles of painting, and most importantly: it’s cheap.

For those who have graduated from their Crayola watercolor sets and are looking for a greater range of possibility from their watercolor paints, look no further than watercolor mediums.

Watercolor mediums are fluids and pastes which can be applied to your watercolor paints, either directly or mixed-down with water, to create a wide variety of effects on the canvas.

Let’s look at some of the most popular and effective mediums and see how you can use them to create your next watercolor masterpiece!

Ox Gall Watercolor Medium

Do you ever notice your watercolor paints pooling up on the canvas, forming unwanted blots and preventing you from creating a nice even wash of color?

If so, then ox gall is a must-have medium for you.

By adding it to your mixing water, ox gall will loosen the surface tension of your paint on the canvas, giving you more flow and allowing your colors to spread and blend with ease.

Applying ox gall to your canvas before adding paint will cause your colors to take on a blooming effect when they hit the canvas.

Another great feature of ox gall is that it helps your colors set in the canvas faster and more effectively. Because of this, ox gall is ideal for layering multiple colors in a painting without them bleeding into each other too heavily.

In general, ox gall is a great medium for experimentation as well as practical implementation.

Beware of overusing it though!

Too much ox gall will cause your colors to fade excessively upon drying. Unless you’re going for that dull and faded look, be restrained with your application of ox gall. All in all, it’s a fun and practical medium that is a must-have for any watercolor enthusiast.

Also, as you may infer from the name, ox gall is derived from cows.

watercolor painting ox gall

Granulation Medium

Like ox gall, granulation medium will lessen the surface tension of your watercolor paints, and increase their flow on the canvas.

However, granulation refers to a specific and naturally occurring process in certain colors of pigment, particularly blue ones.

It creates a speckled and mottled appearance, resembling wispy clouds or markers bleeding through a piece of paper. By using a granulation medium, you can achieve this natural effect with any of your colors, not just the blue ones.

Granulation medium can be added to your mixing water or directly to your paint for maximum effect. If used correctly, you will notice your paint spread out on the canvas with the pigments forming into tiny clumps, speckles, and streaks, as opposed to a smooth and even wash of color.

The effects of granulation are best applied to creating textural details in landscape or seascape paintings.

It’s perfect for creating vivid depictions of clouds, beaches, open water, fields of grass, and sunsets.

Gum Arabic Is One of The Most Popular Watercolor Mediums

Already a binding ingredient in most watercolor paint, gum arabic can be used separately as a medium by mixing it with water and applying it to your paint or applying it directly to the canvas.

In either case, a few dabs will usually do the trick.

As the name suggests, gum arabic is much thicker than most watercolor mediums, and using too much of it can cause your paint to become brittle and crack after drying!

When applied correctly, gum arabic will greatly enhance the vibrancy of your colors and add a nice gloss to the dried paint.

Whereas ox gall and granulation medium allow the pigments of your paint to spread and disperse, gum arabic is great for keeping your pigments bound on the canvas, allowing your colors to pop more and fade less after drying.

An additional feature of gum arabic is that it causes your paint to dry slower which allows more wiggle room for blending and error correction.

Very useful for watercolor novices and experts alike!

watercolor masking medium

Masking Medium Is Perfect For Achieving Contrast

Have you ever wanted the crisp white color of your canvas to shine through in a watercolor painting?

Perhaps to depict a pure white cloud set against a pale blue sky, or a very clean set of teeth beaming out from a pair of red lips?

Given that watercolors are designed to spread and flow across your canvas it might seem impossible to keep any patch of canvas free from this spread of color. Enter masking medium!

Unlike the rest of the mediums listed here, masking medium is not for blending with watercolor paints.

Quite the opposite actually!

Masking medium is useful because it is entirely resistant to water.

To use masking medium effectively, apply it with a brush to your canvas in whatever shape you choose. Once you’ve laid it down and let it dry, paint over and around the masking medium with a background color.

You’ll notice that your paint will bead up when it touches the water-resistant medium.

All that’s left is to peel away the medium by firmly rubbing at its edges, and you should be left with the clean white of the canvas in the shape of your masking medium with crisp edges that are free from any seeping.

This effect can be applied in many different ways, so feel free to get creative. However, be careful not to let the masking medium sit for too long on the canvas or it will become very difficult to remove.

Masking medium is a practical tool for any watercolor painter because it is the most surefire way to add a clean and vivid splash of white to a watercolor painting.

Watercolor Medium (Yes That’s Really The Name)

Last but not least is watercolor medium itself.

Yes, watercolor medium is also the name of a specific watercolor medium.

Confusing, I know.

However, don’t let the unfortunate name deter you! Watercolor medium is as handy of a tool to use in your paintings as any of the mediums previously listed.

In fact, watercolor medium can best be described as a perfect balance between ox gall and gum arabic.

It gives you the improved flowing and blending quality of ox gall with the all of the vibrancy and gloss of gum arabic. Also worth noting is that it slows down the drying process just like gum arabic does.

Because of all these useful features, watercolor medium is less of a specific effect as it is an overall enhancer.

It is extremely versatile and is sure to bring the very best out of your watercolor paints regardless of their quality.

Watercolor medium can be applied directly to your paint for maximum vibrancy or added to your mixing water for a more subtle effect on your colors.

Understanding The Popular Watercolor Mediums

These are five fantastic tools for watercolor painters of any experience level, but we’ve still only scratched the surface of the wide world of watercolor mediums.

With enough of these tools at hand, a painter can use watercolors to beautifully depict any number of images in any number of artistic styles.

To invest in watercolor mediums is to greatly widen the possibilities of your watercolor paintings. Don’t let your next great artistic vision go to waste; be sure to add these fun and useful mediums to your watercolor arsenal as soon as you can!

About The Author

Mary Fischer

Mary is a self-taught artist that has been painting for over 20 years. Mary favors traditional media including oil, acrylic, and watercolors. When Mary isn’t painting you will find her helping other budding artists to unlock their full potential. Mary started Createlet to expand on this goal and bring her teaching skills to a wider audience.

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