It’s all coming together. The room you have been working on has a fresh coat of paint and furniture to match. All that’s left is a blank space on a wall that yearns to be filled with a work of art. The perfect painting to push your design over the edge. You might start your search online only to be hit with an incredible amount of options. The sheer amount of talented artists is one thing, but so are all the different mediums; oil, acrylic, watercolor, even encaustic. So what are the differences between each type, and which one is right for you? Your taste in style may be wholly personal, but we can help narrow your choices by breaking down which medium is best for your space.


"Brother Cats" by Kendra Lemon


Acrylic is likely the most common type of painting you will encounter when shopping for a new piece. It’s popular with artists both because it’s easy to work with and because of its longevity. Acrylic paintings have so far proven to be the most durable type of painting, with laboratory tests showing no color fading over time. This durability means that acrylic paintings can be hung in direct sunlight and work well in any area. They’re even great for areas that experience high humidity, like your bathroom. This is Kendra’s favorite medium to work with, and all of her paintings available in the Citra Studio shop are acrylic. The example above is her painting “Brother Cats”. She personally likes working with acrylic because it’s easier to get the lines “just right” with this medium than it is with oils and watercolors. 

Invented just over 50 years ago, acrylic paint is made of color pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer. Acrylic paints are water-soluble, fast drying, and become water-resistant when dry. When painting, this quick drying time is both a positive and a negative. Wet blending is tougher to achieve with acrylics, but the short drying times allows for sharper color contrast and lines without having to wait weeks between painting sessions. Another positive of acrylic paints is that it can bond to many different surfaces like canvas, wood, paper, rocks, glass, and fabric. This flexibility is why it’s often used as the go to paint for many mixed media pieces. It’s versatile, durable, and doesn’t fade easily over time.



Oil landscape painting by Bob Ross

Oil landscape painting by Bob Ross


Oil is one of the oldest painting mediums dating back to before the 7th century, but it’s still popular today. All of Bob Ross’s paintings, like the one above, were created with oil. Like acrylic paintings, fully dried oil paintings can be hung in most rooms and even in direct sunlight. However, if you like your showers filled with steam, then that high humidity will be hard on your oil painting. Another drawback of oil paintings is the yellowing that can occur over time, mostly with whites and lighter colors. More modern oil paintings are better with this though, since today’s oil paints have been improved upon to limit the yellowing issue.


In this medium the color pigments are suspended in oil, typically linseed. Artists will usually mix oil paints with more oil, mineral spirits, or other solvents to create different brush effects. They’ll also use methods with cold wax, resins, and varnishes to achieve a certain look. Oil paints have a very long drying time, with thicker paintings taking up to 14 days to fully set. This means working with oils can be a little unforgiving, since mistakes are not easily covered up with a fresh coat and crisp lines can be difficult to make without waiting long periods between painting sessions. This long drying time can be used to an advantage, though, since it allows the artist more time to blend in colors and work specific areas. Oil paints have a low color shift as they dry, so the artist can work to their hearts content and be confident in the end result. 



Watercolor painting by Virgil Deges

Watercolor painting by Virgil Deges


Watercolor paintings often have a dreamy look to them, but are the least durable in this list. These pigments in the paintings will reactivate with water, so you’ll want to avoid placing these in place with high humidity, like your bathroom. They will also fade fairly quickly in direct sunlight. The best spot for watercolors in your home will be somewhere dry where sunlight can’t reach easily, like a hallway or an interior room without many windows. With the right placement, though, a watercolor painting can brighten up your wall with a beautiful scene lasting generations. In fact, the watercolor above was painted by my late grandfather, Virgil Deges, and was passed down to me where it now hangs in my home.


In watercolor, pigments are suspended in a water-based solution. Watercolor paints can be used on plastics, leather, and fabrics but the most common is watercolor paper made entirely of cotton. While it can be tough to tell the difference between oil and acrylic paintings with the naked eye, watercolor paintings are easily identifiable. Watercolors work heavily with layering transparencies and gradients, and this gives them their distinctive “dreamy” quality. Because of the nature of the medium, many artists find it difficult to control watercolor. Watercolors can be unforgiving. These paints are tough to create super fine details with and you’re only able to work with one thickness, so variation in textures are limited. Any mistakes are not easily covered up with a new layer. In fact, adding another layer with more watercolor will reactivate the pigments already there, and will only mix in with the layer you’re adding. However, with practice watercolors can create captivating, almost ethereal scenes that would be nearly impossible to achieve with other mediums.


Encaustic painting in progress


To be honest with you, this medium is completely new to me. It was only when I sat down to write this post and did my research did I learn about encaustic painting, also known as hot wax painting. This medium has been around for centuries, but recently has been gaining popularity. It involves mixing color pigments with heated beeswax and is painted on just like any other medium. Since this method is based in wax, you should avoid hanging these paintings in areas with high heat, such as above the fireplace or in direct sunlight. Unlike the oils and watercolors, encaustic paintings are virtually impervious to moisture and work well in humid areas of the house. 


Encaustic paints are most commonly used on wood and canvas, though it can also be used on other porous surfaces. Metal tools and brushes are used to shape the paint as it cools. Once cooled, a heated metal tool can be used to make changes or add even greater detail to the painting. Since wax is the pigment binder, encaustic paints can essentially be sculpted, allowing the artist to create a great amount of texture onto the painting. Other materials can also be encased or collaged into the surface using the wax binder to keep them in place, which is supremely useful when creating mixed media art. With encaustic paintings there is no traditional drying time, but they do require a lot of care to maintain compared to other mediums. With the right care, though, you’ll have a beautiful painting that will never fade or darken. 

Now that you know the basics behind each painting medium, you can narrow down your search and find the perfect pieces to fill your walls. You can rest assured that with proper care it will last for decades. We want you to cherish your art so if you have any questions, or want us to cover a related topic, be sure to comment below!