Crash Course But John Green Isn't Invited
There are lots of mediums in the world through which you can make art. While others may spend their time honing one skill into fine edge, I choose to use every medium I can and be mediocre at all of them. Jack of all trades, master of none, as the saying goes. In this blog post, I will be giving a short crash course on every medium I’ve ever tried, what they require to get started, their difficulty rating, and my general rating out of ten. John Green may not be hosting, but this IS a crash course.
Acrylic paint is an extremely cheap, easy way to get into painting. Acrylic paints are mixed and watered down using any old ordinary tap water, and are a lot more accessible to new artists than oil paints. The one downside of acrylic paint is that it dries extremely quickly and doesn’t leave you with much time to blend colors, so be prepared to layer! You can also buy mixing mediums that can slow down the drying process, but they may dilute the opacity of your paints.
Rating: 8/10, Skill level: Beginner
Acrylic paint on fabric
Now you may be thinking to yourself: what the hell is this, you just talked about acrylic paint! And you would be valid. Fabric, however, is a completely different animal. While you can just use acrylic paint on fabric normally, it is prone to cracking if you paint it on too thick and won’t last very well. Trust me- I’ve had to throw out a brand-new denim jacket because of it. Painting on fabric requires a fabric medium, which you can buy at any arts and crafts store, and several layers of white paint under your desired color to build sufficient opacity.
Rating: 6/10, Skill level: Intermediate-advanced
Good old graphite. This is one of THE most accessible mediums for any artist, and is used from beginners to pros. All you need is a pencil, or a set of pencils if you’re fancy, and you’re good to go! To blend, you can either layer soft strokes of the pencil or use something like a paper blending stump to do the work for you! The former will produce a more sketchy look, the later will look more smooth. I actually prefer the sketchy look!
Rating: 8.5/10, Skill level: I have literally just been born, my mother’s womb actually came equipped with a pencil.
There are a few different ways to do ink drawings, and one of those ways is just with a good old-fashioned pen. With a little bit of experimentation, you can use even the most basic pen to create value and shape with different pressure or types of stroke.
Rating: 9/10, Skill level: Beginner
Ink: The Remix
While pen ink can be used to create really dynamic and interesting pieces, any interest in using ink on the regular might mean that it’s time to go buy yourself a set of ink pens. Micron is one of the most well-known brands, as well as being one of the cheapest. These pens usually have decimals or other numbers on them to indicate the size of the pen nib, and can be refilled by using tweezers to take off the metal top and filling the cavity up with an ink of your choice.
Rating: 9/10, Skill level: Beginner-intermediate
Colored pencils come in all varieties, from the Crayola brand pencils you bought for second grade to the hundreds of dollar sets that come from brands like Faber-Castell. Colored pencils are extremely versatile, and are great for gradually laying up color to create depth and custom blends. While coloring in a line drawing might be easy, using colored pencils to blend or layer can prove to be quite challenging! I personally have always loved Prismacolors- they are good pencils, and their price is reasonable (although still an investment).
Rating: 8/10, Skill level: All
Chalk Pastel/ Charcoal
While not exactly the same medium, chalk pastel and charcoal are often used in combination with one another, and the makeup of a chalk pastel is pretty much just a colorful charcoal. Chalk pastels are great for quickly putting down large swathes of color and blending, but that blendability comes with a price: you MUST buy some sort of fixative to seal in layers of chalk pastel, or it will get on every single piece of clothing you own and never, never, never leave. After each layer of chalk pastel/charcoal is finished, go outside or to a well ventilated area and use your spray fixative of choice (they come in matte, glossy, neutral, etc) to spray the work from a few feet up. If you spray too close, you run the risk of getting the paper too wet, bleeding the colors, or dissolving some of the opacity. Once you’ve laid down your fixative, feel free to keep layering!
Rating: 5/10, Skill level: Intermediate
Alcohol-based markers got really popular with the rise of the Copic brand from Japan. While Copic pens are advertised as refillable (to justify their price tag), the reality is that production has not been able to keep up with demand and refills for Copic brand pens are rarely available. However, other brands have put out huge sets of comparable alcohol-based markers that are incredibly cheap (sometimes less than 75 cents a marker, compared to $7 a marker on average for Copic). Check the reviews, and buy a set that works for your budget. The alcohol in these markers blends together, and using alcohol-based markers requires a lot of layering (and testing the layers beforehand! Some colors really don’t like to go together and your knowledge of color theory won’t matter when blue and red suddenly make black). You can buy colorless blenders as well, but it’s really just a pen full of rubbing alcohol.
Rating: 6.5/10, Skill level: Intermediate-advanced
Oil paint was first created in the 7th century, which is insane. Because now I can simply buy it at Michaels instead of using a glass muller (look it up, it’s cool). Oil paint is a bit tricky and requires some kind of costly supplies to use. It cannot be mixed or diluted with water, and instead requires one of a few different types of paint thinners- turpentine used to be one of the most common, but due to the scent and the fumes indoors more expensive but scentless versions such as Gamsol have become popular (I personally use Gamsol). Oil paint takes days to dry, allowing you to blend to your heart’s desire on each layer, but also forcing you to wait before you can continue painting the next layer of your work. Also, you can’t wash your brushes completely after using oil paint- you have to get off as much paint from the brushes as possible in a container of your paint thinner, then use soap before adding any water to the party. As we know, oil and water don’t mix well.
Rating: 7.5/10, Skill level: Advanced
This medium has SO many possibilities and I personally want to explore it so much more than I currently have. This medium includes things like collage, light boxes made from layers of paper, or 3D works made from paper cutouts, among others. The sky is really the limit with using paper as your source of color, shadow, and depth- with a little creativity, you can create some really stunning works! I personally bow down in respect to collage, and really want to try my hand at it soon.
Rating: 8/10, Skill level: Beginner-Intermediate
While I used to knit, I haven’t done so in about a decade so I’ll refrain from covering that and instead dedicate some space to one of my favorite mediums: crochet! Crochet is an amazingly versatile way to use yarn and other fibers, and there are seemingly endless varieties of stitches and patterns out in the world (both free and paid) to create stuffed animals, clothes, blankets, furniture, you name it. I have loved making friends and family cuddly stuffed animals and have even taken a step into creating the medium that I use by making plarn- by cutting plastic bags into strips and systematically tying them together, I made a yarn made out of plastic bags, which I then used to make reusable bags! Seriously, the limit does not exist, I love crochet.
Rating: 10/10, Skill level: All skill levels
Also a fiber art, embroidery is a really fun way to customize clothing or make some funky wall art. There are hundreds of different styles of stitch to experiment with, but you can do some fun stuff just with very basic stitches. There are also tons of YouTube videos and TikToks that can guide you through learning the ropes, all the way from how to thread your needle to making Starry Night with floss. It IS very time consuming, and can get very frustrating at times if the delicate floss gets tangled up, but if you give it some patience it will reward you.
Rating: 6/10, Skill level: All skill levels
The final fiber art on this list, cross stitch is something that I only attempted once. It’s a pretty fun way to kill time, and you can make patterns yourself by creating pixel art and turning it into a pattern. It uses the same floss as embroidery, but requires a special type of fabric/backing with holes in it that you use to create the signature X’s. Again, requires a lot of patience, but I feel as though it isn’t as rewarding as embroidery and you definitely don’t have as much freedom to create whatever you want in whatever style you want.
Rating: 3/10, Skill level: Beginner
Polymer clay is a very fun way to get into making your own jewelry and miniatures among a vast variety of other objects. Polymer clay is a bit pricey, and each brand has specific instructions on how long to bake the work and at what temperature. When you’re not sure, it’s better to do a lower temperature for a longer time. Polymer clay has to be relatively thin to cook evenly, so I recommend making skeletons for the large shapes out of tinfoil before covering them in a thin layer of clay. The substance itself gets a bit finicky, especially if the heat of your hands makes it too warm to hold its shape. While it may look easy online to make all those tiny, tiny pieces of an overall project, your real actual adult-sized fingers might struggle on the learning curve- mine certainly did!
Rating: 6/10, Skill level: Intermediate
Yes, I know this category is ridiculous. Digital art can encompass hundreds of programs, dozens of platforms, and an infinite number of styles. I’ve been learning to use Procreate on a standard iPad, and it’s been a very fun challenge to my knowledge of traditional mediums. With digital art, I would once again say that YouTube and Google are your friends- all of these apps have little tips and tricks that will make your life so much easier once you are introduced to them! The downside to digital art is that it usually requires quite a bit of an investment to start. For example, the adobe suite can be pretty pricey, and an iPad or other tablet can be VERY expensive for a medium that you don’t know if you will like yet! If you decide to jump into the world of digital art, know that the initial investment will for the most part pay for itself over time when you never have to repurchase or refill supplies: Procreate will always be 9.99, and once you have it, you have it forever.
Rating: 8/10, Skill level: Intermediate-advanced
Alright, that about sums up most of my adventures into different mediums. I’ve also worked in both wood and cardboard to create sculpture pieces, but those need a bit more than a crash course to really understand! Wood, especially, requires some expensive tools and equipment as well as a lot of safety know-how: please do not just experiment with wood or cardboard on your own if you don’t know how to handle X-acto knives or woodworking equipment!
And thus concludes my comprehensive list of every medium I’ve ever worked with, as well as a short summary of their characteristics and recommended skill level. Which medium will you try next?