Sunday, August 6, 2017

Thoughts on Achieving Broad Medium Mastery

My tutor showed me a year ago the art of their sister, who does wonderful, wonderful work. The curious thing I learned is that most artists stick to just a few media, often closely related, and that their sister was one of the few artists who work equally well across nearly all mediums—from oils and acrylics, to watercolors and colored pencils, and more.

Every traditional medium has its quirks, and even mediums that are deceptively closely named often turn out to be radically different in important details not necessarily obvious at first glance.

Consider non-aquarelle colored pencils, watercolor pencils, and watercolors.

I've seen a lot of artists who specialize in just one of these mediums have weird misconceptions of the other two, anything from "watercolors can't be controlled and do whatever they want, that's why I use watercolor pencils" to "I can't get colored pencils to blend perfectly, so I prefer to use watercolors." Perhaps most hilarious to me is "watercolors are so easy and quick, while I have to spend all this time hatching and layering my pencils."

Easy. Quick. Watercolors. Ahahahahahaha. If there's anything I've learned, is that for those who truly practice their individual arts, their best work is rarely quick.

Weirdly I've also seen artists who specialize in one medium desire to have their works look like another.

Examples include: acrylic artists who want to look like they do oils, ink artists who want to look like they do charcoals, colored pencil artists who want to look like they do watercolors.

Apparently it's considered high praise to some to be told that their art looks like an entirely different medium. To each their own, but to me it's rather like being told my art can't be distinguished from a photograph. Craft is necessary for vision, but vision beyond craft is what I'm most interested in.

People often say, "A jack-of-all-trades is a master of none." I take issue with this—it's true sometimes, but often it's the case that a jack-of-all-trades can learn enough to unite some of them in exquisite ways... without necessarily, say, using solvents to create watercolor-style colored pencil works, or even creating mixed media works.

For instance, after exploring colored pencils even just a little bit with a Caran d'Ache Pablo set, I wish I could sit folks down and tell them how every watercolor artist has to learn that thoroughly mixing colors into a single shade can be detrimental to the vibrancy of a work, and that the magic of shimmering color mixing is natural to colored pencils in a way that watercolor artists have to really work at.

I feel that many artists pay lip service to the idea "every medium has its advantages" without actually believing it. If they did, I wouldn't see so much cross-medium envy, and I'd see more interest in exploring radically different mediums—even if looking at a different medium means you're going to suck in it for a while.

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Ava Jarvis is an ink and watercolor artist with a portfolio site at If you found this post useful, consider a one-time tip or supporting Ava on Patreon.