I am often asked why I choose a particular medium when creating new work.  It’s an interesting question for an artist who works in many media instead of specializing in only one.  There are actually a number of answers to the question, often influenced by what exhibitions I am getting ready for.

One answer is: I may need work in specific media for an upcoming exhibition.  Another answer is, the image has been in my mind a while and a way to treat it in a certain medium suggests itself.  Or, I may find myself longing to work in a certain medium just because I haven’t used it in a while.

After the Rain, Oil Pastel by Julianne Ricksecker
After the Rain, Oil Pastel by Julianne Ricksecker

Sometimes, I know immediately when I see something inspiring which medium I prefer for the image. “After the Rain” is an example – I knew as soon as I saw this rain-drenched rose  that I wanted to paint it in oil pastel. I wanted to work through the challenge of painting the water droplets on the petals and the stems.

I usually have a number of images that I am mulling over, knowing I want to portray a certain scene or a particular flower but not knowing which technique I want to use.  It may come to me, while thinking about what imagery to create for an all-print exhibition, that a specific image will lend itself nicely to treatment in etching.  During this process I may consider another image and decide on a different medium for that composition – and postpone that work for a while.

In this way, I often have several images in mind, including possible technical treatments, while I am working on another piece. Some pieces stay in this mulling mode for months or even years before they are finally realized.

Timelines, etching by Julianne Ricksecker

Monotype presents itself as an attractive option when I am preparing for an exhibition of original print techniques and I am running short on time to come up with the requisite number of new pieces. Under the deadline pressure, I may cast around in my group of potential images for one or several that would work well in monotype. Monotype is also the medium that demands the most spontaneity, so it becomes an appealing option after completion of several etchings with long, meticulous plate development processes, such as “Timelines” (above) which took three and a half months to complete.

Illilouette Falls, Monotype
Illilouette Falls, Monotype by Julianne Ricksecker

Monotypes are one-of-a-kind prints. I use water-soluble oil-based paint on a blank sheet of plexiglass.  Once I begin to paint, I need to print within 4 – 6 hours.  This forces me into a totally different working mindset from any other medium that I use. There is always the possibility that the days’ work will be lost – not every monotype is successful on first attempt. Some go on to become mixed media work, by enhancing the print with pastel, color pencil or watercolor.  For others, I repeat the experiment until the monotype idea is fully realized.

Some of the joy of creating in different media is that they handle differently, and I feel like I am always learning.  Working in one medium, I feel inspired with an idea of how to use a different medium in a new way.

3 thoughts on “Choosing a Medium to Work In

  1. Hi
    Just starting out after over 40 years away from the art world. I drifted away when I became a CAD process and mold design draft then to designer.
    I am trying to determine what medium well best fit my visions. I like high detail but also I like (what I call) high definition ser-realist. My wife also would like to start into art and doesn’t know which would work best for her to start in.
    I suggested learn how to draw first, once she gets perspective, lighting, and shadows. Then play with different mediums, copying one of her pencil sketches into each medium and then find the medium that fits her and the subject. Or should she just dive into one medium she likes. Such as oil pencils or brush.

    • Congratulations on your return to the art world! I can imagine that almost any medium can be used to create your vision, so I suggest that you play with a few different ones to get a feel for them. I imagine that colored pencil or acrylic painting would lend itself well to your description, but I have seen watercolor used in a very precise and highly detailed way as well. I know, the down side of playing with a bunch of mediums is the expense of purchasing enough of each one to create a robust image. The upside might be combining several media to achieve what you are seeing in your mind’s eye.

      As for your wife – I agree that drawing is basic and foundational to making great art, but I see no reason why she shouldn’t work in different mediums while she adds drawing to her toolkit. She may find that abstraction and pure color work is her heart’s desire – who knows? The advantage of both of you exploring at once is that you can share materials. It might be fun to see how differently you each approach the same materials!

      Look around for demonstration videos and live demonstrations of all the mediums. It may help you decide which materials appeal to you to try first. One example for me is, I bought oil pastels, tried them once and HATED them. Then I saw a live demo of how one artist uses them, and fell in love! I just needed to know a few of the tricks intrinsic to successful application of the oil pastel in order to use them to create the kind of image I wanted. La Jolla Tide Pools, oil pastel You can see more examples here: http://www.artbyjulianne.com/fine%20art/Julianne%20Ricksecker/images/painting/pastel/pastel.htm#Oil%20Pastel

      Good luck and have fun! Come back and leave a note about your journey back into art!

  2. Wonderful article! I’m a designer fresh out of school, and always wonder how people decide what medium in which to create. I appreciate when artists switch medium to match or contradict the subject. The same applies to design, what manufacture methods and software/sketching/etc. are pursued. Thank you for sharing some insight into your process.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>