It’s Time to Try a New Medium

Try a new art medium
I was in my second year of art school when my life changed. Well, my artistic life anyway.

It was in a special course for illustrators, appropriately named “Media and Methods”. It was taught by a visiting professor who was just barely out of Grad school. Looking back, I think that he taught this course only because the other “established” professors didn’t want to. They were “specialists” after all. How could a “painter” teach someone a drawing medium – absurd.

The course, as it names implies, was all about exposing students to different mediums and techniques. Students were required to produce works in ink, colored pencils, pastels, various forms of painting, and mixed media. In other words, many of us were to be forced from our “comfort zones”, as each of us had our own strengths and liked to stay within them.

In the competitive environment of art school, this was quite concerning for me. You see, I was an artist that worked exclusively in black and white. Graphite, charcoal, and pen and ink were my specialities. I had decided way back that this was the artist that I was meant to be. Color and I just didn’t get along. So, even in my second year of art school, colored pencils and pastels were a bit scary for me.

“So, even in my second year of art school, colored pencils and pastels were a bit scary for me.”

Scary or not, I was required to work in these mediums. But unlike so many of the other classes I had been in thus far, this experience was to be different.

None of my previous instructors, to this point, ever took the time to actually show us how to use a medium. Instead, they would just give us an assignment, a few days to complete it, and then tell us in the critique how we did it all wrong. Needless to say, this is not an effective way to “teach”. But that new, young, visiting professor took a different approach in his class.

On the first day of the class, he had us fill out a form. On it he asked, “What is your strongest medium?” Without hesitation, I wrote in “Graphite”.

The next day that class was in session, we were all given a schedule. Specific to our strengths, we were to teach the class a drawing or painting medium. I was to teach graphite. Others were assigned other mediums.

How I Found My New Loves

The class functioned in a unique way. Each artist shared their strongest medium and we all benefited by tips and techniques that we each had picked up along the way. Soon, the competitive nature of the class dissipated as we all collectively shared and grew together. No longer were we on “an island” of experimentation. We were learning together.

It was in this class that I grew the most during art school. I discovered a love for color, colored pencils, and pastels. One that would have never been found because of my stubborn obstinance against them prior to this experience.

But because I was forced to explore other mediums, and get serious with them, I was able to grow artistically. Without this exposure, I would have spent the rest of my time in art school and beyond confined to the mediums that I thought were “right” for me. Essentially, I would have not only limited my own breadth as an artist, but also the enjoyment that I have found in creating with the color mediums of pastel and colored pencils.

“Your artistic voice is found in your message, not in the medium that you use. When you expose yourself to other mediums, you may find that you actually have a lot more to say.”

So why do we as artists limit ourselves? Why do we feel that we must find our identity in the medium that we use?

Leonardo didn’t feel this way, neither did Michelangelo. These guys did not restrict their creativity to one drawing medium. So why should we?

Michelangelo’s “David”, 1501-04. Marble.

It’s Good to Be Uncomfortable

It’s easy to get comfortable. It’s nice to be reinforced by success. When we try something new, we forego these things. I think that this is what stops many of us from exploring. Or perhaps, we’ve tried it before and failed.

Maybe it’s time for you to branch out as well. Maybe it’s time to try out that medium (or try it again) that is “scary” for you.

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Here are a few tips to help ensure a better chance of success…

1. Educate Yourself on the Medium – Before diving in, read and watch everything that you can about the new medium that are about to undertake. Be careful that you aren’t overconfident and allow yourself to be open to other’s instruction. When you do this, you find that “Ah-Ha” experiences are plentiful. However, don’t go “overboard” with educating yourself without actually making marks and experimenting.

2. Let Your Style Shine – Our artistic style is as unique as our handwriting. You’ll find that your style will show itself in the new medium. Embrace it. Don’t get caught up in making your art look like someone else’s. Your style is yours and nobody else’s.

3. Be Open to Failure – Seldom will your first work in a new medium be a “Masterpiece”. In fact, in most circumstances that first work may look like a “failure”. But it isn’t a failure, because that work embodies growth and a learning experience. Recognize that this is part of it. Too many people try a new medium and expect immediate results. They hastily determine that they “can’t” and never try again. This is a mistake.

Your artistic voice is found in your message, not in the medium that you use. When you expose yourself to other mediums, you may find that you actually have a lot more to say.

So, what about you? What new medium are you going to try today?

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Lesson Discussion

  1. Loved this article. It fits me to a T. I was just a painter, oil and acrylic, oil being my favorite. Then I found your website and things have really changed. You opened up a whole new world for me. I didn’t realize all the different mediums there were out there. I’ve always wanted to learn to draw but thought you had to have the talent, but guess what I can draw now and much more than stick figures. With the live lessons I have tried most of the mediums and have found that I don’t paint as much as I used to, I think my favorite now is colored pencil, and graphite. Not sure about the pastels but they are going to get some more tries. And some of the others that I now still shy away from. Thanks for the live lessons and for all that you have taught me. Can’t wait for a new medium that peaks my interest.

  2. Oh Dear! I am just the opposite. I want to do it all! I did concentrate on 3 dimensional art for a long time. But I was painting in pastel. Drawing and using Acrylics. Still haven’t tried Oils. But recently began to experiment with Gouache and watercolor.
    But not picking a specialty has had its downside too. I can’t develop a particular “style”. There is nothing to distinguish my work as particularly my own. I seem to change style depending on the subject and the mood that I am in when I begin a work. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. I do know that it has allowed me to produce a work that someone wants in a certain style to suit their likes. But at the same time I feel that I have no special distinction. I see other’s art and if I see another I know that it is done by that artist. You can’t tell that with my works.

  3. Thanks Matt for this post as I like you I’m more into black and white, graphite mainly so far, just because I just love black and white pencil drawings, i love black and white photos as well so this is maybe why.

    But since finding you and your wonderful art site, I’ve dabbled in a bit of charcoal practice which was your lesson in charcoal in secrets/drawing.
    And I did do a practice in pastels not coloured though black and white pastels but I liked the feel of drawing with charcoal and pastels and I have also done one coloured drawing pencil drawing of dolphins so I have now branched out and want to.learn more about pastels and charcoal and coloured pencils.

    I’m.going to do your coloured pencil course and the pastel landscapes :-).
    One thing I don’t want to do is paint, just never had the fancy for it but doing pastels can look like a painting and that interests me a lot 🙂

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