Art for Beginners: How to pick a creative medium (Acrylic, Oil, Watercolour & Graphite Pencils)

Welcome back to the Joyous Misfit blog!

Today, something a little more technical and practical. We’ll be going through some of the most common art mediums, breaking them down, taking a look at who they suit and why, and what kind of resources you’ll need to get started.

How do I pick a medium?

It seems like a bit of a scary question - like you have to pick one and stick to it - but that’s not the case at all. Like writers often drift between genres, artists can be as fluid as they like. Oftentimes, artists use a couple of different mediums or materials (this is called mixed media) to create textured pieces, or because different mediums do different jobs.

In this blog post, we’ll be talking about acrylic, watercolour, oil and graphite pencils - but there are thousands of different mediums and techniques out there, and if there’s one you’re particularly interested in, comment it below and I’ll either get back to you personally or try to include it in a future blog post! ❤


If the Wild Woman was a medium, she'd be acrylic. Loud and unapologetic, vibrant charms dangling from her ears, her hair, her fingers, she catches your eye effortlessly and holds the whole room’s attention.

Acrylic is a medium I love to use. It’s easy to paint with, easy to mix and glides across the canvas. Acrylic paint comes in a kaleidoscope of colours, which can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for or what your palette will look like, but gives you such freedom of expression and creation - which, to us artists, is incredibly important. It can also come in different thickness levels, which is great to know if you’re going to create a piece that requires a lot of layering or texture.

Acrylic pieces are often completed on a canvas, which you can find for just a few £ in places like The Works if you’re practising, or you can find high-quality canvases when you’ve built your confidence.

Acrylic is somewhat fast to dry on a base level - faster than oils, slower than watercolours - but, overall, you’ll want to leave a canvas piece for a couple of weeks before selling or handling it.

Some artists use Acrylic as an undercoat for a painting they know will contain a lot of detail, and then use oil paints over the top for the detailing, blending and finer areas. Acrylic is also great for mixed media pieces - because it’s so versatile, it can be used with different textures or materials, like this stunning piece I created using acrylic, golden spray paint and a satin varnish to give it that beautiful sheen:

Image of an acrylic painting of a golden meadow as the sun sets by Emma Rigarlsford, Joyous Misfit.

Golden Autumn

Who is it for?

Acrylic is forgiving - you can easily fix (or hide!) any ‘mistakes’ or parts you don’t want to see with another layer, or easy manipulation of the paint. It’s hugely varied, and can come in the most vibrant rainbow of colours if you’re a colourful person like me. Don’t be scared to get messy or experimental with acrylic, too - it can be washed out of most clothing, and can be scrubbed from surfaces with enough elbow grease! Get your hands in it, grab old sponges and pieces of cloth to create strokes brushes couldn’t, get loud, get emotional, and let it all out onto the canvas.

If you’re looking for a fun way to channel your emotions that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg for materials, or a way to create brilliantly beautiful pieces that are only limited by your imagination, then acrylic is for you!


If watercolour was a person, she’d be the barefoot goddess that lives in the cottage at the edge of the village - herbs and spices hanging like streamers from her rafters, sage and incense burning, and soft, flowy dresses dancing in the breeze - an independent free-thinker, hard to pin down and control.

It’s beautiful, is what I’m trying to say.

Watercolour can, however, be quite finicky. Watercolour art is beautiful and delicate, but that means it requires a steady hand. It’s more difficult to control than some other mediums - you have to use specialised watercolour paper, and it dries quickly if you don’t keep the paper wet, meaning you don’t have much time to make changes. Don’t let this discourage you, though - if watercolours are calling you, never be afraid to pick up a paintbrush and try, because it can give you the best feeling of satisfaction when you finish a piece. If you just need encouragement and guidance, I offer tailored-to-you 1:1 sessions that’ll leave you confident and excited to start your first proper piece.

With watercolour, you can control the thickness of the paint - the more watered down it is, the more translucent and almost ethereal it’ll be. The less watered down, the stronger and brighter the colours are.

Watercolour can be used for realism very effectively if your palette is harmonious, but can also create some stunning abstract pieces. Use water-soluble graphite pencils for outlines or shapes, as they’ll dissolve with the water. If you don’t have those, use 9H to 5H graphite pencils for your sketched outlines, because they’re fine and leave very light marks that watercolour can easily hide. If your pencil is any darker, you risk your outline being visible.

It’s especially good for glass or reflection pieces, or aquatic pieces - it can easily replicate the movement and the texture of water and how things move and swim, like this deceptively easy piece I often walk through with my students on my popular aquatic watercolour class, or this beautiful 'parent and child' watercolour piece I created:

Image of Colourful Zebras, a rainbow watercolour painting with parent and child zebras kissing by artist Emma Rigarlsford, Joyous Misfit.

Colourful Zebras

Who is it for?

Known to be incredibly calming and rejuvenating, watercolour is where you should go if you need to make your mind quiet. It’s great for relieving anxiety and stress, helps you settle a busy mind and breathe.

You don’t have to be some world-famous artist to paint a watercolour, (or paint anything