What’s a Medium?

Terminology & Why Mediums Matter

I recently met a local artist and asked her, “what medium do you use?” she looked at me blankly then asked, “What is a medium?” Since this conversation, I’ve asked a few of my friends if they know what a medium is, or if they know what mixed media or multimedia, means. A couple of them did, but most of them guessed a kind of definition. So let’s play a game of definitions!

A medium is the substance with which you make art. Mediums can really be almost anything. In ancient days, mediums were crushed berries, dyes, octopus ink, blood, and other natural resources. Today, common mediums are acrylics, oils, watercolors, or whatever the art is “made of.” Mediums today range from food products, trash, wood, to different kinds of paints or glitter. Some artists get really creative and gross with their mediums, like Vincent Castiglia, who paints with his own blood. I don’t recommend mediums like that 😛 Whatever the art is made of is its medium. So if you asked, what medium did Monet paint in? The answer would be oils. He applied that medium to canvas.


Good, so do you feel like you understand what a medium is? Great. Now that you understand a medium, mixed media, or multimedia really is just putting two and two together.

Mixed media and multimedia are the same thing, just different names. So don’t get confused if someone uses one term over the other, they both mean that there is more than one medium used to create the piece. If there is only one medium like Oils, then the piece is just called an oil. For example, I am a mixed media artist. I paint with acrylics, but I inlay gold leaf into most of my pieces. If my pieces were just acrylic, then they wouldn’t be mixed media, but since I add the gold leaf they are classified as multimedia. More than one medium is used to create them.

Mixed media pieces can have many different materials used, it is important to keep in mind that art is a chemical reaction. If you get a lot of mediums on a piece like, mixing oils and acrylics for example, you might have break down over time. The paints won’t blend the way you envision them. That is because different mediums have different chemical components. Oils are (you guessed it) based chemically on oils. Acrylics are chemically based on water. And we all know what happens when oil and water mix. So before you start spray painting, hot gluing, oiling, watercoloring, or bleeding your way to a mixed media masterpiece, make sure you understand the chemical components of your mediums to make sure they can be safely and beautifully used together.

There is your quick run down of mediums and understanding what mixed and multimedia means. Let me know if you have any painting related questions and I’ll write it up for you!


  1. This post was so information, and I was happy to know that I DID know what a medium is, despite the fact that I’m terrible at creating art with any medium like paint or pencils! If you count film as a medium, I’m good. haha

  2. This is such an informative article! I never knew mixed media and multimedia meant the same thing. And super interesting that some artists use a variety of mediums, even their own blood!!

  3. Chrisitne……I have been working on some decopauge boxes…and I ran out of a sepia colored decopauge medium..they no longer make that product…..would sepia colored ink work to color my glue medium

    1. Author

      Hi Toni! why to get creative with your medium! 🙂 I think thats a great idea adding ink to your glue as long as your glue dries clear. You might need to do a few tests to figure out how many drops for so many ounces of glue gets you the desired color, but you might even like the custom approach better than the premade sepia decoupage! 🙂

  4. Thank you! I was almost sure I knew this but asked Siri to be sure before I put ink to pen, as I wanted to comment on the Artist’s piece and reference his choice of medium, but I questioned the word (& it’s spelling) in my head. I thought is the correct word really M e d i u m? The good Ol’ English language, same word, spelling & pronunciation BUT totally different meanings! I think of words that have multiply meanings like seal or beam or nurse and many others! 😂lol so I totally overthought this word, Thanks again for the clarification!

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