Saturday, August 23, 2014

Trends in Painting Media

I was just curious, so I checked on Google Trends to compare relative search volumes for different painting media. 

People search least often for the word "gouache,"(in blue) along the bottom. "Oil paint" (in yellow) and "acrylic paint" (in green) are two or three times more popular than gouache. Acrylic passed up oil in popularity about three years ago. 

Interest in "Plein air" (in  blue purple) appears to be very seasonal, spiking in the warm months.

"Watercolor" far surpasses the others. It sagged a few years ago, but it's rising steadily. The search volume may not translate directly to the popularity of the art medium. The spike at the red letter "K" is tied to a popular article about digital printing watercolors on fabric. The letter "B" aligns with a story about a photo-to-watercolor app.

Casein painting didn't register at all—which is one of the reasons I love it.

Edit--Here's a graph of the usage of those terms as printed in books in the English language courtesy the Google Ngram Viewer. (thanks, Piers!) The graph may be a little misleading because it only tracks the frequency of the use of those particular words or phrases. Oil is just assumed most of the time people write about painting.


Hayley Fortner said...

Looks like "plein air" is actually purple. Interesting graph, I love seeing terms laid out like this.

Clyde Steadman said...

It is interesting that watercolor is so much more popular than oil, given that my (anecdotal) experience is that collectors and galleries are more interested in oil.

Luca said...

Plain air has a cyclic trend: maybe because of the seasons? When nice weather arrive in the northern emisphere, many people start searching for "how to do plain air paintings" ? interesting, anyway! :)

Dan said...

Observations of a newbie:

I liked what you said in your new video: Watercolor is the most approachable painting medium, but also one of the most difficult. When I started painting, I went straight to watercolor.

Later I tried oils, which turned out to be far easier to control, but they seem to require so much more preparation and cleanup next to watercolors, and there is more of a learning curve. Watercolors are portable and make it easy to just start painting. Plus, the experience is (to me) very gratifying, even if it's less controlled.

Personally, I've stayed away from acrylics because of the worries over keeping them from drying in your brushes and on your palette, plus I like the look of oils better, and oils don't tend to change color when drying like acrylics.

I found Casein to be a lovely, creamy medium--like painting with whipped cream. The experience was satisfying--more so than with acrylics, for me anyway. But the other problems of acrylics remain--drying time, risk to brushes, etc.

Gouache is like watercolor--more approachable. It's also easier to find gouache. I've often wondered why gouache isn't more popular, because it has the approachability of watercolor, but the opacity, and it's compatible with watercolor. You can even make watercolors opaque by mixing them with white gouache. But it doesn't really blend very well, which may be its big shortcoming, and why it's niche seems to be more in design.

Pastels are one of my all-time favorite mediums for the look of them and the tactile experience of painting with them. And they would be very approachable if not for the fact that it seems you need every color in a range of 4-6 values, which makes for a lot of pastels.

All in all, the two most practical seem to be oils and watercolors. Nothing beats the portability of watercolors, and they are the medium I'm currently most interested in, because since I'm still really learning to draw, I tend to do line-and-wash type sketches with waterproof ink and watercolors. For an opaque medium, a few tubes of oil color and a pochade box with a small pre-prepared panel makes a nice portable setup, and it is obviously about the most popular way (over the last few centuries) of doing studio paintings and large panels.

I've never tried egg tempura, but Wyeth made incredible paintings with it.


Rich said...

Interesting statistics.
Was just wondering why they wouldn't include those virtual paint-shops.

Karen Eade said...

Watercolour is really plugged by magazines heavily, at least in the UK, it is a much cheaper medium to get into for a beginner than any other and there isn't the same mystique or smoke and mirrors or just plain snobbery around it that there is with oils. Also, it is much less messy. I never did get on with it, though. Too much of a control freak!
Regarding casein, I realise the UK is probably too small to influence Google's trend stats, but the stuff is unobtainable here. I imported mine at vast expense in shipping and tax from Dick Blick, because I wanted to know what you were on about. I like it. Funny smell though.

benedict1 said...

You got me interested in casein and I now use it in almost every transparent watercolor I do of dogs and outdoor scenes, fishing and hunting. I am about to try a couple of paintings on acrylic primed canvas board ala oil techniques.

babangada r said...

4 years ago, i showed up at the IMC with the old bunch of caseins inherited from my artist mother (and fluffed up with a few new tubes) and NO ONE knew what they were except Ian Macaig. I was surprised that more people hadn't. at least heard of them as they were a main medium for many illustrators prior to acrylics. They make beautiful subtle matt colors.

Mark Martel said...

Nobody can spell or pronounce gouache, casein or plein air so that might affect search attempts. Most artists and all of the public don't know what they are. I try to explain gouache as opaque watercolor but it's more effective to say it's like tempera. Everyone used that in grade school.

They all have their uses and drawbacks. I gre up on acrylic and never found that hard to control or keep my brushes in shape. Alkyds anyone?

Piers said...

Interesting! Here's a graph of the relative frequency of different paints in the english corpus from 1800. Gouache spikes in the last two decades of the 1800s but it's been all watercolor, all the time since the 1940s.

Ruben said...

I am probably to account for about 50% of the gouache searches. There is so little written about it but your videos and blog posts have been very helpful. Some of Jeff Watts' workshops are really great to.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Karen: I agree! I think there's a kind of romantic notion about watercolour as a 'proper' artist's medium (complete with smock-clad afficionados perched on a folding stool behind a small easel, surveying some pastoral landscape. Not to say there's anything wrong with that ;)), but with a greater accessibility than oils - which tend to have a large-canvas gallery-hanging old-masters impression about them. Well, in my head anyway.

I have to say that childhood memories of painting enamels on model kits, necessarily messing about with smelly, toxic thinners, also made me very wary about oils when I started to branch out in my painting. Not to mention the drying times. Although I have started to dabble, recently.

I've also been put off watercolour, though. I find it very difficult to control, or needing _too much_ control, especially in planning. I'm working on that too! But it means my paint of choice for years has been acrylic. Like Mark, I've 'grown up' on it, so I'm used to it's foibles and don't see them as starkly as someone viewing them from the perspective of oil or watercolour techniques and norms. Maybe that'll change as I go on.

(I've seen something similar: oven-bake polymer clay modellers balking at the limited working window of epoxy putty or clay [like the magic sculp James has mentioned recently]. But that's the kind of thing I started modelling with, and I struggle to get used to the properties and techniques of polymer clay!)

I agree it's a bit depressing that casein paints are so scarce in the UK. There are one or two online shops selling Pelikan plaka, but I've dithered (and forgotten) about them for too long. Now, with Royal Mail's inspired restrictions on paint in parcels, it might be just as easy to follow your example and order direct from the US.

Mark: before I started watching James' videos I pronounced it 'goo-ash'! Here in the UK young kids use tempera too, but it's usually called poster paint. In fact, I have a few old pots of cheap-ish paint here, labelled 'gouache poster colour'. It almost seems like an attempt to bridge the gap.

Karen Thumm said...

I'd be curious to know what percentage of artists and what percentage of non artists (collectors?) searched for each medium.

I know that watercolors are very popular with artists right now, at least around my area they are. But how popular are they with the buying public? And as compared to other paint media?

Eric Rhoads said...

Happily its great news that we added watercolor tracks to the plein air convention (pastel too.) and this year we have UK watercolor artist Jean Haines on stage. Based on this search research. (but we also have top oil, acrylic, pastel artists teaching as well). We also just added watercolor and pastel sections in our Plein Air Salon $21,000 competition. Whew. Great timing!

Its interesting about Plein Air. The movement is huge, yet it is still not on the radar of the average person. I'm addressing that issue in the next issue of PleinAir magazine.

James you are doing a wonderful service to all of us with your informative blogs! Great job.