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The art world can be a mysterious one. If you learn a little bit about the various media and materials used, you can take some of the mystery out of collecting art.

Here are some easy art terms to aid the novice:

Oil: Paint made with natural oils (linseed, walnut, etc.) used as a binder with the color or pigment. Oil paint can be applied onto canvas, paper, wood panel, or linen support.


Acrylic: A synthetic (not natural) resin that dries faster than oil paint and binds the resin with the color or pigment.


Tempera: An age-old water-based paint using egg yolks as a binding agent. American master Andrew Wyeth was best known for reviving this Renaissance technique during the 1900s.


Watercolor: Similar to gouache but without the addition of gum. Water is mixed with ground color or pigment. The result is a lighter-weight surface texture on paper.


Gouache: Similar to watercolor but with the addition of gum and water to the ground color or pigment. The result is a heavier surface texture on paper.


When it comes to collecting works of art, the material or medium matters, but it is not the only aspect that will affect market interest, collectability, and value. A watercolor can be as costly and as sought-after as an oil on canvas, depending on the work’s artist, age, condition, subject matter, quality, and other factors.

While oil paintings are most traditional and oil paint is one of the oldest methods used by studio artists, acrylic has become widely accepted by collectors of 20th-century paintings and contemporary artists.

Acrylic paint enjoyed widespread use in the late 1900s and continues to be used today by artists internationally. Oil paints were introduced in the early 1500s and were used with impressive results by the northern European artists of the time.

Tempera paint dates back to the Renaissance period (1400s) and beforehand. It was commonly applied to wooden panels and board and later on canvas and linen supports too.

Watercolors and gouaches are difficult to master and attract many artists and collectors. The delicacy with which these compositions are executed remains of interest to many collectors in various subjects.

Whatever medium you collect, be sure to review the artist’s credentials, sales records, condition, exhibition record (museum status), and subject matter as you build your collection.


Dr. Lori Verderame is an author and award-winning TV personality who appears on History channel’s The Curse of Oak Island. With a Ph.D. from Penn State University and experience appraising 20,000 antiques every year, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide. Visit or call (888) 431-1010.

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