Art Forms Every First Time Art Buyer Should Know

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Art Forms Every First Time Art Buyer Should Know

Buying art is practically an art form unto itself. You want a nice array of works and pieces that bring you joy, but also represent the many different art forms that art takes. If you are a first time art buyer, you probably are already aware of at least two art forms, but you should really get to know the rest. Each form brings its own unique perspective and its own unique way of appreciating art.


Painting is divided into several subcategories, as well as paintings applied to two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms. For most collectors and buyers of art, it just depends on what you like best. The subcategories of paintings include:

  • Oil: Oil paint typically contains linseed oil or some variant of organic oil as the vehicle for the paint.
  • Acrylic: As the name suggests, the paint is essentially “plastic” or acrylic in its base material. Pigments are suspended in a semi-liquid compound containing acrylic polymers.
  • Watercolor: Dry pigments are suspended in water and applied in layered “washes” of color, usually to paper, although some artists may paint with a heavier hand and apply watercolor to canvas.
  • Gouache: Gouache is technically watercolor, except that the paint has a thicker, creamier consistency and can be used directly from the tube like an acrylic or oil. It can easily be thinned for washes with water.
  • Oil or Chalk Pastels: A lot of artists don’t always consider pastels a “painting” media, but because they are applied in layers and can be thinned with turpentine or other artist’s thinning liquids, they can create fascinating painted effects.
  • Mixed Media: Two or more of the aforementioned types of painting media are combined to create a painting.

Artists can paint on paper, canvas, linen, wooden board, or any other two-dimensional surface that has been adequately primed for the type of paint an artist uses. These are two-dimensional painting supports. Artists may also utilize three-dimensional painting supports either crafted by themselves or borrowed from other art forms.

Clay Sculpture

Clay sculpture is a separate but related form to pottery. In this form, the artist takes blocks of clay and transforms them into sculptures using tools to cut away bits of clay. He or she molds the clay with his/her fingers, and sometimes adds molded forms of clay to the sculpture. For the most part, it is clay, although some artists might add other non-clay objects to the piece. The clay sculpture is fired in a kiln like most clay pieces in order to solidify the clay and turn it into a work of art that will last a long time.


Pottery is what a lot of non-artist types associate with clay. This is clay thrown on the potter’s wheel, and usually the potter/artist creates plates, cups, bowls, pitchers, vases, urns, and other useful pieces. However, some sculptures in clay have been thrown on a potter’s wheel as well. You should also know that “pottery” or “ceramics” are two words that are often used interchangeably to describe works in clay but they don’t necessarily apply to every work made from clay.

Metal Sculpture

Metal sculpture is literally any sculpture made from metals. The artist may melt and transform metals into shapes, or weld different existing metal pieces into a sculptured form. It is a unique and potentially dangerous means of making art because the forges and metalworking tools can cause significant injuries. With that fact alone one has to respect the work of a metal sculptor.


There are almost a dozen types of drawing media. Depending on the artist’s preference and/or how the drawing medium lends itself well to the subject matter of the artist, any one of them might be used. Like painting, it could also be a mixed media piece, incorporating several types of drawing media.

Here’s the short list of common drawing media:

  • Pencil
  • Colored pencil
  • Pen and ink
  • Conte crayon (which isn’t crayon, but hard chalk)
  • Pastels (again, they can cross over into painting media)
  • Markers or watercolor ink pens
  • Chalk (which is very different from pastels)

To determine what you are looking at when you view a drawing in a gallery, you can always read the card next to the work. However, it is better to become skilled at recognizing each artist’s materials by looking at the work up close first. Every medium has its own special consistency and texture that will tell you exactly what you are looking at.

Collage and Decoupage

Collages are cut pieces of paper, photographs, pictures, etc., used to create an artwork. The pieces are glued to a support, such as canvas or board. Similarly to collage is decoupage.

Decoupage is a word taken from the French that literally translated means “of cuttings.” Cut pieces like the ones used for a collage are also used for decoupage. The main difference is that decoupage may also involve gold leafing and several layers of varnish to preserve the cut images on the support structure to which the “cuttings” are glued. In some instances, the layers of varnish in decoupage are the glue and no extra glue is needed.

Photographs (Including Digitally Altered Images)

Most photographs are now digitally produced. However, some photographers adhere to older photographic processes that still create pictures in a dark room. Either way, the results create amazing visual pieces that take a snapshot of something you may never see again. These images frozen in time preserve things that generations several decades from now may never see. That is the startling reality of photographic art.

Glass Art

Glass art includes mosaics, one of the oldest forms of art in the world. It also includes glassblowing and stained glass panels, both of which are as old as the discovery of glassmaking itself. Glass artists are similar to metal and clay sculptors in that they spend days in a hot studio cutting, coloring, melting, cooking, and adhering their medium together to get just the perfect piece. The famous glass artist, Chihuly, is an example of an incredible glassmaker.