Visual Art: Materials & Tools

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  • 0:03 Visual Art
  • 0:27 Drawing & Painting
  • 2:19 Clay & Pottery
  • 3:06 Glass
  • 4:08 Sculpture
  • 4:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever painted a picture with watercolors or made a monster out of modeling clay? Visual artists use all kinds of equipment and work with a variety of materials, some of which we'll discuss in this lesson.

Visual Art

People have made art for thousands of years using all kinds of materials and tools. Early art forms included prehistoric cave paintings and ancient Greek pottery. While materials and methods have changed over time as new inventions and technologies emerge, the basic drive to create is the same. In this lesson, we'll discuss some basic tools and materials used to make art.

Drawing and Painting

Visual artists draw by making marks on two-dimensional surfaces, such as those made with pencils on paper. Artists also draw with charcoal, made from black pigments and binders (substances that hold the pigments in place). Visual artists also draw with pastels (multicolored pigments in a soft binder), colored pencils, and graphite. Some also use a silverpoint, a delicate instrument used to create precise lines on coated paper. Drawing papers include those made from different materials of varying thicknesses. Artists also draw on fabric, slate, or other surfaces.

When visual artists paint, they use a colorful liquid or gel-like substance (a combination of pigment and binder). The binder is what sets acrylic, encaustic (or wax), oil, and watercolor paints apart. Watercolors have a transparent, water-soluble binder, while oil paints have an oil-binder that allows for slower drying time. Acrylic paints have a plastic binder that dries to form a flexible paint skin.

Almost all painters use some kind of paintbrush, and there are many kinds from which to choose. Brushes, made of natural or artificial bristles attached to a metal or wood handle, come in many sizes and shapes, from fat and blocky to small delicate liners. Painters also work with palette knives (flat, metal, rounded blades used to push paint around), squeeze bottles, and even their fingers.

Painters often work on a stretched canvas, or fabric-like canvas or linen prepared and pulled tight over a wooden frame), or hardwood panels. Artists who draw and paint may use an easel, a stand for supporting a canvas or similar material, or displaying finished work. Easels are often made of wood or metal and must be durable and adjustable.

Clay and Pottery

For thousands of years, visual artists used natural clay dug up from the earth. Today, they have many other options. Modeling clay is oil-based and does not dry out. Polymer clay is made of colored polyvinyl chloride (or PVC plastic) and other substances. It can be baked in a home oven. Some clays are specifically used on a pottery wheel, where potters throw or manipulate clay by hand or with shaping tools while the wheel spins, to make vases, bowls, and other items.

As the wheel turns, potters use metal and wooden tools and points to cut and make lines in the objects. Potters then bake and dry the forms in a kiln, a high temperature oven that gets much, much hotter than your kitchen oven.

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