Painting Styles through Time

When talking about “the style” of an art painting, one usually refers to the materials and colors used in the works. However, specific genres of paintings are advised to be done in specific styles. For example, portraits of generals, kings and noblemen are usually in oil on canvas/panel, while the depiction of maidens or regular people in an alley could be suitable to be painted in pastel, watercolor and other styles. It all depends on how the artist behind the work wants the image to stand out. It takes skill and experience to choose the right style for reproducing one’s imagination accurately. Moreover, the vast range of painting materials today can make the choice a cumbersome one for novices.

Here are the main art painting colors (styles) used extensively throughout history:

Oil (oil on wood/ oil on canvas)

During the earlier part of the second millennium, painters had already explored hard painting surfaces. Wooden panels, canvases and other materials were becoming popular owing to the refinement in paints over the centuries. Linseed oil, the basic ingredient in oil paint, became extractable on a large scale, and various materials such as splined canvas were becoming more user-friendly. This became possible when the canvas pieces were coated with rabbit skin oil. Today the canvases are possible to be prepared using a wooden frame to first stretch the canvas, and later coating it with animal-oil solutions.

he Alchemist by Tenaya Sims

Wax (encaustic painting)

Painters use hot beeswax, which is produced by bees, on canvas and wooden surfaces. The style is associated with mellow overtones, especially when artists feel it can be effective for certain portraits, sceneries and still life subjects. This is one of the oldest painting styles, dating back to the times of Christ. However, it has survived contemporary years, especially with the presence of Fritz Faiss (19th Century wax painter). The beeswax color products are available from painting specialties, and they are mixed with color pigments. At the same time, different bottles can have different melting points for the wax inside.


Known as opaque watercolor, this art painting color is miscible in water. Painters use it to achieve different degrees of opacity, which is verifiable once the paint has dried. The surfaces used for this paint include wood, canvas and hemp paper. The colors in earlier gouache paintings used to include painting with oil colors on a tempera binder.


With the use of egg or tempera colors, painters in Italy enjoyed the technology of fresco painting quite early in the day. They were able to find lime plaster bases patronized by the nobility and art partisans since the pre-1000 A.D. era. Most frescoes in Italy depict mythological events or religious celebrations.

Mary’s Presentation in the Temple by Paolo Uccello

Watercolor (aquarelle)

This is the most basic approach to painting a subject, although often disowned in public practice by artists. However, this style of paining is the most suitable for small frames, postcards and paper bases. Brushes used in this style are distinctively thinner than in all other formats.

Karleksnymf by Anders Zorn

Spray painting

Although popularized mainly through graffiti, spray painting was originally developed to meet tight deadlines in the construction industry. However, the introduction of the aerosol cans came more than 50 years later in 1949, giving rise to new style of spray art painting.