The Art of Painting

Painting is the art of applying pigments to a solid surface, often using a brush or other implement. Historically, it has been used as a means of communication and expression. The subject matter of a painting may vary widely, from portraits and landscapes to still lifes and abstract compositions. Throughout history, paintings have been a significant part of the culture of both Western and Eastern societies.

The art of painting encompasses a variety of techniques and mediums, from tempera to acrylic paints, from watercolours to gouache and encaustics. The selection of the supports (canvas, panel, paper, wood), and the choice of a style (fresco, ink, watercolour, oil, spray or airbrush), as well as the artist’s skill, all contribute to realizing a work of art. Earlier cultural traditions-of tribes, religions, guilds, and royal courts-largely controlled the craft, form, imagery, subject matter, and symbolism of paintings, which served ritualistic or decorative purposes, or functioned as a way to record events or history. However, the notion of the ‘fine’ painter developed in Asia and Renaissance Europe, when artists were given the social status of scholars and courtiers and granted more freedom of artistic expression.

As early as 25,000 years ago, people were using pigments to decorate their dwellings and weapons. These were usually ochres and other earthy colours, mixed with a binding agent like egg or animal fat. Around this time, painters started to paint on rock surfaces and, in later times, on paper and cloth such as canvas. In the fifteenth century, artists began to use linseed oil, a revolution in the flexibility and durability of paint that enabled them to develop a range of styles not seen before.

When painting, it is important to use a good quality paint that is compatible with the surface you are working on. It is also advisable to apply several thin coats of paint, rather than one thick layer. This helps to achieve better textures and light effects. It is possible to add texture to a painting by scratching or stippling the surface. This can be done with a palette knife, the end of a brush or even a fingernail.

Another technique to try is flicking or splattering the paint onto the canvas. This is a technique that was popularised by Jackson Pollock, an abstract expressionism artist. The results of this can be very interesting and can produce a sense of spontaneity in the final piece.

Vermeer is a master of the use of light in his paintings. The dappled light falling on Clio’s face and robe captures the softness of her skin and contrasts with the sharper, more geometrical form of her hat. The effect is enhanced by the reflections on the table and the chandelier. Salvador Dali referred to this painting in his own surrealist work, The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used as a Table.