The Basics of Painting


Throughout human history, painting has been a part of our culture. From cave paintings, to religious and decorative art, to modern day digital artwork, painting is a way for artists to express their emotions and ideas. It can be used to represent an event, a natural scene or an abstract idea. It can also be an expression of our moral values.

In the early days of painting, pigments were sourced from plant, mineral and animal sources. As time went on, the range of pigments was expanded to include modern synthetic colours. The early twentieth century saw a massive resurgence in chemistry and the invention of inert pigment. These colourless pigments are especially suitable for creating large areas of flat saturated colour. They can hide any ground color and give the illusion of movement and control.

Tones are the relative degree of lightness or darkness that a colour has. Tones in a painting may be expressed through a system of notated tonal values, but more often the hue of a colour serves as a descriptive element. Many of the early and classical styles of representational painting use the local hues of the subject. In general, blue is a cooler colour than red or yellow. But this difference is dependent on the range of colours in the design.

Linear design is a composition of implied alignments of shapes across a picture. This is usually based on the edges of tone masses. These shapes usually dominate the design. However, a formal interplay of shapes and colours can create optical sensations of space, tension and volume.

Achieving the illusion of depth in a painting is usually achieved by using a thick, loaded brush. In the case of watercolours, this is a spontaneous process. In the case of oilpainting, it is a more controlled approach. The artist can rework sections of the painting indefinitely. During the Renaissance, oil was the dominant medium in Western art.

The optical tendency for warm colours to advance has been exploited by Asian painters. Green will appear warmer than blue-green, for example. In modern painting, squares and circles tend to dominate. Oval and lozenge shapes suggest stability and protection. In narrative painting, they often surround vulnerable figures.

Colour is one of the most expressive elements in a painting. As with any visual language, colour is used to describe the subject, to enhance its meaning or to reinforce its expressive effect. The range of pigments available today allows for a full spectrum of colour. The chemists of the early twentieth century developed a way to make strong industrial paints. These paints are now known as acrylics. The term “painting” has become ambiguous, though. The definition of painting has shifted as a result of the rise of digital art. The term painting has been conflated with other forms of art, such as sculpture, drawing and sculptural collage.

The earliest works of painting are thought to date back 40,000 years. In the Middle East, for instance, the earliest surviving examples are cave paintings. These depict scenes of nature, animals, and spiritual significance. During the Neolithic period, paintings began to decline because of the development of agriculture and society. This was followed by the emergence of a more controlled form of painting, called Neoclassical.