Technique Tuesday: Surfaces

Technique Tuesday surfaces

Today’s Technique Tuesday post is going to take a look at an aspect of art creation that many art appreciators easily forget–the surface under the paint!

Surfaces collage

Here we have pictured just a few examples of the many different types of surfaces fine artists use to create their artwork. These are several of the most common–canvas, wood, masonite, paper, copper, aluminum, vellum–but there is truly an astounding variety out there when it comes to different artists’ preferred surfaces. They can all be divided into two basic categories: rigid (wood, panel, metal) and flexible (canvas, paper, vellum) materials.

Many different factors go into the choice an artist makes for what surface they wish to paint on. The type of paint, the aesthetics of the surface texture, the absorbency of the material, the “tooth” (the amount of surface texture), the stability, the longevity, and even the light permeability of a material may all play a part in the decision.

Early on in the history of art, the most commonly used surfaces for painting were rigid surfaces like stone and most especially, wood. Wood made for an especially good surface to paint on during the Middle Ages in Europe, when paintings were often created to be used as altarpieces, and wood could be fashioned into a nice multi-panel altarpiece, sometimes with hinges to allow it to open and close, as in the center example here:

Panel Collage

(left to right) Boy from Al-Fayum, 2nd century encaustic painting on wood; “Ghent Altarpiece” 1432 painting on 12 wood panels by Jan Van Eyck; “Mona Lisa,” 1503-1506 oil on poplar panel by Leonardo da Vinci

Many factors played a part in the popularization of canvas toward the latter years of the Renaissance. The fact that canvas was lighter, more portable, relatively affordable, and stood up better than wood to time and damp environments all quickly made it a very popular choice among artists for centuries to come. It became a particularly handy material due to its portability by the time plein air painting (painting on location outdoors) became popular in the 19th century. Here’s an example, from Impressionist painter Claude Monet:


Claude Monet, “Poppies” 1873, oil on canvas

There are many varieties of canvas used today, such as hemp, cotton, linen, and flax, and within these categories are also varying degrees of quality, stiffness, and tooth. If you ask ten different artists what their favorite type of canvas is, you might very well get ten different answers! Personal preference plays a large role in the choice of canvas, but as with most painting surfaces, the most important aspect is to prime the surface well (usually with a gesso-type material).

While wood panels and stretched canvas are the two most commonly seen surfaces used for painting throughout art history, there have also been many other materials experimented with, many of which are becoming more and more popular with today’s artists, who have a wide variety to choose from.


(left to right) Rembrandt van Rijn, “Self Portrait,” oil on copper, 1630; Andre Derain, “Maurice de Vlaminck,” oil on cardboard, 1906; Joan Miro, “Painting,” oil on masonite, 1936

These “other” surfaces range from metals like copper and aluminum, to pressed boards like cardboard and masonite, to more obscure surfaces like glass and plastic. Each surface has its pros and cons, both in regards to how it “takes” the paint as well as how it stands the test of time, but once again it all really comes down to the personal preferences of the artist, and you’ll find excellent pieces of artwork created on all kinds of surfaces.

The International Guild of Realism 10th Annual Juried Exhibition, currently hanging here at the gallery, features 91 paintings and drawings by 81 different artists, and it’s a really great example of the variety of materials and surfaces that fine artists use to create their incredible artworks. Here are a few great examples from the show illustrating the variety of surfaces included, but if you haven’t seen the whole show yet, be sure to check it out, either at the gallery on on our website here!

Diane Davich Craig-Ride 'Em High-30X24-oil on panel72

Diane Davich Craig, “Ride ‘Em High”, oil on panel



Beth Sistrunk, “Time Lapse”, oil on three acrylic panels

Lorena Kloosterboer -Autumn Sun II - 8 x 8 - Acrylic on Aluminum Panel72

Lorena Kloosterboer, “Autumn Sun II” acrylic on aluminum panel

Josh Tiessen-Streams in the wasteland - Harbinger - 24x15-oil72

Josh Tiessen, “Streams in the Wasteland: Harbinger”, oil on braced birch

Nadia Lazizi - Spirit - 14 x 9 - Oil on Linen72

Nadia Lazizi, “Spirit”, oil on linen


Technique Tuesdays: Arbitrary Color

Technique Tuesday arbitrary color


What is it?

Arbitrary color refers to a choice of color in an artwork that has no basis in the realistic appearance of the object depicted (think purple cows, yellow sky, pink sun, etc.). When painting, many artists choose their colors with the intention to portray the realistic appearance of their subject. However, sometimes an artist will change up the colors of what they are depicting, often with an emotional or expressive significance, but sometimes for the pure sake of playing with color!

Examples from art history:

Arbitrary color is widely seen in today’s art, from all areas of the world, but the Europeans were a bit later to join in with the use of it. Arbitrary color was not commonly seen in Western fine art until the 19th century, but it has certainly appeared in the art of many other areas of the world for a long time, with Aboriginal art, Mesoamerican art, and Asian art serving as only a few examples. As European artists began to broaden their spheres of influence, painters like Paul Gauguin were greatly inspired by the bold use of color found in Asian art, such as the brightly colored woodblock prints of ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai from 18th century Japan.

Hokusai collage

Katsushika Hokusai woodblock prints: “Waterfalls in All Provinces” (left); “Landscape with Two Falconers” (middle); print from series “One Hundred Poems” (Right)

Gauguin’s work began to reflect the influence of Japanese art like that of Hokusai, and works like his painting “The Vision After the Sermon” mark the introduction of the arbitrary color trend into European art.


Paul Gauguin, “The Vision After the Sermon”

As it took a foothold in European art, the use of arbitrary color appeared more frequently, particularly in the brightly colored works of the Fauvist movement, as well as the Expressionists. Picasso’s famous “Blue Period” is also full of excellent examples of the use of arbitrary color for emotional significance.

AH collage

(left) Andre Derain, “Charing Cross Bridge”; (middle) Pablo Picasso, “Crouching Figure”; (right) Franz Marc, “Large Blue Horses”

Examples at Principle Gallery:

Once again, a prime example from Principle Gallery comes to us from the feature artist from this month’s solo exhibition, GC Myers. Asian woodblock prints are one of many influences seen in his beautiful landscapes, and examples of arbitrary color can be found everywhere. Sometimes, it appears that the choice of color is tied to the emotional symbolism of the work, while in other examples, it appears to simply be part of his rich explorations of color harmonies. Either way, enjoy some of these gorgeous examples of the use of arbitrary color, and check out our website here to see the whole “Native Voice” exhibition!

Bejeweled 72

GC Myers, “Bejeweled”

A Call to Council 72

GC Myers, “A Call to Council”

Blue Zone 72

GC Myers, “The Blue Zone”

Odyssey 72

GC Myers, “Odyssey”