Technique Tuesday: Linear Perspective

Welcome back to a new Technique Tuesday post! This week we’re going to be discussing something called linear perspective, also known as the Unsung Hero of Realism. Truly, this is one of the most important techniques ever to be developed in art history. It changed the game completely, but we’re really so used to seeing it these days that we don’t think about it much! So let’s take a look:

What is it?

The term “perspective” in art generally refers to the manipulation of the image so that it appears to have the depth that we can perceive with our eyes. We talked once about atmospheric perspective on this blog series, and the way that blues and cool tones in the background help to give the illusion of far distances and vast spaces. Linear perspective refers to the use of what are called “vanishing points” and the way that everything in view relates to those vanishing points, which will depend on how far those things are supposed to be from the viewer’s vantage point. Don’t worry, I’m going to use pictures soon to help explain.

Examples from art history:

Before the Renaissance–which I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned before, but it was a pretty important time for art history– (<–kidding, I bring it up in nearly every post) artists used something known as oblique perspective, which is a fancy way of saying lack of perspective, really. Think about the drawings that little kids make, especially if there are a lot of people in them or houses or trees in the far background. Instead of figuring out precisely how all these objects relate to one another geometrically (because they are children and they’re just having awesome fun drawing), the kids just kind of spread everything in the picture around on the piece of paper, usually putting something that in reality is further “back” simply closer to the “top” of the page. For a very long time, this was the way even seasoned artists rendered their works. Let’s take a look at some pre-Renaissance works of art which, while gorgeous, are definitely before the discovery of linear perspective:

from left to right, examples of ancient Egyptian, Byzantine, ancient Chinese, and medieval German artworks

Even if you don’t know about geometry or linear perspective, these images would likely still look “off” in some way to you. It wasn’t really until the Renaissance, when super genius Filippo Brunelleschi made a nifty hole-in-a-mirror device, and then some subsequent paintings and drawings to prove his point, that artists began to understand linear perspective, and the very important notion it brings with it: foreshortening.

Foreshortening involves the visual effect that objects in our line of sight will appear differently depending on the viewer’s perspective. For an example, think about preparing dinner on your perfectly circular dinner plate, and then sitting down to eat and placing that plate in front of you. As you sit there looking at the plate, you no longer see a perfect circle (even though the plate is perfectly circular!), because of your perspective. Depending on how something is angled toward you the viewer, parts of that building or person or object will appear shorter or smaller than they really are. In the example above and on the left, even a road which is the same width down its entire length will appear to get smaller as its distance from the viewer increases.

As I mentioned, this was a game changer for artists in the Renaissance. Many of the early examples from the Renaissance showing successful use of linear perspective focus on one-point perspective, viewed straight on, but artists later expanded this knowledge to work with multiple vanishing points, and higher and lower viewer angles, as we can see here:

(above, left to right) Renaissance examples of perspective, including Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and Pietro Perugino’s “Christ Giving the Keys to St. Peter” (below, left to right) examples of perspective use from later in history, including Andrew Wyeth’s “Wind from the Sea,” Camille Pissarro’s “Avenue de L’Opera, Paris,” and Mary Cassatt’s “The Child’s Bath”

Examples from Principle Gallery:

Again, linear perspective, while crucially important, might not be the first thing you think of when admiring a work of art. We tend to take it for granted now that centuries of art teachers have passed the concept along, but it’s still so important to creating an effectively realistic scene. Because it is critically important in any work of art that involves things with straight lines like building and architecture, Geoffrey Johnson‘s solo exhibition (open now!) gives us a perfect segue to taking a look at the beautiful effect made when an artist accurately uses linear perspective. Let’s take a look at a few examples from the current show:

“Untitled”

“Skaters at the Museum”

“Station Interior”

“Study in Washington”

“Flatiron Evening”

To view the entirety of this absolutely spectacular and unique exhibition, stop by the gallery through the end of May, or check out Geoffrey’s page on our website by clicking here!

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Technique Tuesday on a Thursday: Sgraffito

Apologies! Due to a technical error, this post is up a couple days late, but please enjoy!

technique-tuesday-sgraffito

What is it?

The term “sgraffito” comes from the Italian word meaning “scratched.” It’s a technique that is usually applied to either wall decor, both interior and exterior, or to pottery. Essentially, the basic idea is that multiple layers of plaster or glaze are applied, and the top layer is methodically scratched through to reveal the contrasting layer beneath. This scratching is usually done in such a way as to form a pattern or an image using the two contrasting layers.

Examples from art history:

Sgraffito has been around quite a while, in all parts of the world. Check out some examples of it on pottery below– including Navajo pottery, ancient Greek ceramics, and African pottery.

sgraffito-collage-1

The technique also experienced popularity as wall decor or part of a building facade in Europe, since classical times. As with many artistic techniques, it saw an increase in popularity in the 15th and 16th century in Italy, particularly in Italy, Germany, Austria, and Transylvania, and later experienced a revival during the Art Nouveau movement of the early 20th century. Below are some examples, including an Italian Renaissance-era sgraffito building, a hammer-and-sickle sgraffito design on a Czech building, and an Art Nouveau facade on a building in Barcelona.

sgraffito-collage2

Examples from Principle Gallery:

The sgraffito examples we’re going to showcase today from Principle Gallery are in fact neither pottery nor wall decor, but rather paintings! Jeff Erickson‘s unique, highly abstracted paintings are eye-catching and full of texture, depth, and visual interest, and part of this is due to his creative use of sgraffito!

erickson-collage2

Jeff Erickson, (left) Approaching Storm; (middle) Thin Ice; (right) Wine Country

Oil paint straight from the tube is extremely thick and not terribly “workable,” so most artists use some kind of solvent to help thin the paint and make it more spreadable on the painting surface, in addition to helping it dry a bit faster. This substance added to the paint is called the “medium” (this can be confusing, because “medium” has multiple meanings when talking about art, but think of it as synonymous with “additive”) and while most artists use linseed oil, turpentine, poppy oil, or similar mediums, some artists, like Jeff Erickson, use something called a cold wax medium.

The cold wax medium is pretty much what it sounds like– it is an additive containing beeswax that can be used cold (as opposed to encaustic, a different technique in which the wax is heated– but we’ll save that for another Tuesday!) and in addition to aiding in workability and drying time, cold wax medium gives the artist a few different options for building unique textures and layers as well! In Jeff’s case, it allows for some really cool sgraffito. You can see some examples of Jeff’s unique paintings below, but trust us– they are best viewed in person, so come on by the gallery and see them, and many more in this month’s Local Art, Local Eats exhibition, on display now!

erickson-collage1

Jeff Erickson, (left) Glimmering Light; (right) Whitecap

Artist Spotlight: Paula Rubino

Paula Rubino

Paula Rubino

A magnificent painter using classical techniques, Paula Rubino has demonstrated time and time again her mastery of oil.  Born in Trenton New Jersey, Paula decided to move to Florence where she honed her craft studying under Angel Ramiro Sanchez and at The Florence Academy of Art. After living in Florence for eight years, she decided to return to the states where she settled down and had a son. Paula has generously shared photos of her sources of inspiration while living in Italy!

I left Florence for the first time in 2002, after eight years of study and living.  Ten years later, we decided to return as a family for the 2012-2013 academic year.  My son, Olavi, attends a local school, and my husband and I paint.  A few images to give you an idea! 

Santa Maria di Fiore

Santa Maria di Fiore

The first sight to greet travelers  – Florence’s centerpiece, the Duomo (Santa Maria del Fiore). 

Museo Stibbert (Paula is 3rd from the left)

Museo Stibbert

The family  (I am third from left) and friends in front of Museo Stibbert –  a favorite for medieval and armor fans such as my ten year old son!

Villa Rusciano Pitti

Villa Rusciano Vista

We quickly discovered Villa Rusciano up the lane from our home.  It was originally a Renaissance country estate and farm which has fallen into some disrepair.  The city uses the building for the parks office and the gardens are open.  I love the slight feeling of overgrown decay in the orchards, and in warmer weather I love painting here.

Villa Rusicano

Villa Rusicano, oil on panel 8 x 13.75 inches

8 villa bardini

Villa Bardini

Also nearby, Villa Bardini. Its surrounding gardens have been newly restored.  I had never heard of this estate when I lived here before, though it sits on a hill close to the center, with close-up views of the river Arno

Rooftop Garden, oil on panel 9 x 11.75 inches

Rooftop Garden, oil on panel 9 x 11.75 inches

The inspiration here in Florence is endless – the beautiful landscape continually provides…

Lido At Ponte San Niccolo, oil on panel 11.5 x 9 inches

Lido At Ponte San Niccolo, oil on panel 11.5 x 9 inches

Some of Paula’s figurative work, perhaps influenced by her studies with Odd Nerdrum in Norway!

Sitting-Nude

Sitting Nude in Crimson Hat, oil on panel 8 x 7 inches

Vanitas-in-the-Florida-Room

Vanitas in the Florida Room, oil on canvas 41 x 40 inches