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!

Technique Tuesday: Studies

Technique Tuesday Studies

What is it?

In regards to art, a study is something that is drawn, painted, or sculpted as preparation for a larger or more finished piece. It may sound pretty similar to a “sketch,” but there is a difference. Sketches allow the artist to plot out in broad strokes the general composition of a piece, with very little detail or precision. If we compare creating a painting to composing written prose, sketches would be comparable to initial bullet points jotted down by the writer. In order to better organize thoughts, play with ideas, and get a glimpse of how things might fit together, the writer moves on to a rough draft–more complete, though with parts unfinished or perhaps a few different angles being tried as an approach to a topic. Such is the study for an artist. It serves as a “rough draft” for them to quickly get a glimpse of how their work might come together, whether their initial ideas for color or composition actually do end up working nicely, and even as a way to discover new things about the subject before the finalized piece is begun. The study might not necessarily even end up looking like the finalized piece will, but may just function as visual notes to help an artist work out how best to portray the subject.  Simply put, a study is practice.

Examples from art history:

Studies in art can be traced back as far as the Italian Renaissance, with studies completed by artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo still surviving today. Leonardo da Vinci was particularly known for studies, usually of human and animal anatomy, in his famous sketchbooks, but he also created studies to help him plan out large paintings as well:

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a study (left) for Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne” (right)

As you can see, da Vinci ended up changing aspects of the composition between the study and the finished work, though you can certainly see that the former is a visual thought process to aid in the completion of the latter. Many, many, many other artists went on to create studies in addition to their more “finished” works. (In fact, studies ended up inspiring some of the 20th century’s art movements, which focused more on the art of the process than on finished results.) Here are a few great examples:

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(left) Peter Paul Rubens, “Four Studies of a Head of a Moor”; (center) John Constable, “Seascape Study with Rain Cloud”; (right) John William Waterhouse, “Study for A Mermaid”

Examples from Principle Gallery:

Here at the gallery, we deal mostly with the more finished works of our artists. We do absolutely love, however, when we get a chance to see sketches and studies and get that little peek into the artist’s creative process. We are beyond thrilled about the works included in the upcoming solo exhibition for Jeremy Mann, whose large cityscapes and figurative works are a magical adventure in light, values, color, and unique markmaking. For this solo exhibition, though, we’re also pleased to announce that we’ll have over 15 studies by Jeremy on display and for sale as well! Here is just a sneak peek….to get on our list to view all the works as soon as the digital preview is available, send us an email at info@principlegallery.com!

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Jeremy Mann, “Portrait Study #2”

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Jeremy Mann, “Portrait Study #5”

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Jeremy Mann, “Portrait Study #7”

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Jeremy Mann, “Portrait Study #10”

Technique Tuesday: Atmospheric Perspective

Technique Tuesday Atmospheric Perspective

What is it?

Atmospheric perspective is a visual phenomenon that occurs when we view a landscape. A very simple way of understanding the phenomenon is through the phrase, “fading into the distance.” When we view a landscape, the objects in the distance lose contrast and detail and gain a blue hue. Essentially, this happens because the actual particles of the atmosphere–dust, humidity, pollen, air pollution–obscure the clarity of these objects, and the light becomes scattered. These particles also reflect the color of the sky (typically, blue, although some exceptions include sunrise and sunset) and give these objects in the distance a blue tint. Most of us have seen atmospheric perspective in action when looking at far-off mountains or hills. In art, atmospheric perspective (sometimes called aerial perspective) is especially useful for helping to emphasize distance and vastness in a two-dimensional depiction.

Examples from art history:

Like so many other aspects of art, this feature really started to appear in paintings during the Renaissance. Atmospheric perspective was especially notable in the portraits and figurative works painted by Leonardo da Vinci–just check out the distant blue landscape in the background of the Mona Lisa! It is an effect that became pervasive in nearly all types of landscape painting across cultures and for centuries after, and is still frequently seen in painting today.

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(left to right) Leonardo da Vinci, “Bacchus”; J. M. W. Turner, “Lake Lucerne”; Yuan Jiang, “At Mount Li Escaping the Heat”

Examples from Principle Gallery:

A great many gorgeous paintings here at Principle Gallery contain atmospheric perspective, and today we’ll take a look at just a few, including some from the now open Colin Fraser solo exhibition, “Inner Light”–click here to view the whole show online!

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Colin Fraser, “Whitespace”

Celestial Sun HR

Colin Fraser, “Celestial Sun”

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Douglas Fryer, “Fog Lifting from the Wetlands”

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Bethanne Kinsella Cople, “My Leaves and My Cascades”

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Casey Childs, “Nocturne on the Reservoir”

 

Technique Tuesday: Pentimenti

Technique Tuesday pentimenti

What is it?

A pentimento (the plural is “pentimenti”) is an alteration in an artwork that becomes apparent by the marks and traces left behind from the artist’s original strokes. Although it is derived from the (you guessed it!) Italian word meaning “to repent,” it’s not quite accurate to call these marks mistakes. For a long time, artists took care to cover the changes they made to a painting and the pentimenti were only visible via infrared scans and X-rays. Take for example this image showing an X-ray of Netherlandish Renaissance painter Jan van Eyck’s famous “Arnolfini Wedding Portrait.”

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Jan van Eyck, “Arnolfini Wedding Portrait” with detail of X-ray

It becomes apparent that the artist originally depicted the hand in one position, later to change his mind and adjust the angle of the hand. From the surface of the finished painting, this isn’t a change we can observe. You might be surprised to learn how many times an X-ray or scan of a well known work has revealed a pentimento showing the artist changed his or her mind about the composition!

Examples from art history:

Until the more free and expressive artistic movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, artists kept this type of pentimento well concealed except for in preliminary sketches. You can see pentimenti evident in each of these drawings by famous artists:

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(left) Leonardo da Vinci sketch of a horse; (middle) Edgar Degas sketches of dancers; (right) Vincent van Gogh sketched self portrait

Paul Cezanne was among the first to actually embrace pentimenti as something more than just evidence of a work in progress; he began to deliberately include a lot of pentimenti in his drawings to enhance the expressive nature of a work, as well as the three dimensional appearance.

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Paul Cezanne, “The Artist’s Son Writing”

 

Examples from Principle Gallery:

As art has progressed and the realm of what is considered “proper” and “good” art has immeasurably broadened, pentimenti have evolved into an element that is often deliberately left in a finished work to add richness to it. One Principle Gallery artist who has mastered the use of pentimenti to add a sense of motion, expression, and visual interest to his work is the great Robert Liberace.

A locally based painter and painting teacher, Robert Liberace has been dubbed a “Living Master” for his incredible artworks, particularly his figurative paintings and portraits. Robert excels in portraying a figure in action, and his clever use of pentimenti heightens this effect. In the more active scenes, the lines of the pentimenti are particularly bold.

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Robert Liberace, “Throwing Figure” (left); “Study in Motion” (right)

Robert also varies his use of this technique, as sometimes it becomes very subtle so as to unobtrusively add to the sense of motion, as in the image on the left. Other times, he leaves the pentimenti highly visible but “unfinished” in the background to give a sense of time elapsing during a motion, as in the example on the right.

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Robert Liberace, “5th Circle” (left); “Telemon” (right)

We are thrilled to exhibit a large group of new works by Robert Liberace alongside his former student Teresa Oaxaca this month. In addition, following Teresa’s live painting demonstration on May 15th, we are so looking forward to another live demo as Robert Liberace paints a model live in the gallery on May 29th! Join us for the demonstration between 6 and 9 PM this coming Friday, and be sure to check out all of the new works in this exhibition on our website here!

 

 

 

Technique Tuesdays: Imprimatura

Technique Tuesday Imprimatura

Welcome back to Technique Tuesday! Today’s post is going to look at a technique that we all saw in action at Friday night’s fantastic live painting demo with Teresa Oaxaca. If you missed it, be sure to keep an eye out for when we upload the photos and videos from that night, as well as check out our intern Barbara’s fantastic blog post on what it was like to model for the demo!

What is it?

Imprimatura is a technique that falls into the larger category of underpainting. There will be several Technique Tuesdays where we take a look at different underpainting techniques, but today’s post will focus on the basic concept, something called “imprimatura.” It’s another word that comes to us from (you guessed it!) Italian, and literally means “what goes before the first.” Imprimatura is a transparent or semi-transparent layer of color (usually an earthy tone) that the artist uses first, and it sets the tone for the color story of the finished painting. It’s an incredibly daunting task to handle a stark, white canvas, and many artists find that a layer of imprimatura helps them to achieve the look and the values they desire more easily than just a truly blank canvas would.

Examples from art history:

Imprimatura is a technique that goes way back in the history of art, but like many other techniques, artists really began to use it to its full potential during the Italian Renaissance. Works like da Vinci’s “La Scapigliata” show us clearly that lovely tea-colored layer of imprimatura that he often started his works with.

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Leonadro da Vinci, “La Scapigliata”

Another Old Master who made excellent use of imprimatura was the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens. Rubens created a whole series of unfinished oil sketches that allow us to glimpse the layer he used to set the tone for the work underneath all of the added paint. An especially interesting example is this piece, a study in which Rubens used two different colors of imprimatura on the same canvas, experimenting with differing tones:

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Peter Paul Rubens, “Two Studies of a Young Man”

Examples from Principle Gallery:

If you’ve ever made it to one of our live painting demonstrations, or the Face Off events each summer, you have no doubt seen for yourself the application of the imprimatura layer. On Friday, when we gathered to watch Teresa Oaxaca’s live demonstration, she began with a truly blank canvas.

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As we watched, Teresa painted her first layer, and it was not the sketchy outline of her model–nope! It was the all important imprimatura.

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This initial layer helped Teresa to set a mid-tone foundation on which to create her painting, building on that foundation first by sketching in areas that were darkest in value, then working up to the lighter-value highlights. The process was an amazing one to watch, and the finished painting truly lovely.

Teresa's work develops over 25 minute intervals.

Teresa’s work documented over 25 minute intervals.

We so enjoyed having Teresa in the gallery painting live for us. It is always such a fascinating and exciting event to witness an artist in action. That makes May an especially exciting month for us here, as we’re thrilled to host another live painting demonstration coming up on May 29th, featuring the incredible Robert Liberace! Join us at the gallery between 6 and 9 PM to watch this immensely talented painter bring a piece of artwork to life!