Technique Tuesday: Tondo

What is it?

Happy Tuesday! We figured today we’d “circle” (ha!) back around to a Technique Tuesday post and talk about the tondo! A tondo (plural “tondi”) is a term for a circular work of art, and comes from the Italian word “rotondo,” or “round.” While in many ways just like any other shape of artwork, the tondo still gives artists a unique challenge when it comes to creating the best composition and use of space within a circle, but the results are wonderful!

Examples from art history:

Round paintings date back as far as Ancient Greece, when a “kylix,” a vase or shallow wine glass, was frequently decorated with artwork. In the Italian Renaissance, the circular painting (and sometimes sculpture!) came back into fashion, and could be seen on dishes, plaques, medallions, etc. in addition to being framed works of fine art for the wall! One of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s most unique pieces was a tondo entitled “Holy Family” which he was commissioned to paint as a wedding gift, and which hangs today in the Uffizi in a magnificent frame of the artist’s own design. Though small, round paintings known as miniatures had been popular in England for a very long time, it was not until the 19th century that the tondo began to appear again in a large, full-size fine art format. Below we can see two examples from Victorian-era Pre-Raphaelite artists Ford Madox Brown and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Let’s check out just a few examples of these circular works of art through the ages:

Top row: Sosias, “Achilles Tending Patroclus Wounded by an Arrow”; White-ground kylix found in a tomb at Delphi — Center row: Raphael, “Maddona della seggiola”; Michelangelo Buonarroti, “Holy Family” — Bottom row: Ford Madox Brown, “Last of England”; Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Belcolore”

Examples at Principle Gallery:

Many artists today are experimenting with and celebrating circular works of art, and it so happens that we’ve had a few come into the gallery recently and some which will be included in upcoming shows! Let’s take a look!

Greg Gandy, “Old Car Pileup”

Greg Gandy, “Consumption”

Jeremy Mann, “SF 12”

Laura E. Pritchett, “Elsewhere”

To see the other amazing (though non-circular) artworks from Greg Gandy included in the show from September this year, check out Greg’s page on our website here! Join us Friday, November 17th as we open the fantastic solo exhibition for Jeremy Mann, including the amazing cityscape tondo shown above, and check out this lovely little Laura E. Pritchett work in the Small Works show, opening December 2nd! To be put on the list to receive a digital preview of each of these shows as soon as they are available, send us an email at info@principlegallery.com!

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Technique Tuesday: Egg Tempera

Technique Tuesday egg tempera

What is it?

Last week, we took a look at oil paints and acrylic paints, but this week’s topic is a painting medium that predates both of them–egg tempera. Egg tempera is an ancient type of paint that is made by mixing powdered dry pigments with egg yolk as a binder, and typically with another ingredient like water, vinegar, or wine added to prevent cracking of the applied paint.

Examples from art history:

Examples of egg tempera painting can be found as far back as ancient Egyptian sarcophagi decorations and ancient cave paintings in India. Egg tempera was occasionally used alongside another method of painting known as encaustic (paint made from pigment and hot beeswax) and eventually took the place of encaustic painting as the preferred medium for panel paintings and illuminated manuscripts. By the beginning of the Renaissance, it was the primary painting medium for nearly all fine art painters. It was at the height of the Renaissance when oil paints began to take over as the preferred painting medium, for many reasons. Oil paint is slow drying, which means that it allows the artist a lot more control in blending colors and creating a three-dimensional appearance to forms. Oil paint also often has a thicker, more glowing color to it than egg tempera, and is more flexible as well. Egg tempera has its own charms, however–it is non toxic, water soluble, permanent, and will not yellow over time– and it made a comeback in popularity in the 20th century with great artists like Andrew Wyeth and Thomas Hart Benton dabbling in the medium again.

Egg Tempera collage

(top left) “Judgment of Osiris,” tempera on papyrus, 1285 BC ; (top right) Michelangelo, “The Holy Family,” tempera on panel, 1507; (bottom left) Sandro Botticelli, “The Birth of Venus,” tempera on panel, 1480s; (bottom right) Andrew Wyeth, “Christina’s World”, tempera on panel, 1948

Examples from Principle Gallery:

The vast majority of our artists here at Principle Gallery choose to work with oil paints, but we do have one artist who prefers and regularly paints with egg tempera. Scottish-born artist Colin Fraser mastered many mediums, including oil paint, before deciding that egg tempera suited him best. Colin paints delicate, exquisitely beautiful still lifes, as well as some landscape and figurative works, and he uses the unique qualities of egg tempera paint to help him achieve the incredible brilliant luminosity of the colors in these paintings. Egg tempera is a type of paint that must be applied in thin, small brushstrokes and the layers and colors built up very carefully, so it is astonishing to see what Colin has achieved with this medium. We are thrilled that Colin himself will be joining us for the opening of his solo exhibition here on Friday, October 16th as well as Saturday, October 17th for a live egg tempera painting demonstration! Here’s a sneak peek at some of the incredible egg tempera works from Colin’s show. If you’d like to receive a digital preview of Colin’s exhibition, just send us an email at info@principlegallery.com!

Halo 15x19 inches

Colin Fraser, “Halo,” egg tempera on panel

West Coast 72

Colin Fraser, “West Coast,” egg tempera on panel

Whitespace 72

Colin Fraser, “Whitespace,” egg tempera on panel

Technique Tuesdays: Charcoal

Technique Tuesday CharcoalWelcome back to Technique Tuesday! Today we’ll be looking at a fantastic substance that has been used to make art for thousands of years: charcoal!

What is it?

In the most basic sense, charcoal is the remnants of burnt wood. It’s likely that it didn’t take long after man discovered fire for man to also discover the bold mark-making ability of the remnants of that fire. Charcoal as an artistic medium has come a long way, and artist’s charcoal today is a more deliberately crafted mix of powdered materials, often held together with a kind of gum or wax binding agent. Art charcoal comes in many forms, including hardened blocks or sticks, “vine charcoal” which is a softer form for sketching, as well as powders, crayons, and pencils. Charcoal is a fantastic and expressive dry medium that can be applied to a variety of surfaces, and is easy to smudge, blend, and lighten for a dramatic range of values.

Examples in art history:

Charcoal is arguably one of the oldest mediums for the creation of two-dimensional art. Cave paintings have been discovered all over the globe that show how charcoal has been used in art for well over fifteen thousand years.

Prehistoric Collage

Some prehistoric charcoal images found in caves in France

Unfortunately, the same properties that make charcoal so excellent for expressive sketching and drawing also make it a substance without a lot of staying power, and one that easily flakes off of paper or canvas. Artists used charcoal for many centuries to help them plan compositions, but it was always considered an ephemeral medium, and few of those works on paper survive today. In the late 1400’s, a method was finally discovered that helped “fix” the charcoal to the paper more permanently. This early process of fixing charcoal drawings involved dipping the drawings in a bath of gum. A short time later, Albrecht Durer began to really popularize charcoal as a primary medium rather than just a means of preliminary sketching, and by the 20th century more and more artists were exploring the medium. Thankfully, fixatives have come a long way since the gum baths, and today artists can choose from a variety of advanced spray fixatives to preserve their artwork.

Collage 2

(left) Michelangelo, “Study of a Man Shouting” c.1523-34; (middle) Albrecht Durer, “Knight, Death, and the Devil” 1514; (right) Pablo Picasso, “Marie-Therese, Face and Profile” 1931

Examples in Principle Gallery:

We thought it was an especially great time to take a look at charcoal art, since among the newest work to come in the gallery are some fantastic charcoal drawings! Many of the painters represented at the gallery enjoy working with charcoal for sketching purposes as well as a primary medium, and Casey Childs and Susan O’Neill are two who are certainly talented at using it. Seen below are just some of the drawings from Casey’s “Influtential Figures” series, and trust me–they’re even more incredible in person (click here to check them all out on our website)!

Childs Collage

(left) “Abraham Lincoln”; (middle) “Mark Twain”; (right) “Walt Disney” -drawings by Casey Childs

Also new to the gallery are some incredible and expressive figure studies by local Alexandria artist Susan O’Neill. Deeply inspired by the human figure, Susan enjoys crafting spontaneous and energetic images with charcoal. Here are just two examples of her latest group of fantastic drawings (click here to see them all!):

O'neill Collage

(left) “Lissome”; (right) “Lithe” -drawings by Susan O’Neill

Be sure to check out our website (www.principlegallery.com) and sign up for our mailing list to receive newsletters featuring other incredible new works like these!

Technique Tuesdays: Chiaroscuro

Technique Tuesday chiaroscuro

Welcome back to Technique Tuesday! Today we’re taking a look at one of the most basic and essential techniques in art: chiaroscuro.

What is it?

Chiaroscuro (pronounced “keyARo-scuro”) is another art term with its roots in the Italian language. As the two parts of the word translate to “light” and “dark,” chiaroscuro is used to describe the technique that artists employ to add light and shadow to an object to make it appear more three-dimensional. For instance, it’s what makes the difference between a drawing of a circle and a drawing of a sphere. Sometimes this is simply referred to as “shading,” but the technique goes a bit further than that, as the detailed depiction of light’s effect on a surface is what gives that depiction a real sense of depth and volume.

chiaro collage 2

Examples from art history:

Painting and drawing from ancient civilizations usually focused on the basics: capturing shapes, lines, and colors, as well as the placement of people and objects to tell a story. As art progressed through the ages, artists explored and learned more about how to depict the 3D world on a flat surface in a way that appeared more realistic. One of the biggest breakthroughs in this development was the perfection of chiaroscuro, although it’s something we sort of take for granted these days. To give you a visual idea of how chiaroscuro works its magic, check out the difference between this ancient Egyptian wall art on the left, and the figure painted by Michelangelo during the Italian Renaissance here on the right:

chiaro collage 1

Now, there’s no reason at all to criticize or disparage ancient Egyptian wall art; indeed, the colors, compositions, and use of lines and form (not to mention the storytelling!) in Egyptian art was certainly an achievement. The shapes, lines, and colors used to portray the figures on the left here are absolutely effective. But the development of chiaroscuro was a huge leap forward for artists in using a flat surface to recreate what we see in the three dimensional world. You can see in Michelangelo’s painting of Cybil here that the meticulous depiction of every little place of light and shadow brings both the figure and the textiles vividly to life.

All-star of the Italian Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci was the first of the Old Masters to really bring chiaroscuro to its full potential. He was particularly skilled at using chiaroscuro to give dimensionality to textiles as well as a sense of roundness to the human form, as one can see in his painting “The Virgin of the Rocks,” shown below.

Leonardo da Vinci's "The Virgin of the Rocks"

Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin of the Rocks”

Examples at Principle Gallery:

Truth be told, you can see chiaroscuro working its magic on nearly all of the artworks in our gallery. A great many of our talented artists utilize chiaroscuro to give life and depth to their work. There are, however, some excellent examples of how chiaroscuro can provide a profound sense of realism found in the work of still life artist Larry Preston. Check out these paintings below to see how Larry’s careful observation of the effects of light on objects gives the impression that you could almost reach out and touch them!

Works by Larry Preston Left to right: "The Apple," "Egg Plant," "Old Bottles," and "Green Vase Amaryllis"

Works by Larry Preston
Left to right: “The Apple,” “Egg Plant,” “Old Bottles,” and “Green Vase Amaryllis”

You can see more of Larry’s incredible and realistic still life paintings on our website by clicking here. In fact, keep an eye out for chiaroscuro in all the art you see! You’ll find countless excellent examples at the gallery of chiaroscuro in action. If you’ve got a particular favorite example, be sure to share it in the comments!

We’ll take a look in a few weeks at the way that some artists take chiaroscuro to a whole new level when we explore “Tenebrism” on another Technique Tuesday. Be sure to subscribe to our blog (see the box at the top right of the page) to see all our new Technique Tuesday posts as well as other exciting news from Principle Gallery!