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 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!

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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

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.

atmospheric perspective AH collage

(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!

Whitespace HR

Colin Fraser, “Whitespace”

Celestial Sun HR

Colin Fraser, “Celestial Sun”

Fog Lifting from the Wetlands 72

Douglas Fryer, “Fog Lifting from the Wetlands”

My Leaves and My Cascades 72

Bethanne Kinsella Cople, “My Leaves and My Cascades”

ccNocturneOnTheReservoir 001

Casey Childs, “Nocturne on the Reservoir”

 

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: 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.

Lascapigliata-787x1024

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:

rubens_large

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.

DSC_0400

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.

DSC_0402

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!

 

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: Sfumato

Technique Tuesday sfumato

 

What is it?

This week we’re taking a look at a technique called “sfumato” (pronounced sfoo-mah-toh). This is also a word with its origin in -you guessed it!- the Italian language. The word is derived from the verb “fumare”, which means “to smoke.” The sfumato technique refers to a painting with no bold or harsh outlines. By blurring and blending carefully, artists use sfumato to give a smoky, atmospheric effect to a painting. Sometimes, this is done using a dry brush technique (more on dry brush technique on another Tuesday!) and sometimes with a careful smudging or blending of brushstrokes with a finger, a rag, or another brush.

Examples from art history:

Until the Italian Renaissance, it was quite common for art to contain distinct areas of outline delineating the forms. Once again, Renaissance All-Star Leonardo da Vinci shook things up a bit. He provided an excellent example of a different style with his famous portrait, “Mona Lisa.” You can see in these cropped images below how Sandro Botticelli, an excellent painter from the early Renaissance, has painted this face with clear outlines, giving it a fresh and crisp appearance. The sfumato technique is all the more apparent when seen compared to this crisp style, as da Vinci’s portrait takes on a blurred, dreamy quality. There are no clear lines here, just soft shading providing the transition between different tones. You can also observe how the landscape in the background behind the figure is even more blurred than the figure, enhancing the illusion of depth and helping to provide more focus on the foreground.

(Left) crop of Sandro Botticelli's "Birth of Venus", (Right) crop of Leonardo da  Vinci's "Mona Lisa"

(left) crop of Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, (right) crop of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”

Examples at Principle Gallery:

Contemporary art now includes a vast range of styles and techniques, and while some artists might favor a crisper and more delineated style, many painters still enjoy using the sfumato technique. Sfumato can provide a variety of effects, including imparting that dreamy quality, giving a softness and tenderness to a portrait, creating the impression of fog, enhancing the impression of great distance in the background of a landscape, and more. Check out some of these examples of sfumato in paintings by some Principle Gallery artists:

(upper left) crop of Martin Poole's "First Fall," (upper right) crop of Paula Rubino's "Wu Wei", (lower left) crop of Martin Poole's "Pisces Moon 1", (lower right) Lisa Gloria's "Angel"

(upper left) crop of Martin Poole’s “First Fall,” (upper right) crop of Paula Rubino’s “Wu Wei”, (lower left) crop of Martin Poole’s “Pisces Moon 1”, (lower right) Lisa Gloria’s “Angel”

These examples, by Martin Poole, Paula Rubino, and Lisa Gloria illustrate some of the many ways that artists use sfumato to enhance the mood and the spatial effects of their artwork. Click on their names here to see more incredible paintings by Poole, Rubino, and Gloria!

Join us next week on Technique Tuesday for a trip to the great outdoors, as we look at the technique of painting landscapes “en plein air”!