Tempera painting

In common use we identify the tempera with a determined graphic technique and at the same time a certain type of colour.

Tempera is defined as the pictorial techniques that use colours made up of pigments in powder mixed with a binding substance with water and starched glue, cellulose, egg, milk, Vinavil, fish glue, etc…, which are soluble in water.

Tempera colours adapt to a multiplicity of uses and expressive effects, they are lain out and worked with ease, they adhere to any non-greasy and porous base, like paper, card, wood, plaster and terracotta, they dry in few minutes.

They can be lain out with gradual blending, brushed flat or with very few touches, they can be dabbed with a sponge or a rolled cloth. Characteristic of tempera painting is the dullness of the paint and the intensity of the tones. Tempera painting is, overlaying, easy to correct with some simple overlapping of colour, particularly adapted for creating even layers of colour without signs of brushstrokes.

The tempere have the characteristic of presenting themselves differently in their wet state from their dry state, the colours lighten as they dry, and the layers after drying assume a dull and silky aspect.

Tempera is a pictorial technique that has its origin in prehistoric times, in cave art painting, in which the pigment was lain out with the fingers or with basic tools. In the west, its maximum use dates back to the medieval period.

The technique consisted in mixing pigments, collected ground stone, coloured soil and other natural substances, with egg yolk and animal or vegetable gluey substances and melting them in water to obtain intense and shiny quick drying colours, with an elevated layering value. Painters used tempera on wood and on canvas prepared with the laying out of some touches of chalk and glue, primer.

Today in the composition of tempere, besides water and colours, calcium chloride, carbolic acid, glycerine are used.

The bases to use are preferably rigid canvas, boards or paper that must not be too light to avoid creasing, and which can eventually be stretched on a wooden frame.

The tempera to be lain out in satisfactory manner must be diluted with water, enough to give it the consistency of a liquid soap, you can use paintbrushes of any type, with synthetic or natural bristles, round or flat, with long or short bristles.

To obtain a picture with a coloured straight border it is worth using the brush with its tip pointing towards the same border and not using the side of the brush because the pressure exercised when painting causes the bristles to spread laterally and creates drips.

To produce homogeneous layers it is necessary to apply the colour of the borders toward the centre.

The blending is obtained generally creating bands of colour, dosing the passages of colour with tones that go from the darkest to the lightest or vice versa; but that can be created also working quickly with the colour still fresh, for example laying out two colours, one on the left, the other on the right very rapidly, and in the centre give rapid diagonal brushstrokes, passing with a big flat brush, which is a little dampened to refine.

Different degrees of the same colour are obtained each time mixing a small quantity of another colour, a clearer tone adding to the white a drop of a chosen colour. Mixing the secondary colour to the complementary one you obtain a bistro, a very dark colour that is used to darken the other colours, in place of the black that would produce dirty and dulled tones.

Adding the white colour to the bistro a bright grey can be obtained.

The tempera colours always remain soluble, even when the pigment is completely dried. For this reason and so that they do not dry up and flake if they are kept near to sources of heat, the paintings must be protected with a fixative.

Painting a guazzo is a variety of tempere, in French named gouache. An antique procedure in which, in the composition of colour, the animal glue is substituted with rubber, the guazzo has less body than the tempera with glue and it is of even faster execution.

The guazzo technique uses a type of colour similar to tempera, but rendered more consistent by adding a white pigment, chalk or grout mixed with gum arabic. The final mixture is a slightly duller and more luminous colour than normal tempera. The technique of gouache was already known and practised in Europe in the XVIII century and was used prevalently to carry out preliminary drafts for great oil works; the guazzo in fact, seen from a certain distance, looks like an oil painting and when dried adapts a pearly tone for the white it contains. In the XVIII century it became popular in France and in the XIX century it was used largely for the realisation of advertising posters.

Watercolor painting

Water colour painting is a pictorial technique that foresees the use of combined pigments or pigments in suspension in binding substance, in general gum arabic, diluted in water. As an agglutinant it is preferable to use gum arabic or that from Senegal, in its natural state or exposed to high temperature.

Water paints are available for sale in pastes, contained in squeezy tubes, or solids in dry blocks called godet or half godet according to their size.

The technique requires readiness and security in execution because the colours dry rapidly and tend to mix with each other creating effects which, if not required, are difficult to alter. One of the characteristics of water colours is their transparency, which does not allow for correction, overlaying other colours, each brushstroke is definitive.

The base that is generally used for this technique is paper, with a high percentage of pure cotton, with glue mixed with the paste during its production in as far as this material does not alter excessively on contact with water. The paper can be rough or smooth according to the degree of perfection that is desired, it must not be whitened with chlorine or other chemical agents that might alter the colours.

To facilitate the colouring, overall in larger paintings, the drying of the paint can be delayed, by adding a minimal dose of glycerine to the water, or a solution of Tragacanth or calcium chloride.

Normally the sheet is mounted on the appropriate frame so that it does not flake, and prepared with a light pencil drawing. The drawing can also be done directly with a brush and very diluted colour.

Particular effects can be obtained tracing the outlines of the picture with India ink after painting, or tracing the outline first with India ink, with a brush and then painting over the top.

As a general rule, the colour is always applied starting with the clear colours, following three fundamental techniques of execution: for veiling overlaying, overlaying marks of colour one on the other in a way to obtain pictorial depth to be able to represent light and shade; the technique wet on wet bagnato su bagnato, in which the colour is lain out on the previously dampened sheet of paper so that the colours spread across the surface; with the method wet on dry bagnato su asciutto, the colour dissolved in the water is lain out on the dry paper.

A large area can be painted with base colour preparing a good quantity of diluted colour, using a thick brush with which to give wide horizontal brushstrokes. In the inside border of the brushstroke a pocket of colour will form, which will supply the colour for the successive brushstroke. On the emptying of the pocket, it is enough to dip the brush again and restart the stroke. With the last stroke, the excessive colour can be absorbed with a cloth or a dry brush.

The most luminous zones can be created with a brush soaked in water passing it over the desired areas and then drying with a dry brush or a sponge.

A blended colour effect where they penetrate each other can be created painting on slightly dampened paper, passing the various colours quickly over established points, in this way the paper will absorb the colour by mixing it.

In water painting white is not used, the colour of the paper shows through in the area that is to remain white.

The term “watercolor” appears in the seventeen hundreds, but since ancient times, in the papyri for example, techniques based on the same principle have been used. In medieval times pigments were used using egg white or gum arabic, overall in miniature.

The principle characteristic of water colour is the extreme representative “lightness”, the delicacy of the colours, the effect of freshness and expressive immediacy, characteristics of the Renaissance which render the technique more appropriate for preparatory studies of great masters in their works.

Acrylic painting

Acrylic colours are a modern version of tempera. Produced from pigment bound with synthetic resin, they are easily mixed, they are diluted in water and dry quickly without alteration. With acrylic colours, the laying out of the colours is shiny, intense and even. If errors are committed, it is possible to pass over the colour several times without the underlying colour showing through. These colours can be lain out on numerous bases that do not require any specific preparation and once dry they form a compact surface which is dull and even, stable over time. Acrylics are very resistant to atmospheric agents so they are also suitable for mural painting, when they are dry they do not peel or flake.

Acrylic colours appear in the artistic field in about 1920 in Mexico, when some artists involved in art socialisation experiments painted great murals on public buildings in the city, they used some plastic resins like pigment thinner, obtaining shiny paints which dried rapidly and were resistant to atmospheric agents. In the 50s, acrylics spread throughout the United States. Only in the 60s did the use of acrylics become popular in Europe.

Today acrylics, together with tempera, are used overall in the advertising sector, where perfect blends of colour and bright outlines with shiny and luminous colours can be obtained using a spray gun; this greatly favours image communication.

Characteristics of acrylic painting are rapid drying, ease in lay out and the translucence of the colours once dried.

Acrylic colours can be diluted with water or with a medium, to delay the drying and render them more workable.

The brush is the instrument most commonly used to paint, but to lay out the colours a sponge or any other dabbing instrument may be used.

Acrylic colour can be based in clear or transparent blending or veiling, or in thick pastes. With transparent techniques, the colours are extremely diluted as if they were water colours. With this technique laying two colours over each other, a third colour is obtained which will have greater depth compared to the same colour mixed on the palette.

The realisation of evenly coloured areas with several layers of colour, is preferably obtained with light over-layered veiling, rather than with a single very dense colour. The layers must be light and possibly from left to right and the second from top to bottom, with a quantity of colour on the brush so as not to create excessive colour veining.

In acrylics, the blending technique is normally performed creating declining segments or fields of colour passing from a darker tone to a lighter tone or vice versa or obtaining it with successive veiling of diluted colour, lain out over dry colour.

A blending from light to dark may be obtained using two colours at the same time blending them in the centre, or laying them out first one of the two colours, and once dry dabbing the other colour, which must be very dense, with a sponge or an appropriate brush, or when the colour is still wet it can be blended with water. To create particular effects the colour can be lain out with a sponge or by dabbing.

Acrylic colours are mixable with each other and it is preferable to use water as a thinner, also used to cancel the coloured parts, before drying.

There are various media for diluting colours, amongst these also those that can extend the drying times, so as to avoid the brush leaving coloured stripes.

Acrylics are also indicated for collage, in fact if the material is placed on the fresh colour, once it is dry it will not come away.

Oil painting

Oil colour is made up of pigment in powder mixed with vegetable oils.

As a binding substance you can use oils with drying properties, linen oil, nut oil, poppy oil, essences or essential oils like turpentine essence, or rosemary essence, obtained for distillation and used as a thinner, ensuring a more fluid and transparent subject adapted for veilings and less predisposed to yellowing.

The most commonly used binding substance is linen oil, used raw in the preparation and mixing of colours, sometimes mixed with additives or desiccates. The cooked linen oil, which dries more rapidly allowing swift execution, is characterised by more intense colours and the disadvantage of yellowing.

Oil is an excellent binding substance that hardens in time through contact with the oxygen present in the air forming an insoluble resistant skin, polymerization, the reason for which the pictures show a shiny surface.

The shiny and luminous colours guarantee stability and inalterability over time.

A canvas is the ideal base for painting in oil, extended on a wooden frame and prepared with a first layer of material applied on its rough surface, primer.

This preparation determines the resistance, the duration and the pictorial output of the painting, it isolates the base from the picture and regulates the saturation of the binding substances and particularly the oil. The primer is executed with different glues, of rabbit, flour, casein mixed with plaster, lead white, bianco di Spagna, egg, honey, linen oil, etc.

A board, copper or paper could be other bases, when adequately prepared.

You can find canvases already equipped with a white primer with a base in acrylic resin for sale in stores, canvassed paper or special paper, with thick grain and with little permeability.

After the primer you execute the picture, preferably using dark pastel. In general, a preparatory drawing, a sketch, is done on which the idea of the composition is presented. The drawing can be reproduced on the canvas directly by hand, or it is possible to divide the picture into many squares, with a grid, and they are then copied onto the canvas with the appropriate enlargement, or it is possible to copy the drawing with copying paper. A method used by professionals is that of paxiscope, with which the drawing is projected onto the base and then copied. Once the drawing has been obtained on the canvas, you proceed with the retracing, carried out with a small brush and with very diluted Bruno Van Dick in turpentine essence. You carry out the retracing of the pencil drawing in a way that it is bound by the Bruno and the essence. There are two methods of painting; the direct method consists in bringing the colours directly to the canvas; the indirect method foresees, before the true and proper picture phase, the execution of the draft which consists in copying the drawn subject with its relative light and shade, so as to give a base to the painting; it is carried out with one or few colours, in general browns like soil.

In the “campitura” technique the background is covered with a base colour. The veiling technique consists in giving very diluted brushes of colour, so as to remain transparent.

The execution of the picture, according to classic canons, is achieved with the overlaying of layers of colour; colour on dry colour, creating very homogeneous and perfectly smooth coloured areas, while using great quantities of colour, eventually diluted little, it is possible to create highly tactile colour effects, also in high relief.

Overlaying is the most used technique, on the first layer of colour, the draft or preparation, successive layers are lain out, so called veilings, mezzocorpo, frottage, glacis, etc… The basic rule for the overlaying is called “greasy on light”, and consists in overlaying layers increasingly rich in oil so as to get as near as possible to the final ones. Each successive layer should be applied on a dry layer.

The dilution of the colour is effected principally using natural turpentine, in an increasing manner for the thinner layers, with proportionately more oil for the greasier ones.

To paint in oil you principally use brushes, a rigid haired brush, made from pig hair, and the soft brush, obtained from marten or synthetic fibres; they can be flat, long or short bristled, or with tapered point for painting particular details. Other instruments commonly used to extend the colours are the spatula, instruments with a flexible blade, that can be “knife-like,” indispensible for mixing the paint or scraping it off, or the trowel with which you can apply the colour directly to the base.

If you make an error, it is possible to scrap off the colour with the spatula, clean with a cloth covered in turpentine and then paint the area again.

The turpentine or white spirit is the best solvent for diluting colours and taking away the excessive paint.

The drying times are very long, so it is easy to work and you have all the time necessary to refine and blend without the colour drying, this allows you to obtain refined and precise blends. To dilute the colour various additives can be used. Some slow the drying, others speed it up, others modify the characteristics.

In ancient times, oil colours were individually prepared by each painter, but at the end of the XVIII century and at the start of the following one, the industrial production of ready for use colour obtained in closed laboratories, and sealed in animal intestines, began. These were subsequently substituted by metal tubes.

Encaustic painting

Encaustic painting is an ancient technique of paintings with wax colours, the fundamental characteristic of this technique consists in diluting the colours with melted wax. The painting, after having been executed is reheated to help the wax penetrate the colours, so that they adhere, acquiring splendour and strength.

The technique was first used by the Greeks and then by the Romans, in Medieval times all trace was lost, then in the modern era the discovery of the pictures of Pompeii and the description of this pictorial method, left by the Latin writer Pliny, pushed some artists to try to actualize the technique again.

The method consisted in setting out the coloured waxes in small portions and then modelling them melting them and reheating them with a spatula or heated point. The wax was rendered virgin, Punic, boiling it in sea water and then adding to it a chemical compound formed from the mixture of sodium carbonate and sodium hydroxide, caustic soda. Once the Punic wax was obtained, it was mixed with the pigments and bull glue, previously degreased with slaked lime, so as to obtain a spreadable tempera. The tempera was spread with oil, adding a compound of melted Punic wax. The last procedure, from which this technique takes its name is encausting the surface, that is heating the painted surface in such a way that the wax penetrates the colours. Specifically, they waited until the work was dry, so as to be able to pass a brazier to reheat the wax across the surface, so as to ensure the exudation and a penetration into the colours. The technique could be applied to walls, marble and, terracotta.

Encaustic painting has the prerogative of remaining unaltered, in fact the colours do not turn yellow, nor become darker with time, they do not flake, and the use of the wax in the composition allows light to penetrate under the surface of the picture without reflecting, offering particular effects.


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