Fauvism was a 20th-century movement that followed from Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. It was initially inspired by the works of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat and Cezanne, the masters of the Post-Impressionist movement. The Fauves were a loosely allied group of French painters with shared interests. Matisse emerged as a clear leader of the group and this is purely because he created such an extensive amount of work and explored the concepts of Fauvism with a fervour not seen before. The Fauvists used intense colour as a vehicle for describing light and space and who redefined pure colour and form as a means of communicating the emotional state of the artist. In these regards, Fauvism proved to be an important precursor to Cubism and Expressionism as well as a touchstone for future modes of abstraction.

One of Fauvism’s major contributions to modern art was its radical goal of separating colours from each other and allowing them to exist more independently on the canvas. Before this point colour was typically thought of as a descriptive and representational mirror of the world. However here colour shifted to establish a mood and structure within the work of art without having to be true to the natural world. Another of Fauvism’s central artistic concerns was the overall balance of the composition. The Fauves simplified forms and saturated colours to draw attention to the inherent flatness of the canvas or paper. Within that pictorial space, each element played a specific role. The immediate visual impressionism of the work was to be strong and unified on the canvas. Above all though, Fauvism valued individual expression. The artists direct experience of his subjects, his emotional response to nature and his intuition were all more important than academic theory. Even the subject matter had no bearing. There was no hierarchy of importance. Each element of the painting was in place to serve these end goals.

The term Fauvism means “wild beasts.” The intensely colourful landscape and portrait paintings of the Fauvists were often characterized by a rough application of paint rendered directly from the tube, much like the Impressionists. Their work was colourful, bright, energetic and swathed in non-naturalistic hues. To the modern eye, these could be interpreted as joyful and celebratory but these were very different times and the works were actually more savage and rough around the edges. As with most other avant-garde styles, Fauvism acquired its name through an insult. Art critic Louis Vauxcelles coined the term in 1905 after reviewing the Salon d’Automne art exhibition in Paris, which was an annual and independent showcase of progressive art. He claimed that the Fauvists were coarse and untamed with  an “orgy of colours.” The name “fauve” however would go on to become a badge of honour for the artists.

One of the most important Fauvist artists was Henri Matisse. Matisse did not seem like one to rock the boat upon first meeting him, apparently. He was quite serious, intelligent and embarking on a promising career after studying law in Paris. The life laid out before him seemed quite bourgeois and planned. However, when his mother gave him art supplies to help him recover from an illness he was, in his own words, “bitten by the demon of painting.” The tone of this statement is fitting for an artist who was responsible for the first avant-garde European art movement of the 20th century. Other prominent leaders of Fauvism were Andre Derain, Maurice de Vlaminck and Albert Marquet. Derain was a French artist, painter and sculptor. His methods of painting were closely linked to Matisse but he showed a particular interest in cityscapes. Vlaminck was considered one of the principal members of the movement and took the ideas of post-impressionism into more vivid otherworldly colours. He often ignored the fine details of a painting, focusing his attention instead on violent colour and brushwork. Marquet painted in a more naturalistic style, primarily landscapes but also several portraits. Because of his more natural style he wasn’t quite in the same boat as the Fauvists colour wise, but he still adopted the richness of tone and looseness of brushstrokes that his companions had.

Despite its influential nature, Fauvism itself was a short-lived movement. Its assault on the stylistic conventions of art that came before, soon became a convention of its own. No longer was it a unique sentiment but rather the norm to break away from traditionalism and this in itself rendered Fauvism obsolete. By 1907 the word “fauves” had entered common usage in the Parisian art scene. Scores of artists branded themselves as aligned with the movement. On top of this, the Fauvist artists found themselves faced with challenges from newcomers. Matisse, for one, found himself increasingly responding to the work of Pablo Picasso. The intensity of their rivalry meant that the both needed to develop and evolve their own styles, lest they fall behind the other. Matisse began searching for a means to express greater simplicity in his art and Cezanne’s death and retrospective exhibition in 1907 compelled many painters to return to his structured and more geometric view of the world. With its emphasis on the emotional potency of colour, Fauvism had pioneered a new, 20th-century sensibility in modern art.

Post Impressionism

Post Impressionism is a predominantly French art movement that was born roughly between 1886 and 1905, from the last Impressionist exhibition to the birth of Fauvism. Post-Impressionism emerged as a reaction to the Impressionists’ naturalistic depiction of light and colour. Due to the emphasis on more broad aspects of art like abstraction and symbolic content, it separated itself from Impressionism which still stood to replicate the natural world and the things in it. The movement was led by Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Georges Seurat. The term was first used in 1906 by art critic, Roger Fry. He used the term again in 1910 when he organised Manet and the Post-Impressionists, defining it as the key development in French Art since Manet.

Post Impressionism encompasses a wide range of distinct artistic styles that all share the common idea of responding to the visuality of the Impressionist movement. They stylized variations assembled under the general idea of Post-Impressionism ranges from the more scientifically orientated Neo-Impressionist Georges Seurat to the lush symbolism of Paul Gauguin. However, all banners of Post-Impressionism focused on the subjective vision of the artist and not the representation of something as it is seen. The movement changed the landscape of the art world even further than Impressionism did. The window that was once used to view the world as it was transcended itself and became instead a window into the artist’s mind and soul. The far-reaching aesthetic impact of the Post-Impressionists influenced many groups, like the Expressionists, that arose during the turn of the 20th century as well as more contemporary movements like Feminist Art, which is very heavily centered on identity.

Post-Impressionists extended Impressionism while rejecting its limitations. They still used vivid colours, thick layers of paint and real-life subject matter but were more inclined to emphasize geometric forms, the distortion of forms for expressive effects and the use of unnatural or arbitrary colours.

Some of the key ideas of Post-Impressionism were the importance of symbolic and highly personal meanings within the paintings. For example, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh rejected the observable world, instead looking at their memories and emotions in order to connect to the viewer on a deeper level. Structure, order and the optical effects of colour dominated the aesthetic vision of the Post-Impressionists. Rather than merely representing their surroundings, they relied upon the relationships between colour and shape to describe the world around them. Despite the various individualized styles, most of the Post-Impressionists focused on abstract form and patterns in the application of paint to canvas. Their early works leaned towards abstraction and paved the way for the radical modernist exploration of abstract art that took place in the early 20th century. Critics grouped the various styles within Post-Impressionism into two primary trends, though they were stylized in their owns ways and generally opposed each other. On one side was the structured and geometric styles that was the precursor to Cubism while on the other side was the expressive or non-geometric art that led to Abstract Expressionism.

The Post-Impressionists were dissatisfied with what they felt was the triviality of subject matter and the loss of structure in Impressionist paintings. Though, it seemed, they could not agree on a way forward with these matters. Georges Seurat and his followers fell into Pointillism, which is the systematic use of tiny dots of colours to create form and structure. Paul Cezanne set out to restore a sense of order and structure to paintings. He achieved this by reducing objects to their basic shapes while retaining the saturated colours of Impressionism. Pissaro, who was one of the original Impressionists, experimented with Neo-Impressionism between the mid-1880s and the early 1980’s. Followers of Neo-Impressionism were drawn to more modern, urban scenes as well as landscapes and seashores. Science-based interpretations of lines and colours influenced the Neo-Impressionists’ characterizations of their own contemporary art. Pisarro became quite discontented with what he referred to as romantic Impressionism, he investigated Pointillism which he called scientific Impressionism, before returning to a purer Impressionism in the last decade of his life. Vincent van Gogh used vibrant, swirling brush strokes to convey his feelings and his state of mind. Artists such as Seurat adopted a meticulously scientific approach to colour and composition.

The Post-Impressionists were often not in agreement concerning a cohesive movement. Yet, the abstract concerns of harmony and structural arrangement took precedence over naturalism, in all the works of these artists.


Impressionism was a French art movement that started in the 19th century, from around 1860. It marked a momentous break from traditional European painting. The Impressionists incorporated new scientific research into the physics of colour to achieve a more natural representation of colour and tone. In the past, art and painting focused on pure representation and less on how the light played off of the subject matter. The Impressionists were more interested in this and looked at the way that colour changed and shifted as the light did.

Impressionist art is a style in which the artist captures the image of an object as someone would see it if they just caught a glimpse of it. They painted the pictures with a lot of colour and most of their paintings were outdoor scenes. Their pictures were often quite bright and vibrant yet still captured a quality of subtlety to the colour. The artists aim would be to capture their images without detail but rather with bold colours and loose brushstrokes.

The sudden change in the look and feel of what were more traditional paintings came out of a change in methodology. Instead of focusing on pure blending and exact representation, the Impressionists applied paint in small touches of pure colour rather than broader strokes and painting outdoors was the mode of creation. Brushwork was done in a more rapid manner and broken into separate dabs in order to capture the fleeting quality of light. Although it has been noted that the process of painting ‘plein air’ or outdoors is said to have been pioneered in Britain by John Constable around 1813-17 through his desire to paint nature in a realistic way. Instead of painting in a studio, the Impressionists found that they could capture the momentary and transient effects of sunlight by working quickly. The intent was to catch a particular fleeting moment of colour and light, like when the sun touches the edges of the leaves at dawn or dances over water during a sunset. This resulted in a greater awareness of light and colour and the shifting pattern of the natural scene.

Some of the more prominent Impressionists were the artists like Edouard Manet, Camille Pissaro, Alfred Sisley, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Pierre August Renoir. Manet greatly influenced the development of Impressionism. He was one of the first 19th century artists to paint modern life and was a pivotal figure in the transition from Realism to Impressionism. Manet painted everyday objects whereas Pissaro and Sisley painted the French countryside and river scenes. Pissaro’s importance lies in his contributions to both Impressionism and Post Impressionism while Sisley was one of the most consistent Impressionist painters in his dedication to painting landscapes and in a plein air manner. Degas enjoyed painting ballet dancers and horse races. He is often identified with the subject of dance, more than half of his works depict dancers. However, despite being one of the founders of the Impressionist movement he rejected the term, preferring to be called a realist. Renoir loved to show the effects of sunlight on flowers and figures and particularly enjoyed feminine sensuality and beauty as a subject. Monet was one of the key founders of the Impressionist movement and one of the most prolific practitioners of the movement’s philosophy. He was interested in the subtle changes in the atmosphere but also how one expressed their own perceptions before nature.

While the term ‘Impressionist’ covers much of the art of this time, there were smaller movements within that, such as Pointillism, Art Nouveau and Fauvism, although all of these have as much leg to stand on as any other movement. The first group exhibition was in Paris in 1874 and included work by Monet, Renoir, Degas and Cezanne. The work shown was greeted with derision with Monet’s Impression, Sunrise particularly singled out for ridicule. However, the artists persevered and seven further exhibitions were then held at intervals until 1886.

At the time, there were many ideas of what constituted modernity. Part of the Impressionist was to capture a split second of life, an ephemeral moment in time on the canvas. An Impression. They abandoned traditional linear perspective and avoided the clarity of form that had previously served to distinguish the more important elements of a picture from the lesser ones. For this reason, many critics faulted the Impressionist paintings for their unfinished appearance and seemingly amateurish quality. Compared to previous genres of art making it is understandable why this was originally rejected as a mode of art-making. However, despite all of this the Impressionists kept going and it continues to be one of the most well known and popular ways of viewing and making art. They aimed to be painters of the real. To extend the possible subjects of paintings and get away from the depictions of idealized forms and perfect symmetry. They instead saw the world for what it was. Imperfect in a myriad of ways.

Dadaism and Duchamp

Dadaism was an artistic and literary movement that began in Zurich, Switzerland. It arose as a reaction to World War 1 and the nationalism that many thought had led to the war. It was very much influenced by Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism. The content made out of that genre was highly varied and ranged from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting, and collage. The movement fell away with the development of Surrealism but it gave rise to many of the various realms of modern and contemporary art.


Dada was the first conceptual art movement where the focus of the artists wasn’t on creating aesthetically pleasing objects but on making works that often upended bourgeois sensibilities and that asked difficult questions about society, the role of the artist and the purpose of art. In fact, the group were so intent on opposing all the norms of middle-class culture that they were often barely in favour of themselves, often crying “Dada is anti-Dada.” So the realm of dadaism could often be confusing, contradictory and in a constant state of flux. Artists like Hans Arp, for example, went against all norms of traditional forms of art making where a work was meticulously planned and completed. Arp used methods of chance in the creation of his works, an example being his artwork Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, which involved his signature technique of tearing paper into rough shapes and dropping them onto a larger sheet, pasting them down where they happened to fall. Dada artists are known for their use of readymade objects – everyday objects that could be bought and presented as art with little to no interference from the artist. The use of readymade art forced questions about artistic creativity and the very definition of art and its purpose in society. The term ‘readymade’ art was first used by French artist Marcel Duchamp to describe the works of art he made from already manufactured objects. For example, Duchamp’s earliest readymade art piece was titled Bicycle Wheel and was made in 1913. This was simply a wheel mounted on a wooden stool. Duchamp particularly chose ordinarily functional and rather dull objects.


Marcel Duchamp was one of the pioneers of Dadaism. Dadaism was primarily about creating what many called ‘nonsense art’ but was, in reality, a movement that challenged ideas about what could be art and what art was. Duchamp particularly looked at turning mundane objects into sculptures. Despite working with a lot of the same themes as surrealists, he refused to actually align himself with any particular art movement. So even despite his significant contribution to the Dadaist movement, he refused to label himself as a Dadaist. This could be contributed to the idea that even Dadaism itself seemed to contradict itself and he did not want to label himself or his art for fear of falling into that. However, despite this, he is widely considered to be the father of Conceptual art. For that reason, I want to focus a little bit on who he was and what he did because it really highlights the Dada movement and what it stood for.


Marcel Duchamp was born on July 28, 1887, and died on October 2, 1968. He was a French artist whose work broke down the boundaries between works of art and everyday objects. He was a painter, sculptor and chess player, and his disinterest in conventional ways of making art led him to create his most famous works, the ‘ready-mades’ that started the new artistic revolution. Few artists can boast about having changed the course of art history the way Duchamp did. His influence on later contemporary artists was monumental and many future art movements were influenced by him.


Duchamp was raised in Normandy, in a family of artists. He moved to Paris in 1904 to join his two brothers who were also there working as artists. Duchamp earned a living by working as a cartoonist and his early drawings show his interest in both visual and verbal puns. He became an American citizen in 1955 where he became a big influence on the New York art scene.


Duchamp began to work as an artist when he moved to Paris to pursue his career. When he eventually retired from the art scene he reportedly spent his time playing chess. In 1911 Duchamp met Francis Picabia and the following year attended a theatre adaptation of Raymond Roussel’s Impressions d’Afrique, a play about the eccentric travelers of a vessel which has become shipwrecked. It had a profound effect on Duchamp. Duchamp noted that for the first time he felt that as a painter it was much better to be influenced by a writer than by another painter.


Duchamp was constantly captivated by new approaches to art and he particularly enjoyed the Fauvists, Cubists, and Impressionist for that reason. He related especially to the Cubist way of working, which focused less on representing reality and rather on reordering it. His earlier paintings, such as Nude Descending a Staircase (1912) show his interest in machinery and its connection to the body’s movement through space. His interest in crossing between genres of creativity and drawing in other disciplines for inspiration would later become one of the core ideas of Dadaism.


Dada artworks, in general, aim to present intriguing overlaps and paradoxes where the intent is to demystify artwork in a sense of accessibility. The main idea was that art did not have to be elite or cost a lot of money and this contradicted the world of art history before it, where art and being able to afford artworks was a sign of status. Even in a more modern time, seeing art meant that you had the luxury to visit a gallery and view and appreciate the work. At the same time, they tried to remain quite cryptic about the intention and concept of the works so that the viewer could interpret it in a variety of ways. The key to understanding Dada works lies in reconciling the seemingly silly, slapdash styles with the profound anti-bourgeois message.


Dada was easily the first conceptual art movement and is now considered a watershed moment in 20th-century art. Postmodernism as we know it would not exist without Dada. Almost every underlying postmodern theory in visual and written art as well as in music and drama was invented or at least utilized by Dada artists. Dada explored all the genres of art in this way, from art as performance, which overlapped with everyday life, the use of popular culture and audience participation and the act of embracing the absurd and the use of chance.

Art in the Technological Era


Where would the Impressionists have been without the invention of portable paint tubes that enabled them to paint outdoors? Who would have heard of Andy Warhol without silkscreen printing? The truth is that technology has been providing artists with new ways of expressing themselves for a very long time. Still, over the decades, art and technology have become more intertwined than ever before, whether it is through providing new ways to mix different types of media, allowing more human interaction or simply making the process of creating art easier.

Some of the many examples in which technology assists or becomes involved with art and art making would be Drone Technology, 3D printing, digital photography and editing and even things like Virtual Reality and access to the internet. One of the main things we’re looking at today is the use of phone apps and how they can help us in the production of our artworks. However, we will still touch on a few of the above-mentioned technologies because the way they affect us is very interesting and almost hard to live without in our time. The three key ones here would be access to the internet, the ability to digitally alter photos and even to take those photos without having to expend a huge amount of money and time on development.

Technology has made our lives easier, certainly in many aspects. One doesn’t often think about how being able to use a digital camera could possibly assist in the act of creating a painting. Its uses are obvious but its something we very much take for granted. Even the ability to snap a photo on your phone and then make a quick sketch from it later or even to use it as a fully fledged reference photo is so important. It saves us time and money and ultimately improves the art making experience.

In this regard, I want to look at how a cellphone app could do the same thing. Not to take a photo necessarily but to improve the experience of creating an artwork. There are the obvious ones for computers like Photoshop or Design software but these require a fairly substantial learning curve. We’re looking specifically at applications that are simple, easy to use and free. I am also not focusing too much on apps that were designed as drawing tools as are there are hundreds out there and choosing what works for you is a personal choice.

Adobe Apps
Adobe (the creators of Photoshop) have created a series of apps that are free to use but offer more subscription-based services as well. This allows you access to video and photo editing in a multitude of ways so its definitely worth checking out for those times you just need to quickly tweak something on your reference photo.

Colour Pal
This is a fairly simple app in that there isn’t a big learning curve or even a lot of features. But in its simplicity lies the key to colour inspiration. If you’re looking for a colour scheme for your next project or having trouble finding colours to match exactly what you need, this is a great and simple app to use. You can search colour schemes by hue or just by what is most popular. It is possible to save your favourites and the app even gives you digital colour information for RGB and CMYK for those of you who like to paint or draw digitally.

This app is your daily dose of art history in an easy to use and simple app. Each day, it gives you a new artwork from history to look at and also includes a small description of the work and who painted it. Its a great way of expanding your personal knowledge without throwing a huge amount of time and energy into learning about a whole new world. You also have the ability to view the archive, although in the free version this is limited. However, the app does have a relatively low once off payment that will give you access to all the features. For those interested in History of Art or in expanding their knowledge, this is a very handy app.

Pinterest is one of those apps that probably everyone knows about but it is such a valuable resource that we couldn’t leave it off the list. Pinterest has such varied content that you will need to search using keywords for what you want but the possibilities are endless. There are hundreds of thousands of art tutorials, inspirational images, reference images as well as artist tips and ideas, all contained into boards, pages and pins. It is such a useful app and website that it has truly changed the way we browse for information. The ability to save and catalogue ideas is one of the best features and the great news is that it translates beautifully from a computer to a phone app.

Artist Grid
A great, simple and free app for placing a grid over an existing photo. You can specify how many rows and columns you want or use presets. Other parameters include line thickness, colour, and transparency, all of which you can customize. You can then export the image with the grid on it for later use. This is an excellent tool for drawing and it is something we practice in class. A grid is key in ensuring your drawing is accurate and on a digital platform, it is even more useful as you can then zoom in and out as needed.

Easy Poser
EasyPoser is a human body pose app for artists to use as a reference. Have you ever wanted a personalized model to show various poses while drawing animation, illustration or sketching? More often than not, you won’t find a photo with the exact pose you’re looking for, so this tool is great for that situation. You pose your model exactly how you want it and see from the angle you want. It is slightly cartoonish in nature but still very workable and easy to use.

So as we can see, the advent of technology in many ways has allowed us more room to play and grow as artists. We no longer have to fuss with a live model, though it is still a good way to learn. The key thing here to note is just how much access we have to new tools via the internet. It’s actually incredible what we are capable of doing so why not harness just a little bit of that to make your life easier.


What is Art?

What Is Art?

There has always been a huge amount of debate with regards to the definition of art. What is art? What makes art? And why does one person say something is art and another revile it? This topic of debate is also not something that is new to the artistic world. Throughout the centuries in Western culture from the 11th century on through to the end of the 17th century, the definition of art was anything done with skill as a result of knowledge and practice. Along with this, all throughout history people have been criticising others over the work they’re creating and denouncing it as ‘not real art’ or not even art at all. So we must ask, how do you define the creation or production of art?

Some say art is beauty but then what is beauty? Beauty is much more than cosmetic. It is not always about prettiness. There are plenty of opportunities to find artistic works of artistic expression that we could agree are not necessarily pretty but are beautiful. Beautiful art may be the artist successfully portraying their artists intended emotions, whether they’re pretty and bright or dark and sinister, or something in between. But neither the artist nor the observer can be certain of successful communication in the end, so beauty in art will always be subjective.

One of the initial reactions to this approach of breaking down what art is is that the categories seem overly broad. Within even just the confines of fine art, you are able to explore painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, performance art, photography, and video amongst many more. And one could say that you could make or do anything and if you call it art, then it is. Arguably, that has to be true. Art does not have to be beautiful and that’s the key idea here. Art is an expression and how we create that expression is important. So the fundamental difference between art and beauty is that art is about who produced it whereas beauty depends on who’s looking. There is no one universal definition of visual art but there are ways of defining it! All throughout history these definitions have shifted and changed slightly. For example, a painting by Jean Basquiat that sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s auction in May 2017 would have had trouble finding an audience in Renaissance Italy. But art evolves and if it didn’t we would indeed live in a very bland world.

The definition of art has generally fallen into three categories: representation, expression, and form.

Art as Representation: Plato developed the first ideas into art. That is, he was one of the first to start thinking of it as something more. He developed the idea of art as “mimesis”, which in Greek means copying or imitation. For this reason, the primary meaning of art was for centuries defined as the representation or replication of something that is beautiful or meaningful. Until roughly the 18th century, a work of art was valued on how faithfully it replicated its subject. The definition of “good art” has had a profound impact on modern and contemporary. If people place such high value on very lifelike portraits such as those by the great masters, it raises questions about the value of ‘modern’ art. While representational art definitely still exists today and it has value, it is no longer the only measure of value.

Art as Expression of Emotional Content: Art as expression became more important during the Romantic movement where artworks began expressing a definite feeling as in the dramatic or sublime or suspenseful. The response of the audience was important as the artwork was intended to evoke an emotional response. This definition still holds true today, as artists look to connect with and evoke responses from their viewers.

Art as Form: Immanuel Kant was one of the most influential of the early philosophers and theorists toward the end of the 18th century. He believed that art should not have a concept but should be judged only and purely on its formal qualities because the content of the art is not of aesthetic interest. Formal qualities became particularly important when art became more abstract in the 20th century and the principles of art and design (balance, rhythm, harmony, and unity) were then used to define and assess the quality of art.

There are a number of quotes that in some sense shed a bit of light on the artists’ opinion on what art is. There are a few that we really like that we feel epitomises the sense of what we’re speaking about. Some of our favourites include:

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.
– Thomas Merton

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.
– Pablo Picasso

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.
– Edgar Degas

Art is the signature of civilizations.
– Jean Sibelius

And then lastly, this one which reminds us that humans are the only creatures on earth (that we know of) who are capable of stepping outside of utilitarian needs to create something that expresses thoughts, feelings, and emotions. There is something really amazing about that and in a way, it just puts aside all the debate and divisiveness we feel about art.

Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that others are infected by these feelings and also experience them.
– Leo Tolstoy

Art is something we do. It is a verb. Art is an expression of our thoughts, emotions, intuitions, and desires but it is even more personal than that. It’s about sharing the way we experience the world, which many is an extension of personality. It’s the communication of intimate concepts that cannot be portrayed by words alone. It is a feeling. It’s seeing a loved one, its standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean and realising how small and unimportant you are and finding the beauty of that. It is also rage and sorrow and joy and everything all wound up into one tight ball that art seeks to unravel.

The History Of Colour

The History Of Colour

The invention of paint as we know it began as early as 40,000 years ago and consisted of combinations of soil, animal fat, burnt charcoal and chalk. This, in essence, created the basic pallete of red, yellow, brown, black and white. Since then, the history of colour has been one
long journey of discovery and exploration, some through chance and others through scientific advancement. The invention of new pigments often sparked new developments in art history, from Renaissance to Impressionism.

Because of the lack of technology and just general lack of access to pigments, paints started out as very neutral, natural toned colours. They were all made out of materials that could be found in nature. Things like natural clays, rocks as well as minerals and precious stones
would all be utilised but certain animal products could also be used as a pigment.


First used in prehistoric cave paintings, red ochre is one of the oldest pigments still used today. In the 16th century, a red pigment was discovered that came from a cochineal insect, a creature that was only found on the prickly pear cactus in Mexico. These little bugs produce
such a potent red dye that it quickly became the third greatest import out of the “New World”. Third only to gold and silver. Raphael, Rembrandt and Rubens all used cochineal as a glaze, layering the pigment on top of other red to increase intensity. Because the pigment is
non-toxic it still used today to colour lipstick and blush.


Ever since the medieval era, painters have depicted the Virgin Mary in a bright blue robe, choosing the colour both for its religious symbolism as well as its hefty price tag. Mary’s iconic hue, called Ultramarine blue, comes from lapis lazuli, a gemstone that could only be found in a single mountain range in Afghanistan. For hundreds of years, the cost of lapis lazuli rivalled even the price of gold. In the 1950s, Yves Klein collaborated with a Parisian paint
supplier to invent a synthetic version of ultramarine blue, Klein said, “Blue has no dimensions. It is beyond dimensions.”


Few artists in history have been known for their use of yellow, though William Turner and Vincent van Gogh are the most notable exceptions. For his sun-lit seascapes, Turner used the experimental watercolour Indian Yellow—a fluorescent paint derived from the urine of mango-fed cows (banned less than a century later for its cruelty to animals). For brighter touches, Turner used a synthetic Chrome Yellow, a lead-based pigment known to cause
delirium. Vincent van Gogh also painted his starry nights and sunflowers using Chrome Yellow which, in part, contributing to his declining mental health.


While the colour green evokes nature and renewal, its pigments have actually been some of the most poisonous in history. In 1775, a deadly hue called Scheele’s Green was invented, a bright green pigment laced with arsenic. By the end of the 19th century, Paris Green—a
similar mixture of copper and arsenic—replaced Scheele’s Green, enabling artists like Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir to create vivid, emerald landscapes. However, it was still highly toxic and may have been responsible for Cézanne’s diabetes and even Monet’s blindness. Unsurprisingly, it was eventually banned in the 1960s.


For centuries, the colour purple has been associated with greatness: immense power, big personalities and artistic genius. Cleopatra and Julius Caesar covered themselves and their palaces with it. Impressionists like Clause Monet became so obsessed with the colour that they were accused of contracting “violettomania” The invention of collapsible tin tubes to store premixed paint was revolutionary for the fine art world. It led to the production of nuanced, pre-mixed paint shades, such as Manganese Violet, the first affordable mauve-coloured paint that meant artists no longer had to mix red and blue to make purple.

Black is technically an absence of light. Where reds, blues, greens are examples of chromatic colours, black is achromatic. It is without hue, like white. Black was one of the first pigments ever used and over the course of art history, there have been many different kinds of black
pigment. Charcoal, which was inexpensive but produced a gritty paint that was difficult to apply. Bone black, literally ground burnt animal bones tended to have a warmer, brown-black and lamp black (burnt vegetable oil) and vine black (charred grapevines or other vegetable products) gave cooler shades. Artists like Frank Stella, Richard Serra, and Ad Reinhardt all created monochromatic black paintings, stripping the canvas of any subject matter other than the paint itself. Taken together, these painters prove that black is as nuanced a colour as any other, capable of many permutations, tones, and textures.


Of all the pigments that have been banned over the centuries, the colour most missed by painters is likely Lead White. This hue could capture and reflect a gleam of light like no other, though its production was anything but glamorous. The 17th-century Dutch method for manufacturing the pigment involved layering cow and horse manure over lead and vinegar. After three months in a sealed room, these materials would combine to create flakes of pure white. While scientists in the late 19th century identified lead as poisonous, it wasn’t until
1978 that the United States banned the production of lead white paint.

As we spoke about in our last post, the psychology of colour is a fascinating and diverse area of thought and in history, the act of using colour has often served as a way of representing something, usually within the realms of mystical, divine and royal. Colours in different cultures can also represent very different things. For example, white in Western culture represents purity and marriage whereas Asian cultures see white as the colour of mourning, grief and loss.

One must examine how colour has been used over time and how the development of technology has influenced the way we see and use colour. We are blessed to live in an age where we can walk into any old art store and find any colour under the rainbow in a tube on a shelf. And even now we have access to colours that are metallic, neon or even glow in the dark. It can be both very freeing and overwhelming at the same time. So just imagine you’re
one of the old masters, grinding up pigments made from rocks shipped from the centre of Africa. That’ll make things easier!

Colour Theory and Colour Mixing

Sir Isaac Newton was the first person to develop the colour wheel as we know it. He created the first circular diagram in 1666. Since then, artists and scientists have studied and designed many variations on the traditional ‘colour wheel’ as we know it today. There is a surprising amount of debate about the validity of one variation over another but honestly, any circle of colour that presents a logically arranged sequence of colours and hues has merit.

There are also categories of colour based on the basic colour wheel, basically divided into three parts.

Primary Colours: The primary colours are easily the most common and make up the foundation of the world around us in terms of colour. The primary colours are red, yellow and blue and cannot be mixed using any other colours. The primary colours, however, make up the rest of all the colours we see and use.

Secondary Colours: At its most basic form, colour theory tells us that if we mix equal parts of two primary colours then we will create green, orange and purple. These are your secondary colours and are thus made using the primary colours as a base. However, depending on the paint you use and the quality of the pigment, it may take a higher ratio of certain colours to create a true middle tone. For example, in many brands of paint, yellow is a weaker pigment. Therefore, an equal ratio of yellow and red or yellow and blue is more likely to be influenced by the stronger pigment of red and blue so you would need more yellow to balance it out.

Tertiary Colours: A tertiary colour is an intermediate colour and is a step between a primary colour and a secondary colour. It’s made mixing a higher ratio of one colour over the other. Another easy way to look at it is by mixing an adjacent primary and secondary colour together, you will end up with the tertiary colour. By adjusting the proportions of the primary and secondary colours you can create a wide range of subtle colours. Essentially you can further versions for the tertiary colours by repeatedly mixing each neighbouring pair until you have a seamless, continuous transition.

Something else to consider is that the particular hue of your colour is important. There isn’t only one option in terms of a shade of yellow, for example. For example, The colour blue has many many variations even as a primary colour. We obviously have primary blue but ultramarine blue, prussian blue or pthalo blue are all different iterations of the same colour. So the particular hue of your primary colour will influence the outcome of your mixed colours, whether they’re secondary or tertiary colours. These differences may be subtle but it’s important to know that they will happen and how to predict the outcome. The best way to learn this is to practice and experiment but make colour charts for yourself in a small notebook or make colour swatches as you’re painting and take notes of the colours mixed and the ratios that you’ve used to get there.

So with these primary factors taken into consideration, what we are going to look at now is how to apply these colours to your artwork and everything you can do with colour theory as an artist. First, we need to look at colour harmony and what that means. Harmony itself is an arrangement of pleasing parts, whether it be music, poetry, colour or even a platter of cheese and dried fruit. In a visual sense, harmony is something that is then pleasing to the eye. It creates a sense of order, a balanced visual experience and is pleasing to the eye. If something is not harmonious it’s either boring or just chaotic. Harmony has to be something that is not extremely overworked, otherwise, it isn’t stimulating but extreme complexity leads to over-stimulation. Harmony should be dynamic.

Colour Formulas for Visual Harmony

Complementary Colours: Diving even deeper into colour theory, we come across one of the most important parts of colour mixing. Complementary colours are opposite each other on the colour wheel. In their most basic form, they are a primary colour and a secondary colour that is made by mixing the two-remaining primary colours. This is a small formula to remember if you tend to forget what the complementary colours are. So let’s look at red as an example. Because red is a primary colour, its complementary must be a secondary colour. Both orange and purple can be made using red, therefore green must be complementary to red. Therefore, blue is also opposite orange and yellow is opposite purple. These are the core complimentary colours but in essence, you could take any subtle variation of a colour and find its complementary but locating it on a colour wheel.

So now that we have covered the basics of mixing to create every colour under the sun, we have to think about how to make these colours lighter and darker. In colour theory, this is called making a tint or a shade. A tint is a colour that appears lighter so we would add various levels of white to create a spectrum of true colour to white, true colour being a primary, secondary or colour. A shade is a colour that appears darker, so we have to add black to get those darker tones. A tone is a colour that has grey added into it to create a more subtle variation of a shade or a tint. Toning a colour neutralizes some of the brightness of a colour without taking it too far down the shade or tint scale.

How to use the power of colour in your art

The power of colour is both emotional and practical. On an emotional level, colour can affect how someone feels when they look at your art, whereas on a practical level it can help a painting or artwork stand out from a crowd. Certain colours can evoke certain emotions and the colour tone of a painting can determine the mood that your painting sets. For example, red can symbolize many different things. It can represent fire, danger, passion or blood and is a bold, energetic and powerful colour. Green. on the other hand. has very different connotations, Green can represent nature and the environment and thus, in turn, the idea of growth and organic, natural senses. However, it is also the colour of envy, which has entirely different connotations. A mood of the painting can be cool, warm or neutral, In essence, warm colours are reds, some browns, yellow, orange, or earthy greens. Cool colours are blues, greens, non-red browns, blue-toned purples, amongst many others. The tone of your painting can determine how someone feels when they look at your work. The www.arttherapyblog.com/  has a really great post with a more in-depth break down of each colour. Check it out here!

The world of colour is massive and you could dedicate your whole life to studying colour and still be amazed by what you learn. The real fun part is just experimenting and learning as you go. Make colour swatches as you paint, take photos of things that you like the colour of and just see what works for you. Remember that the colours you choose affect the overall feel and mood of your paintings and it can be hard to choose a theme or colours for your artwork. So, check online for some ideas but here are a few websites to start with!

Paletton.com Canva.com Coolers.com

Acrylic Painting Techniques 

We have looked at all the materials you are going to need for your acrylic painting journey. But that isn’t the be all and end all of painting the acrylics. One of the more important aspects, and it doesn’t matter what you’re using or how expensive your supplies are, is how to actually use them. So with your basic materials, including a brush, canvas and acrylic paint and these techniques; you will be well equipped to create some incredible paintings. We will be looking at some of the more universally used techniques to start and then even going into further depth with some lesser known techniques like dabbing and splattering. The more you practice these techniques the more comfortable you will feel with pushing them further and experimenting with your medium and paintings.

DRY BRUSHING: The dry brushing technique is great for a more diffused effect. The effect will be quite uneven and you could soften the edges using water but if you are looking for texture and direction, then dry brushing is the best option. It is particularly good for blending together two areas of textured colour.

GLAZING: When you add enough water to acrylic paint, it behaves in a similar way to watercolour. The paint becomes translucent and very runny. You can use this technique to add transparent layers of colour over each other, add variations of hue to areas of colour or even to do small areas of blending. Some sources, however, advise that you shouldn’t add more than 50% water to your paint as this may cause the polymer in the paint to break down and lose its adhesive qualities, resulting in the possibility of your paint lifting of flaking off when you paint subsequent layers over it. It’s best to just experiment for yourself and see what your own paints are capable of doing. Make a colour chart for yourself and label the wash swatches with the various ratios of water used. You’ll notice that after being watered down to a certain point the paint will start beading and breaking up into little speck of pigment as it dries. This shows you clearly how much over-dilution your paint can handle. Obviously, higher grade paints will hold a lot more water than lower grade quality.

STIPPLING: The technique of stippling consists of applying layers of varying sizes and thicknesses of dots. To create variations of depth and texture. This can be done with a brush to achieve a much looser, more expressive feeling or it can be achieved using more precise tools like earbuds, toothpicks and even the backs of paint brushes.

WET ON DRY: This refers to the technique of applying wet paint to a dried section of painted canvas. It is easily the most common and user-friendly way of painting, though you will need to master the art of blending out solid areas of colour. This can be achieved by dry brushing or simply spreading the paint onto the surface without lifting your brush too much or gathering more paint onto the bristles. Glazing techniques can be used on top of dry paint as well to blend.

WET ON WET: Aside from the Wet on Dry technique, wet on wet is probably the second most commonly used painting technique, particularly for Acrylic. Wet paint is pliable and easy to manipulate and thus gives you smoother effects overall. When a wet layer is applied over a wet area of paint, both layers blend together and can produce more irregular patterns, as it is particularly tricky to predict exactly how the colours will spread together.

PALETTE KNIFE: Palette knives are most often used to produce and apply thick layers of paint to achieve texture and create volume. It is used often hand in hand with the impasto technique, which we will explore in a moment. It is a relatively simple technique, though the variety of palette knives out there means your choices may feel overwhelming. The best way to learn is to just buy a few of the key shapes or a small pack and go from there. The difficulty in palette knives doesn’t lie in techniques but rather allowing layers to dry to avoid creating mush. Knowing when to stop is tricky with art in general!

IMPASTO: Impasto is a technique used in painting where the paint is laid out on an area of the canvas in very thick layers, usually so thick that the brush strokes or palette knife marks are visible. The paint can be mixed right onto the canvas because the thicker layers of paint do tend to swirl together somewhat and the marbling effect that tends to happen creates an impression of a new colour with a really interesting depth of colour. The only downside to impasto is that it tends to use up a lot of paint so it is advisable to add something like an impasto medium, which is designed to thicken up the paint without losing its colour and vitality.

SGRAFFITO: Sgraffito is a form of decoration typically used in ceramics, although it is a technique that can very successfully be incorporated into a painting. It involves scratching through a surface, usually a layer of wet paint, to reveal a lower layer of a different or contrasting colour. This can be done using any tool, though very sharp tools are not advisable on surfaces like a canvas. So things like toothpicks, the ends of paint brushes, palette knives or even your fingernails will all work in wonderful and unique ways. This technique is often good for adding texture to grass, foliage or hair.

SPLATTERING: Splattering is a really fun, quite carefree way to use paint. Using a fairly wet brush, you can flick or splatter paint onto a work surface for an uneven, splatter effect. Its fantastic for creating an abstract landscape or a starry night sky, or for just adding interesting texture to a piece. Famously, Jackson Pollock used this technique to create expressive abstract pieces.

DABBING: Dabbing is an interesting technique because it is not often thought of when it comes to painting techniques and adding texture but its a great way to apply large areas of rough paint. Using the corner of a sponge or even a piece of paper towel, dab onto the canvas with a little paint to add accents of colour. This does create a texture that can’t be replicated with any other applicator.

DETAILING: There often comes a point in the painting where you need to abandon your bigger brushes in favour of smaller, finer brushes to carefully paint in those finicky details. Detailing is a very important aspect of the artwork and will often involve shorter, sharper lines and fine edges that finish off and refine your overall forms.

The process of under-painting has three potential uses and can be applied in different ways depending on your specific needs.
– To create texture or build upon the canvas in preparation for further layers.
– To put tone or colour beneath the painting and allowing that to impact your final work in some way, either by leaving some areas exposed or using glazing methods to create translucent effects.
– A way of planning and laying out your painting to see whether all the elements you’re planning balance out compositionally and ‘fit’ together.


Learning to layer your paint doesn’t just apply to acrylic paint and its an important part of the painting process that feeds into every aspect of your creative practice. Layered paintings, drawings or even art journals always look more professional and more finished than a painting that just has one flat layer. Every subsequent layer just adds more depth and you can really play around with layering different techniques like stippling and dabbing underneath glazing and detail work. It will really enhance the perception of three-dimensionality in your painting and acrylics really lend themselves to this because they dry so quickly and aren’t water-soluble when dry so you don’t have to worry about disturbing lower layers. Start with a bottom, background layer and build it from there, growing it and enhancing it as you need.


While all of the above techniques are very useful and versatile on their own, the brush you use to create the effect is particularly important because it can determine the final effect and overall form. Different shaped brushes will obviously give very different effects so the best thing to do is experiment and even make swatches using a few different brushes to see what will work better for you.

So having touched now on the multitude of painting techniques available to you, it’s up to you to try them out, play around with them and experiment to find the techniques that work for you. Grab a small cheap canvas or repurpose something old to practice on before committing to an actual artwork. It makes the whole process much easier. In the next post, we’ll have a nice in-depth look at the intricacies of colour, colour mixing and how using colour can influence the overall look and feel of your artworks.

An Introduction To Acrylic Painting

So if you’re new to painting and art, it can be pretty intimidating to figure out where to start, what to buy and how to go about it. We’ll be discussing a few of the more key elements to consider when approaching the concept of acrylic painting, but also in some ways, painting in general.

Acrylic paint is a fairly recent development for the art world, being introduced in a commercial capacity in the 1950’s. Acrylic paint is easily one of the most versatile mediums and one of the least toxic. It is water soluble yet when it dries, it forms to a plastic polymer which is flexible, water resistant and durable. It dries quickly so the artist can add multiple successive layers without mixing colours underneath. Acrylic paint is also known for its vibrant colour options because they are synthetically produced, any colour under the sun can be bottled.

So this brings us to the question of why should you choose acrylic? Acrylics are easy to use and clean. They’re a very forgiving medium in that they will dry quickly and you can cover mistakes if need be and they also come in a wide range of price and quality. Acrylics are easily more accessible than other painting mediums like oil or watercolour paints and don’t require a huge cost output to get started.

Acrylic paint is great for fine art, crafts, collage and mixed media because of its versatility, adhesive quality and low toxicity. For this reason, it is also great for kids! When it comes to painting, however, there are three key elements that you have to consider more seriously, while the rest is easier to adapt and figure out as you go on. You must consider your paints, your painting surface and lastly your brushes.

When it comes to materials it can be overwhelming to consider all the variables, but universally its said that you should buy the most expensive paint you can afford and the best working surface. Whether that means you’re buying entry level paints and canvases or investing in much higher end materials. It can be difficult, but as an artist, your worth is not defined by the cost of your materials, its what you do with them. However, the good quality paint will work more for you than cheaper brands. The same applies to your working surface. If the canvas is warped or dented because it’s of inferior quality, it is only going to negatively impact not only your final artwork but your painting experience.

So, with that in mind, let’s talk about the most important thing here, which is the paint. I have long said that you only really need a few colours to get started with your collection. With these, you can pretty much mix anything, though there are exceptions. These are your red, yellow and blue (your three primary colours), burnt sienna, ultramarine blue and white.

With these colours, you can make orange, purple, green and every shade in between as well as a lovely black colour using the ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. White will create a tint of all these colours and unless you’re needing colours like neon orange, you should be fine with these to start.


The paint itself can be purchased now in a variety of different forms, from tube, jars, squeeze bottles and even small ink bottles. They also come in a variety of thicknesses and consistencies. Because it is water soluble it can be thinned with water and other mediums, however, using too much water breaks down the paint and can result in undesirable conditions.

In terms of brands, there is a world of possibility to explore. Unfortunately here in South Africa, we’re a little limited in terms of brand variety, though Windsor and Newton and Liquitex are stocked in speciality art stores and are great to use. Liquitex provides quite a heavy body, opaque paint and Windsor and Newton is one of the oldest and most reputable art brands out there. More affordable paints range from Rolfes, Amsterdam, Reeves and Daler Rowney, amongst many others. The key is to find what works for you and go from there. And don’t ever be hesitant to ask for advice from in-store staff, read online reviews or even just buy one or two products on sale and try them out first before committing to full sets.

Painting Surfaces

There are many options for acrylic painting surfaces. Acrylics can be used on paper, canvas, wood, masonite, cloth, concrete, brick or basically anything that isn’t too glossy or greasy. However, you do need to be aware that porous surfaces will need to be primed in order to apply the paint evenly as the surface will absorb water and paint. This also does provide your painting with more longevity. Even for nonporous surfaces like glass or metal, one would need to prime the surface first.

The most commonly used painting surfaces are canvases, though canvas boards are popular too. Canvas is typically made either out of cotton or linen, though linen is more expensive it is said to stay more flexible at it ages as it has a higher natural oil content than cotton. Canvases are made using stretched linen or cotton over a wooden frame. Canvases are more flexible and have more texture so are a good all-purpose painting surface. They vary widely in price and will come pre-primed for painting. The painting can be hung as is when finished and there is no need for framing, though that is still an option. A canvas board is a harder surface than canvas and is made by stretching and then stapling or glueing the cotton or linen to the board. Canvas boards are cheaper than canvases and easier to store, though they don’t have the same flexibility and have to be framed to put up on a wall. MDF board or medium density fiberboard can be bought from most hardware stores and is made by binding the wood fibres with glue under high pressure. Though it has to be primed before use, it is inexpensive and you can achieve very smooth surfaces with it when primed with thin layers. Canvas paper is essentially loose, pre-primed linen or cotton, often synthetic. Its cheap to buy, easy to use though it is recommended you tape it down while working. Canvas paper is particularly useful for practicing techniques and doing trial paintings without committing to a full canvas.


Brushes come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and textures and qualities. There are a few key things to take into account when buying brushes. Namely, the size, shape and texture. Brush sizes are marked with a number on the handle. The higher the number, the larger the brush. There are three components to a brush: the handle,the ferrule (the small piece of metal around the top of the handle) and then the tuft or bristles itself. The tuft is the most important part of the brush and comes in a variety of shapes.

So because brushes come in all shapes and sizes, it can be tricky to learn all the names of them! The key is to remember the basic shapes and think about what kind of mark they would make when applying paint to a canvas. While certain brushes are designed for certain things, it really is about how you use them more than anything else. Its good to know the uses and names for them however and IncredibleArt.org has a wonderful and extensive description of all the brushes and what to use them for.


Mediums are used for adding texture and body to paints and surfaces and add to the quality of the paint without changing the properties of it. Some mediums will add texture and body while others may actually thin the paint down, without having to add water, which in large quantities, can break down the pigment in the paint. Some examples of these are acrylic retarder, texture pastes that can be both smooth and coarse as well as clear gel mediums that simply add to the bulk of the paint. Mediums are not necessary when you’re just starting out so find your footing first with the paints before diving into supplements for your paint and then when you’re comfortable, they make a great addition to your art supply collection.


Primers are used to create a surface that the paint can attach to. Gesso is often used as a primer for both acrylic and oil paints and is relatively inexpensive from most art stores. While storebought working surfaces will usually come pre-primed it can be useful to prime it a second or even third time, as subsequent layers of primer will only add to the texture of the board, or if you’re careful and precise, you can get beautifully smooth working layers. Gesso will come in white, clear or black and each suits a different purpose. Clear gesso can have colour added to it, while black gesso adds a depth to your colour that would take a few coats to achieve over white. However, a primed, white background can give your paint a certain luminosity that would otherwise be difficult to achieve.

Palette knives

Palette knives or painting knives are a really versatile tool for painting and we would definitely recommend getting a set. There are some very affordable options out there and you can buy them individually or in a pack. Various shaped palette knives will be better for certain things. A palette knife is a blunt tool that has a long straight blade and can be used to apply paint as well as scrape it off. Most palette knives are metal with a wooden handle but some are made from plastic. There is a plethora of tutorials and classes online dedicated to teaching the art of palette knife painting. Learning how to use a palette knife for painting is a great experience and you can really just experiment and play around until you find what works for you.

In conclusion, Acrylic painting is really dynamic, user-friendly and an accessible medium that is fun to learn and even more enjoyable to do. Hopefully, some of the things here have been able to guide you in the right direction. Most importantly, out of all of this, is that you should always enjoy what you’re doing. Yes, there are the technically correct ways of doing things and these are valid in their own way. However, it is important to not put yourself down or hold yourself to a level of expectation that is unachievable. Learn what you can and where you can but don’t let perfection bog you down. Art is about expressing yourself! So be free, have fun and just paint.