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Popular Color and Painting Techniques

Marcus Aitken in the Studio

Thanks to Singulart’s collaboration with Malen-Lernen.org, we invite you to learn about selected color and painting techniques in order to better understand the craft of the artist. On our partner’s homepage, you will find a wide range of information if you would like to try your hand at this creative work yourself.

The art of painting is extremely varied. Depending on the artist’s choice of paint and the application, a variety of results can be achieved. Discover the most popular painting and color techniques in this article!

1) Acrylic painting

Acrylic paint was first used during the Expressionist period in the 1950s. In relation to the history of art, Acrylic painting is a fairly recent art movement. However, due to its simple yet versatile application, acrylic paint quickly became one of the most popular mediums used in pop art, abstract art, and surrealism.

Acrylic painting: There’s a Pool on the Roof (2018), Courtney Heather

The Technique

Acrylic paints are easy to dilute with water but dry very quickly. That means that they will likely need to be glazed. Artists begin with a layer of acrylic paint, which is then given a second diluted coat, the first layer still shimmering through.

Acrylic paint dries fast, which is advantageous for the sgraffito technique. This effect is created when an already dried layer of paint is painted over, then the newly applied wet paint is removed in select areas, reexposing the base layer.

For the wet-on-wet technique, the fast-drying quality of acrylic paint can be a challenge. With this painting technique, different color nuances are achieved by mixing wet colors directly on the canvas. An alternative technique is to use a drying retardant so as to low the paint’s change.

The Basket Makers (2020), Marietjie Henning

Acrylic paints are available in different viscosities. Thick color variants enable artists to use the spatula technique. Here, the artist applies paint to the surface of a canvas with a palette knife to create surface structures. Other structural techniques such as granulating or the impasto, can also be realized with acrylic paint.

An artist can combine thin colors with acrylic by using the sponge technique. This is achieved by applying acrylic paint with a natural sponge, a foam brush, or a foam roller. Particularly thin acrylic paints are also popular for airbrushing.

The addition of a pouring agent, which are especially available for acrylic paints, makes it possible to make the paint so fluid that it can be poured onto the canvas. This is called acrylic pouring. It is not only a very new way of painting but also an extremely creative one.

2) Oil painting and its painting techniques

Oil paint has been in use since the 14th century. Many different painting techniques can be implemented with it, but it requires some basic knowledge. Oil painting is known as one of the most demanding painting techniques for good reason.

Ölgemälde: Au café rouge (2019), Olga Novokhatska

The substrate of an oil painting is central to the success of a work. If the substrate is too absorbent and has not been covered with a primer, it is possible that this will extract the oil from the paint and make it unusable. This type of paint can be mixed well, and made thin with turpentine. It can also be painted with a brush or spatula, but one should keep an eye on the thickness, because cracks can appear as the paint dries if it is too thick. These paintings often take several days to dry completely.

Basic techniques

  • Side-by-side painting is a work that uses colored areas that are separate from each other.
  • Wet-on-wet is the characteristic, soft color gradients are created when two areas of color painted next to each other are connected by transverse movements before drying.
  • Painting on top of each other involves different layers of paint that are applied on top of each other, whereby the lowest layer may already be dry or wet. Brushes, painting knives or fingers can be used to apply the paint.
  • Pre-drawing is an oil painting that can be pre-drawn with charcoal, pencil or pastel chalk. Diluted oil paint can also be used to pre-paint the most important parts of the painting (underpainting).
  • Impasto technique is probably the most important technique in oil painting. Thick layers of paint are applied with a thick brush or a painting knife and are often mixed directly on the canvas to create new colors. After drying, a clear relief structure can be seen.

3) Watercolor painting

In the time of Albrecht Dürer, watercolors were still used as sketches for oil paintings; it was not until the 18th century that Cezanne established watercolor painting as an art form itself.

Aquarell auf Papier: Genèse d’une vague (2018), Anne Baron

One of the most important watercolor techniques is glazing. In this process, another color is applied over an already dry layer of paint. In this way, a wide variety of color gradations can be achieved. It is important to work quickly so that the base layer of paint does not soften again.

Washing is also a common painting technique with watercolors. Here, colors that are still liquid are combined so that they seamlessly mix together. This creates structures and color gradients. This gradient technique can also be created with only one color to make it run from opaque to transparent. Fan brushes are suitable aids for this technique.

A more niche technique is granulation. With this technique, one incorporates the properties of the paper into the painting process. The aim is to apply color only to the raised areas, leaving the deep areas of the paper structure colorless. This technique is particularly popular for water surfaces.

Heavy Weight (n.d.), Rhia Hurt

4) Pastel Painting

Pastel painting requires special pastel paper with a rough surface. This is used to paint with pastel crayons or pastel pencils of varying densities. Color mixtures can be created by rubbing the pigments directly onto the paper. This can be done with the fingers or with an estompen (paper wiper).

When painting on top of each other, the desired effect is that colors mix. Opaque overlaying, on the other hand, aims to achieve exactly the opposite. Colors applied on top of each other should not mix, but rather create accents. For this purpose, the artist uses pastels of different hardness or with pencils. In Tulip V 11.18 by Ulrike Bultmann used pencils.

Rubbing one into the other creates gentle color transitions between two areas of color next to or on top of each other. With pastels, one can also use stencils or the hatching technique.

Since the color pigments sit very loosely on the painting surface, pastel paintings must always be finished with a fixing spray; this is the only way to preserve their full splendor for a long time.

5) Mixed Media

Mixed media is the art of combining different painting techniques. Leonardo Da Vinci worked with different types of paint on one painting. Today, mixed media refers to drawings or paintings that are made into collages using a wide variety of materials.

The painting surface for such a collage should tolerate moisture and be primed with gesso. An admixture of sand or the application of paste provides structure. It is up to the artist to decide which type of paint should be applied to the surface using which painting technique. Not all types of paints can be combined. For example, watercolor cannot be applied to oil paint, but the reverse is possible.

Gel medium can be used to attach materials such as fabrics, papers, photos, newspaper cuttings, or decorative foils to the artwork, but very thick acrylic paint is also suitable for sticking. Glitter can be used in the same way.

6) Drawing

In a drawing, the image is represented by lines, dots, and contrast and less by colors. Suitable drawing tools are ink, pencil, crayon, chalk, and charcoal. Except for ink, these pigments do not soak into the surface of the paper. Finally, the artwork must be protected against abrasion with a fixative.

A variety of painting techniques makes drawing an interesting art form.

  • When hatching, lines are arranged parallel to each other or crosswise to create shadows and highlights. Smooth transitions are created with the Schummer technique, which involves working with the broad side of the drawing instrument in circular movements.
  • To achieve a gradient from light to dark, the pigments can be smudged. Unique effects are also created by erasing. Frottage is when the drawing sheet is placed over relief and then rubbed over it with the broad side of the pencil.
  • To depict three-dimensional motifs, a drawing must be given depth. This is easily achieved by breaking down the individual objects into geometric shapes.

We hope this article has inspired you and will help you find your perfect artwork. Browse Singulart for the painting technique you like best.