“The Four Techniques for Illusion and Volume”

For those out there like myself interested in technical art history, you can download an excellent free document in PDF presented by the Getty Conservation Institute called Historical Painting Techniques, Materials and Studio Practice.  This was called to my attention by Prof. Celeste Brusati at the University of Michigan, and I thank her again for doing so.

One of the essays is by Leslie A. Carlyle entitled “Beyond a Collection of Data: What We Can Learn from Documentary Sources on Artists’ Materials and Techniques”.  Under the heading “Technical approaches used for creating the illusion of volume” she says:

A basic goal of all representational artists—to present an illusion of volume—is accomplished in painting through the juxtaposition of dark and light values, and of highlights and shadows.  This illusion is accomplished traditionally through one of four basic techniques.  A brief analysis of these techniques will illustrate the possibilities of standardizing the visual examination of paintings and the usefulness of the visual markers that can be established as a result of this approach.

These four techniques are:

  1. Basic Technique
  2. Transparent Oil Technique
  3. Highlight and Impasto White
  4. Direct Surface Blending

Very straightforward, seemingly obvious, but I had never before given it much thought.  I am always appreciative when someone can take the complex—like oil painting—and make it simple, which Ms. Carlyle does.  Each take several paragraphs to explain, so refer to the actual document for the details.  If nothing else, it’s a nice Rorschach test to take to find out which technique you identify with the most.  Worth a look.