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Couches, Croquis, and Ébauche

Finger painting is right up there with cave painting... a form of communication, and art. Artists, for whatever reasons like commerce, aesthetics, or creative outlets, built upon the work of those who came before... sometimes literally. Then there is Denmark, France and Italy. As the centuries and millennia wore on things got more complicated, more technical... Tempera finger paint was invented and then acrylic, alkyd, latex, epoxy, and acid, glass etching, graffiti spray paint.

Classical painting started out in Roman/Egyptian times or maybe classical Greece (since they painted statues) with egg tempera which was egg white as binder or medium and ground up minerals of various colors, all the great classical painters used it, until around 1500 when oil painting pretty much replaced it and added colors made with bugs and mango fed cow pee, in addition to minerals... inorganic, and later organic chemistry or at least advancement in chemical things like going from little bladders to lead tubes with caps around the 1850’s, and leading to the Impressionist plein air painters.

Didn’t you know you were going to get a history lesson? Don’t feel bad, neither did I. So we go from egg tempera to modern day tempera (which is poster paint distinct from finger paint, who knew). I tried to find out what powdered school tempura paint is made of but it’s a secret apparently... non-toxic supposedly, but yeah, nada. The closest I got was MSDS... color names like LF-14 white and ‘Water soluble binder with organic and/or inorganic pigments. Extenders and 3.5% Calcium carbonate.’ I’m guessing ‘extender’ means emulsifier. This does not say shit about what chemical molecules the colors are made of, but this is not about a chemistry lesson. Try not to eat paint.

Suffice it to say there are lots of kinds of paint but it’s all ground minerals or chemicals (many of which are toxic heavy metals) and different binders... egg, flax seed oil (linseed), acrylic polymer, gum Arabic... and who knows what’s in battleship anti-fouling paint but it’s not healthy. I could not find a decent definition of the word tempera other than paint, but looked up the Latin temperāre and it means to moderate bring to a proper strength or consistency by mixing.

This leads to the real subject of this blog post... new words I’ve learned after 20 years of painting. After I’ve been painting 20 years... I learned some new words, recently. It just never ends... learning about art. I learned some of these new words this past week, so I thought I would share a bunch of random art words.

I’ll start with the Italians, since they seemed to get an early start. Like medicine, maybe this is because all the higher learning in the Age of Enlightenment or Renaissance was written in Latin. All of our body parts have Latin medical terms, still. The Italian Masters gave us 4 famous painting techniques, Cangiante, Chiaroscuro, Sfumato, and Unione. And, lots of other painting words... like Abstract, Alla Prima, gesso, impasto, imprimatura, and pentimento. The French speak a Romance language, as well, so one might say... it’s roots are all Latin, but they give us such words as, Grisaille, croquis, couche, ēbauche, and gouache. And, as long as we are in Europe the Dutch were in the game with terms like houding. This is not mention periods in art like Baroque, Rococo... Dada. Then there is Asia with words like notan (black and white sketch, no grays).

Don’t get me wrong, there are heaps of words about art... paintbrush, canvas, ultramarine blue (originally ground lapis lazuli). But in oil painting... we had a logical sequence... stretcher bars, canvas, gesso, ground, drawing, paint mixing, block in, dead coloring, direct painting, scumbling and glazing, varnish. Turpentine came later. Today... it’s gone modern technical. Aluminum composition panels, polyvinyl acetate, melamine, medium density fiberboard, polyester fabric. I hear that hemp predates cotton for canvas and it’s making a comeback.

Did you know Jackson Pollock modeled for Thomas Hart Benton?

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