If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Art Materials & Tools


A drawing is a picture made by hand, with mark making. Drawing is one of the most important arts because

1. It's intimate and personal. Everyone draws differently.
2. It's also crucial (veľmi dôležitý) in design, because it's cheap, fast, and you can draw anywhere. You don't need a studio. Everything you buy, everything you wear, every film you see, they all start out as drawings.

Drawing is hard. One problem is how to hold the pencil. Stan Prokopenko explains how, in this funny video:

Traditionally, drawings are done on paper. Media include:

graphite (pencil drawing) (grafit)
graphite is shiny and silvery:

Portrait, by Lucas Graciano

charcoal (uhlie)
Charcoal is darker and softer:

Jean-Marie, by Nathan Fowkes

conté crayon (rudka)
Conté crayon is like charcoal - it is charcoal, really, only compressed and mixed with wax (vosk) or clay (hlina). This makes it stronger and harder, so it's easier to draw thin, fine details.

Portrait of a Girl, by Emily Gordon

Stan Prokopenko uses Conté Crayon pencils in his drawings and tutorials:

For Stan's fine-art, gallery drawings:

markers (fixy)

Markers are typically for children, but expensive, artist's brands such as Copic and Prismacolor have become popular, especially in comics.

Iron Man Pre-Convention Commission by Jeff "Chamba" Cruz

Adam Hughes makes some of the best comic covers in the industry.
(I think he designed the figurines that stand on his table)

ink (tuš/atrament)

Kurama Sanctuary, by Rémi Maynègre

When you draw with ink, you can use a pen, brush (štetec), or both together.

If you want to paint over an ink drawing, make sure it's oil based ink! Otherwise, it'll ruin the lines as they bleed and mix with the wash.

Ink is one of the few wet media that's still considered drawing, even when you use a brush. This is mostly because pen and ink are traditionally black and white. But, drawing doesn't have to be black and white. There are many colours of ink.

colored pencils (farbičky)

Illuminate, by Zeldis, Maria

and pastel

The Haymaker (detail), by Sir George Clausen

Pastels blur the line between drawing and painting. It's a dry medium, and you draw with pastels like with a pencil, but the product looks like a painting. So, what do you call it? A pastel. Also note, pastels are the most toxic medium in art. They're pure pigment, meaning chemicals like cadmium, cobalt, chromium, and lead (olovo), and they create dust which you can breathe in.


Paints are what you put on a palette (paleta). Your painting usually sits on an easel (stojan). You paint with brushes (štetce) and palette knives (špachtle). You clean your brushes with soap, solvents (rozpúšťadlo), and rags (handry).

Egg Tempera

Some of the earliest paintings that still exist are frescoes and egg tempera. Egg tempera is described in this video, it's egg yolk (vaječný žĺtok), water, pigment, and a bit of vinegar (ocot). Tempera is water-based and opaque (nepriesvitný). It was mostly painted on wooden boards. Student quality tempera, like they sell in TESCO isn't really tempera. It's a cheap imitation - real egg tempera spoils quickly, so you have to make it fresh.

(Why do they call it BBC Worldwide, when they refuse to show their videos worldwide?)

Roman Mummy Portrait, artist unknown
Fayum, Egypt, 24 AD

The painting above is one of the earliest examples of egg tempera painting. Romans would hire an artist to paint the portrait of important people who died, before burial. The portrait was placed in the tomb (hrobka) with the corpse (mŕtvola). The proportions are off (look how long her nose is), but otherwise, the skill in this one is remarkable - it makes me wonder if it's a fake. If you click on it, you'll see how egg tempera lends itself to cross-hatching (šrafovanie šikmé).


Frescos are paintings on walls, usually inside a building. The idea was to draw a sketch on the wall, and then mix pigment with wet plaster (sadra), quickly painting the picture in sections, before the plaster dried. Frescoes decorated homes in ancient times. Though most ancient painting is long gone, we do have some examples from Egyptian tombs (painted fresco a secco, meaning they painted over dry plaster), and from Pompeii, where a volcanic eruption buried and preserved some Roman frescoes for over a thousand years.

Reading of Bridal Rituals, artist unknown
Villa of Mysteries, Pompeii 60 BC

Oil Paint

If you watched that video on egg tempera above, you'll see that artists like Da Vinci experimented with oil based paints. Oil became popular for several reasons.

1. they take a long time to dry, from days to weeks, depending on the colour. So they're very easy to blend, rework, and correct.

2. Because some of the colours are translucent (priesvitný), meaning see-through, you can create an excellent sense of depth, glazing (glazúra) the painting with thin layers of translucent color. You have to see it in person to appreciate it.

Cherries, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
rocks oil paints, 1873

3. They don't simply dry like Tempera. They cure (tvrdnúť). This means if you spill liquid on a dry painting, it won't ruin the colours. They won't reactivate, so you can wipe it off, as good as new. After a Tempera painting dries, it's very delicate (krehký), and you have to be careful not to scratch it.

Oil paintings were originally done on wooden panels, following the same methods as egg tempera, but as the renaissance progressed, artists began painting on canvas (plátno). Traditional oil paintings are covered in a layer of varnish (náter), so that they still look wet, even after they're dry.

A word of warning. Traditional Varnish turns yellow over time, changing the colours. You can find new kinds of varnish that don't yellow.

You can remove the varnish, and put on a new layer of fresh varnish. Art restorers typically do this to an oil painting every 100-200 years or so.


Watercolour gets its name from being water-based. It's usually done on thick, watercolour paper. All watercolour paints are translucent. Traditional watercolour doesn't have white paint. Like drawing, the white of the paper is the white. Watercolour gained acceptance as a high art in the renaissance, around the same time as oil paint.

Hare, by Albrect Dürer, 1502

One of the greatest watercolourists was the American painter Winslow Homer.

Under the Falls, by Winslow Homer, 1895

Acrylic Paint

Oil is the standard medium for professional, fine-art painting. But, acrylic paint, a 20th century invention, is becoming popular. Acrylic is a kind of liquid plastic that also cures. Once acrylic dries completely, you can't wet it again. The main difference from oil is

1. Acrylic is water-based, making it popular in schools, because it's safer. There are no toxic fumes (výpary) to breathe in.

2. They also dry much faster. This makes it easier for sketching outdoors, and carrying your work with you - you don't want to drop a wet oil painting while you carry it back to the car, and the smell of it can make you sick on a long drive.

Despite those differences, companies like Golden Acrylics try to make their paints act in much the same way as oil paint. The colors have the same names, and opaque/translucent characteristics. Acrylic can look a lot like oil when it's finished:

Hawaii House, by Nathan Fowkes

But if you see it in person, you can usually see it's acrylic, because acrylic paint looks a bit like rubber when it's dry.

If you mix acrylic with lots of water (hard to do, as the water makes acrylic want to clump into little bits) you can make acrlyic seem like a water colour. The advantage is, you can paint in layers, and you don't have to worry about reactivating the dry layers - they won't mix together and muddy your painting.

Goddess, acrylic, by Bill Presing, artist at Pixar


Brushes are categorized by shape, size, and by the kind of hair - soft or stiff. Stiff hog hair is great for thick oil paint, and softer sable or nylon is great for watercolour. You don't need to know all the different shapes of brushes. Just this:

1. Flat brushes are all you need for oil and acrylic.
2. A big round sable brush is all you really need for watercolour sketching.
3. Start with a big brush, then use smaller brushes at the end.
4. Clean them! Don't let the paint dry on a brush, or it's trash.

Digital Painting

Many illustrators now paint digitally, using Photoshop and other software, because it's fast, it's easy to change and correct mistakes, and it's easy to print in the advertising, publishing, and comics industries. The best digital painters try to replicate the textures and effects of traditional painting. You might think it's an oil painting or watercolour, but it's really digital.
Portrait Sketch by Daniel Clarke

They do this by making custom brushes:

custom brushes used by Scott Fischer

Sculpture (sochárstvo)

Sculpture is three dimensional art. It can by any size, style, or material. Sculpture tools include a hammer (kladivo), chisel (dláto), rasp (rašpľa), and file (pilník).

A statue is a sculpture that looks like a person:

Diana of Gabies, Roman, 14-37 AD

If a statue is small, or miniature, it's called a figurine:

Farmer and daughter, artist unknown
ivory (slonovina), Japanese, 19th C.

A relief is a cross between sculpture and drawing. It's two-and-a-half dimensions - a carving on the side of a wall. You use the light of the sun to create lines of shadows, to "draw". There is high relief:

Preparation for an Animal Sacrifice, artist uknown,
Roman 100-125 AD

And, there is low, or bas-relief (it's thinner):

Every coin is an example of bas-relief.

Common sculpture materials include:


Orka mother and pup, by Steve Blanchard and Co.

marble (mramor)

Amore and Psyche, by Antonio Canova, Neoclassical

granite (žula)

If you want your art to last forever, use granite:

Pharoah Menkaura & Queen, artist uknown,
Egyptian, 2,490-2,472 BC - looks like it was made yesterday


Bronze is another great material for long lasting art, if you don't mind it turning black. There's just one problem - Bronze is a precious metal. Someone might want to melt your art to make their own. It's happened to many great masterpieces, especially to art by the ancient Greeks.

Discobulus, by Myron
Roman copy of a Greek statue that was melted down

steel (oceľ- a 20th century material [stainless steel won't rust (hrdzavieť)]

Imperial Water Dragon, by Kevin Stone,
Metalanimation Studio Inc.

silver (hey, if you can afford it, why not?)

King Henry IV of France, as a boy, by François Joseph Bosio
cast in silver by Charles-Nicolas Odiot


Terracotta Warriors, Qin Shi Huang's Tomb, 210 BC

plaster cast (sadrová forma)

Plaster looks like marble, but it's not. It's a powder, made of lime (vápno) or gypsum (gyps) that mixes with water to make a thick, creamy liquid, which heats up and hardens into a solid. The process takes about twenty minutes.

Charles Reed Bishop, by Allen Hutchinson
a sculpture of someone's head and shoulders is called a bust.

Plaster is softer than stone, and scratches easily. But, it's great for making molds. You can make a mold of anything with plaster, and it copies every detail:

Fern Green Tower by Dale Chihuly, 1999


Ice sculptures don't last so long, but they look really nice!

artist unknown

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