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Saturday, 10 August 2019

Spotlight: Tools of the trade

A detail of Chinese artist Ma Yuan's "On a Mountain Path in Spring". 1190-1225 CE
How new is your art technology?  What do you use in your creativity?
Painters use paintbrushes, usually.  We think of them as synonymous: that’s what they’re called.  However “paintbrushes” as we know them are newer than “painting”.
The notion of bristled brushes is attributed to around 300BC, in China, and they were used for writing rather than for painting.  They were made of animal fur hairs tied to bamboo.  Previous painting was done with sticks of fibrous plants, such as reeds, often lashed together to form a thick handle.
The “brush” part was made by shredding the sticks or reeds at one end so that the inner fibres were exposed to form a painting tool. Paints were thicker, and line thickness was not varied in a stroke as it is in calligraphy. 

The Chinese calligraphic use of their new design of brush from 300BC was with ink rather than paint, creating nuance of line rather than areas of colour, just as traditional Chinese art is more akin to monochrome line drawing than Western painting.

The paintbrush became relevant to style in Impressionist art.  Hog hair brushes are stiff, and good for carrying thick paint such as un-thinned oils.
This is a distinctive feature of the change that the Impressionists made: colours applied more boldly and thickly, unblended, and leaving clear evidence of brushstroke action, which meant that the end result shows the decisive actions of the painter.  The painter effectively makes assertions about their interpretation of a scene, rather than aiming to make it look purely realistic.  This was facilitated by brush makers starting to use metal around that time, instead of threads, as the material to clamp the bristles in place.  Brushes could now easily be made flat rather than round, and these new tool forms allowed the Impressionists to daub and blotch rather than make lines or blend thin paints and inks.
Meules, Milieu du Jour – Claude Monet
It is amazing to think that we are using a technology that is over 2,000 years old when we paint with a brush.  It seems to suggest that painting may be as much a craft as an art, given how traditional its techniques are.  So when more modern technologies are used in art, such as computers or spraycans, and we may feel uncomfortable about the apparent compromise, we can also consider how technologies in the past have accompanied the expressive nature of art.
The point perhaps, is that however we “paint”, we use what suits our aims and desires. 

What will they think of next?!
Steven Spazuk
Greta Thunberg, by Steven Spazuk, painted with fire

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