Materials & Techniques

Historical Painting Techniques

Much of our knowledge of painting techniques comes from technical examinations of paintings. However, we also have access to painters' recipe books, some dating from Roman times, which describe the manufacture of paints, varnishes, and gesso. In the Medieval period, painters' guilds controlled the quality of craftsmanship with long apprenticeships and set rules for the manufacture and use of painting materials. Artists' techniques and materials are well documented by contemporary critics in the Renaissance. Each artist built on the knowledge and ability of other artists. Prior to the industrial production of paints in the 18th century, a great deal of technical knowledge was required for the medium's preparation. For example, when creating oil paints, some pigments required only a small amount of oil; others needed much more oil. Some colors were more intense if the pigment was ground only a short time; others had to be ground to a very fine texture.

Related Multimedia

Mark Leonard, Head Conservator, DMA, and Sue Canterbury, The Pauline Gill Sullivan Associate Curator of American Art, DMA discuss conservation at the Dallas Museum of Art
Jim Coddington, Chief Conservator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Mark Leonard, Chief Conservator at the Dallas Museum of Art, discuss the field of paintings conservation. They will take a special look at the painting materials and techniques used by Jackson Pollock as well as the preservation challenges his works present.
In conjunction with the DMA's exhibition Impressionist Paintings from the Reves Collection, join Dr. Anthea Callen, an internationally renowned specialist on the history of artists' materials and techniques, for a lecture on the origins, novelty, and meanings of the impressionist painters' methods. She will discuss the plein air oil painting techniques of landscapists and their impact on figure painting, studio practice, and display.