Throughout history, painting has developed into a style of two-dimensional visual language, combining abstraction, composition, and tone. The elements of painting can represent real or supernatural phenomena, or convey a narrative theme.
In its simplest form, painting is the act of applying pigments and a solvent to a surface. The pigments may be in wet form, like paint, or in dry form, like pastels. Pigments can be applied to a variety of surfaces, including canvas, paper, plaster, wood, and stone. The solvent can be water, oil-based products, or a combination of these. The medium determines the general working characteristics of paint.
In the Renaissance, the practice of painting was based on a system of notated tonal values. Many painters became prominent and gained a social status of courtiers or scholars. In addition, paintings often depicted animals, plants, and landscapes. The subject matter of paintings increased and expanded to include every aspect of life.
Painting has also borrowed from other fields, including architectural design and commercial illustration. Many modern painters incorporate wood, metal, and other materials into their paintings, as well as using other methods of creating texture. These artists also sometimes use multiple materials in the same painting, as a way to achieve a layered effect.
Paintings can be made with a brush, sponge, or airbrush. It is also possible to apply paint to a digital canvas or print an image directly on a traditional canvas. The result of painting is often a representation of an historical event or religious experience. However, paintings can also be highly expressive, naturalistic, or abstract.
There are four basic components to a painting: a design, shape, colour, and tone. Most styles of painting incorporate expressive shapes based on archetypal forms. They may also incorporate whole objects or whole scenes. In many styles, these forms are based on geometrical imagery, such as circles and squares. Squares are often found at the focal point of a painting. They may also surround vulnerable figures, suggesting stability or protection.
In some styles, the colour of the paint may be determined by the representational considerations of the painting. The colours used in a painting may vary from dark to light, depending on the subject matter. In a narrative painting, the colour of a figure’s clothing or hair may be dark or light, depending on the era in which the painting was made. The colour of the background is often determined by the direction the plane of the design is viewed from. For example, a green-colored figure may appear cold if it is surrounded by a yellow-colored background, or warm if it is surrounded by a blue-colored background.
The formal organization of a painting gives it presence. The way lines are repeated animates the design. A large building may be painted in a figurative style, or the entire building may be used as a canvas. In modern times, many painters are known as mural painters. They are often commissioned by companies or municipalities.