Painting is a visual art form, in which a substance such as coloured paint or pigment is applied to a surface such as canvas, plaster, wood or pottery using a brush or other tools.

The history of British painting has been shaped over the centuries by influences from many different cultures. Through trade and conflict, a diverse range of art works have been brought to Britain, some of which can today be seen in galleries and museums across the UK along with paintings created by artists that they helped to inspire.

Prehistoric Painting

For thousands of years humans created works of art such as painted cave walls with images of animals from the hunt, which may have had religious or ritualistic meanings, such as those found in Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain. As people began domesticating animals, cultivating crops and living in settled communities, their artistic expression developed to reflect these changes, both in subject matter and materials used.

Ancient Egyptian Painting

Artists in ancient Egypt followed strict rules regarding form and symbolism, ensuring its unchanging nature over millennia. Their art was dominated by belief in the afterlife and the paintings and sculptures used to decorate their tombs, described the lives they lived in this world, which they believed would continue in much the same way after death. An individuals importance was reflected by the size of the paintings depicting them and all parts of the body were represented flat, did not overlap and were as complete as possible to ensure they would be available in the afterlife.

Classical Greek Painting

Artists during this period were inspired, by the Greek ideal of beauty and a belief in this world being an imperfect copy of an alternative perfect reality. They created paintings of idealized men and women and depicted their Gods in such human forms. After the Persian wars, Greek art began to reflect a society less concerned with heroism and Gods and more with the amenities and pleasures of life. Following the Athenian model, art became increasingly secular and naturalistic. The Hellenistic period, from 323 BC to 150 BC, saw Greek art spread across the ancient world, becoming an important part of the foundations of European civilisation and inspiring the work of British as well as other western artists.

Roman Painting

Roman artists depicted historical and mythological scenes expressed in mosaics and paintings. Painting was used to decorate homes, palaces, temples and civic areas and depictions of people as they really appeared were often preferred to idealized versions. Perhaps the best preserved examples of Roman painting are to be found in Pompeii, although examples have been found in locations across the lands of the former Roman Empire, including murals painted on the remains of Roman Villas in Britain.

Medieval Painting

During the Medieval period from 337 to 1453 AD, the Classical worlds depictions of human concepts such as beauty and a concern with the physical world were rejected. In its place painting became more spiritual in its subject matter, reflecting the increasing power and influence of religion. Paintings were created in service of the church and to communicate religious experiences.

Renaissance Painting

The Renaissance led artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo painting their famous masterpieces during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Artists were inspired to begin creating more realistic representations of the world around them, in addition to traditional religious subjects. The education of British artists born during the eighteenth century, such as William Blake and William Turner were shaped by these developments across Europe and their work helped to lay some of the foundations for what would later become Modern Art.

Modern Painting

Between the 1870s and 1890s, Impressionists such as Claude Monet and Paul CÈzanne created paintings which used light and colour to capture fleeting moments. Between 1905 and 1939 Cubist artists such as Pablo Picasso used abstract shapes and spaces, often reflecting the industrialized world. In Germany from the 1920s until the 1940s Bauhaus artists such as Wassily Kandinsky applied the concepts of Cubism to their creation of more functional art and design. Surrealists such as Salvador Dali explored the unconscious mind through imaginary scenes. In Britain the artist LS Lowry was inspired by the Impressionists and painted his famous depictions of the lives of working people in the north west of England.

Post Modern Painting

After the second World War Abstract Expressionism, as practised by artists such as Jackson Pollock, produced paintings of patterns of colour without images of or reference to subject matter. Pop art began in the 1950s using simplified representations of common objects and commercial goods to reflect popular culture, as seen in the work of painters such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

Your most important tools as a painter are your brushes and they are available in a variety of sizes, shapes and bristle textures, suited to different painting techniques. For example flat brushes are good for painting large areas such as a background, fan for shading and blending, round for details and line for finer details. Other commonly used painting tools include an easel used to support the canvas, an artists palette where paints can be mixed before being applied and sponges for creating textures or removing unwanted paint. A palette knife can also be used to apply, mix or remove paint and when a painting is finished, a fixative can be sprayed over it, forming a coat to seal and protect the completed picture.

The two basic materials which form a painting are the paint used, such as oil, acrylic, watercolour or pastel and the surface onto which the paint is applied, such as a canvas, plaster wall, paper or pottery. Oil paints are traditionally painted onto canvas and over the centuries were used by great artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer and Vincent van Gogh to create their masterpieces. Acrylic paints dry quickly, becoming waterproof and enabling artists to experiment with multiple layers and different textures. Pastels can be used to create paintings or drawings and are popular with many artists because they are less prone to fading and cracking than oil paintings. Watercolour paints are made from natural or synthetic pigments suspended within a water-soluble binder and are usually painted onto paper, producing finished paintings with their recognisable transparent quality.

There are a range of techniques associated with different styles of art, the type of paints you use and the surface that you apply them to. However some visual skills can help you as painter regardless of the materials that you use, such as an understanding of composition. Three basic elements to consider when looking for good composition are a balance between positive and negative space, the use of repeating shapes to bring the different parts of the picture together and using lines so that the viewers eye moves easily between the parts of the picture. You can develop and improve these skills by looking at great paintings and thinking about how these elements work together to create a good composition.

If you can afford to do so, purchasing better quality brushes can be a good investment, as they are likely to hold onto their hairs for longer than brushes costing less. To ensure that these essential tools continue to give you good service, you should also take care of your paint brushes by cleaning them with warm soapy water each time that you have finished using them. Do not allow paint to dry on the bristles, reshape the hairs of the brush after you have cleaned them and store your brushes either horizontally in a suitable dry box or in a vertical position, with the bristles pointed upwards.

Being able to draw is a useful skill for any painter, regardless of whether you intend to create work that is a realistic representation of the chosen subject or more abstract. You might think that being able to draw is an innate skill that some people are born with and others are not. However it is possible with practice to learn how to draw and it begins by really looking at the world around you and seeing what you want to draw. Try looking at your chosen subject as a collection of lines, shapes and shades of colour rather than a single object. Pick up a pencil and draw lines and curves that look to be the correct length and angle. Dont worry about making mistakes while you practice, you can always rub out lines or go over them again. With practice you will begin to find that your drawing skills improve and this will help to improve your confidence as an artist when using your paint brushes.