Most artists today who call themselves painters are familiar with only one or two painting mediums, or at most three. The best of us are able to employ painting techniques learned in handling one medium to other media with often very expressive and intriguing results. Though familiar with various techniques, today, few of us give much thought to the long, circuitous route painting has travelled technologically to give us the incredible convenience of being able to pour our creative juices into ideas and ideals rather than labouring endlessly with the materials themselves.
Although some of the brushes we use today seem not all that far removed from the tails of dead animals likely used by cave painters in prehistoric times, the muddy soot they stroked onto the stone walls is literally aeons removed from the highly refined acrylic pigments many of us have come to swear by (and at). Under ideal circumstances though, they seem to be of similar permanence, like their cousins, inks, employed by the Egyptians. Romans used WAX in what is now called encaustic painting to insure permanence. Children today use coloured wax to draw on walls for similar reasons. Few of us would trade our tubes of acrylics for a dozen or so pots of hot, pigmented wax.
Egg tempera must have seemed a quantum leap over encaustic painting and where permanence is the standard, the trials and tribulations of fresco painting have definitely proven to be worth the effort. Even though the painter (or his assistants) still had to grind their own pigments, linseed oil and turpentine gave painting portability and flexibility, with similar longevity. Watercolours carried each of these features a step further. And finally, the zinc tube, invented as late as the mid-1800's, freed the artist from having to concoct his own paint mixture. Isn't it amazing, though, that painting technology, though it has come far, has done so at such a slow pace? It took thousands of years for acrylics to blend the best features of prehistoric "tempera" and Renaissance oils into a single medium. The question is, what next? The ink jet printer?
contributed by Lane, Jim
30 November 1997