Painting Techniques – Complete List, Characteristics and Explanation


Main Painting Techniques

There are several painting techniques that have been developed throughout history, here we show you each one of them:

Acrylic Painting

This painting technique is executed by means of acrylic resins. The advantage of acrylic is that it allows for quick drying, it is also a vehicle for any type of pigment and can give the transparent sheen of watercolor and the density of oil paint. It is considered that it can be less affected by heat and other destructive forces than oil paint. It found favor among artists who were concerned about the health hazards of handling oil paints and inhaling the fumes associated with them. Because of all these desirable characteristics, acrylic paints became immediately popular with artists when they were first promoted commercially in the 1960s. Notable artists of the 20th century used acrylic paint.  They include Pop art artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Bridget Riley Op Artist Bridget Riley, color field artists Mark Rothko, Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman and British artist David Hockney.

Action Painting  

This technique is direct, instinctive and very dynamic, consisting of the spontaneous application of vigorous, broad brushstrokes and the effects of the possibility of drips and spills of paint on the canvas. The term was coined by the American critic Harold Rosenberg to characterize the work of a group of American abstract expressionists who used the method in 1950. Thus, action painting is distinguished by a carefully preconceived work of imaginative abstract painters, from the color field, which constitutes the other major direction implicit in abstract expressionism and resembles action painting only in its absolute devotion to unfettered personal expression of all traditional aesthetic and social values.

Aerial Perspective 

Also called atmospheric perspective, it is a method of creating the illusion of depth or recession, in a painting or drawing, by using color to simulate the changes effected by the atmosphere on the colors, which is seen as a modulation at a distance. Although the use of aerial perspective has been known since antiquity, Leonardo da Vinci first used it and mentions the term in his treatise on painting, in which he explains that colors become fainter in proportion to the distance from the person looking at them. Later it was discovered that the presence in the atmosphere of moisture and minute particles of dust and similar material causes a scattering of light as it passes through them, and the degree of scattering depends on the wavelength, which corresponds to the color of the light. Because short wavelength light, blue light, is more scattered, the colors of all distant dark objects tend toward blue; for example, the mountain range has a bluish cast. Whereas, long wavelength light, red light, is less scattered, so distant bright objects appear redder because the blue is scattered and lost from the light by which they are seen. Therefore, contrasts between light and shadow generally appear less extreme at greater distances. All of these effects are more evident at the base of a mountain than at its peak, since the density of the atmosphere is greater at lower elevations.

Examples of aerial perspective have been found in ancient Greco-Roman wall paintings. The techniques were lost from European art during the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages. They were later rediscovered by 15th century Flemish painters (such as Joachim Patinir), after which they became a standard element in the technical vocabulary of the European painter.


In the plastic arts, it is an ingenious perspective technique that gives a distorted image sensation to the subject, representing an image as when it is seen from the usual point of view, but it is executed as if it were to be seen from a particular angle, reflected in a curved mirror, the distortion disappears and the image appears normal. It is derived from the Greek word meaning to transform. The term anamorphosis was first used in the 17th century, although this technique has been one of the most curious by-products of the discovery of perspective in the 14th and 15th centuries.

The first works appear in the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. It was seen as a very virtuous display technique and was included in 15th century drawing manuals. Two important examples of anamorphosis are in a portrait of Edward VI (1546) that has been attributed to William Scrots and a skull in the foreground of Hans Holbein’s painting (1533). Many examples are provided with special viewports through which the rectified form that first eluded the viewer can be seen.


A technique by which an image is executed entirely in tones or shades of a single color or in various shades artificial to the object, figure or scene depicted in the painting. When an image is processed monochromatically in gray, it is called grisaille. When it is in yellow, cirage. Originating in the ancient world, camaieu was used in miniature painting to simulate cameos and in architectural decoration to simulate relief sculpture.

Casein Painting 

This painting technique is done with earth colors in a solution of casein, a phosphoprotein whose precipitate is carried out by heating with an acid or lactic acid in the acidification of milk. In the form of homemade curd or curdled skim milk, it has been a traditional adhesive and binder for more than eight centuries. Thus, casein powder, pure and refined, which can be dissolved with ammonia, has been used for canvas easel and mural paintings since the 19th century, early 20th century and more recently. Thus casein in prefabricated paints in tubes has come into wide use. An advantage of casein paint is that it can create effects approaching those of oil painting. It allows the use of bristle brushes and moderate impasto, like oil paint, but not tone blending. It is preferred by some artists because of the matte effects and fast drying. When dry, the paint becomes water resistant to a considerable degree. Therefore, casein paints can be varnished to more closely resemble oil paints, and are often glazed or painted with oil colors. Also, because casein is too brittle for canvas, it must be applied on rigid panels or plates.

Main Painting Techniques

Encaustic Painting 

In this technique pigments are mixed with hot, liquid wax. After all the colors have been applied to the paint surface, a heating element is passed over them until the individual brush or spatula marks merge into a uniform film. This heating of the colors is an essential element of the true encaustic technique. Thus, encaustic wax has many of the properties of oil paint: it can give a very bright and attractive effect and offers great scope for expressive and elegant brushwork.
Considerable, however, are the practical difficulties of using a medium that has to be kept warm. Apart from the greater sophistication of modern methods of heating and the use of oil on canvas (or resin), the actual technique is similar to that described by the Roman scholar Pliny at the turn of the century. For, encaustic painting was invented by the ancient Greeks and they brought its technical perfection to its peak in the 4th century BC.

Fresco Painting

It is the method of painting with water-based pigments on freshly applied plaster, usually on wall surfaces. The colors are made by grinding the dry powder pigments in pure water, dry and fix with the plaster to become a permanent part of the wall. So, fresco painting is ideal for preparing murals because it lends itself to a monumental style, is durable and has a matte surface.

Good or true fresco is the most durable technique and consists of a process of three successive layers of specially prepared plaster, sand and marble dust troweled onto the wall. Each of the first two layers are rough and then the last layer is applied which allows to define (dry and harden). In the meantime, the artist, who has made a large-scale sketch (preparatory drawing) of the image he intends to paint, transfers the contours of the design on the wall in a drawing stroke. Then the final, smooth (toned) layer of plaster is placed for painting.  The boundaries are carefully placed along the contour lines, so that the joints of each successive section of fresh plaster are imperceptible. The outline is then carefully aligned with the adjacent sections of the painted wall so that the relevant lines and contours on the fresh plaster come from within. This faint but precise drawing serves as a guide for painting the color image.


A form of visual communication, usually illegal, that unauthorizedly marks public space by an individual or group. Although the common image of graffiti is a stylistic symbol or phrase spray-painted on a wall by a member of a street gang, some graffiti is not gang-related. Graffiti can be understood as anti-social behavior done in order to gain attention or as a form of thrill-seeking, but it can also be understood as an expressive art form.

Derived from the Italian word graffio (“scratch”), graffiti (incised inscriptions), is plural but often used as singular and has a long history. For example, markings have been found on ancient Roman ruins, on the remains of the Mayan city of Tikal in Central America, on rocks in Spain dating from the 16th century, and on medieval English churches. During the 20th century, graffiti in the United States and Europe was closely associated with gangs, which were used for a variety of purposes: to identify or claim territory, to commemorate dead gang members in an informal “Obituary”, boasting about deeds, e.g., crimes committed by gang members and difficult rival gangs as a prelude to violent confrontations.  Thus Graffiti was particularly prominent in major urban centers around the world, especially in the United States and Europe whereby its common targets were to be found on subways, billboards and walls. In the 1990s a new form of graffiti emerged, known as tagging, which required the repeated use of a single symbol or series of symbols to mark territory. In order to attract as much attention as possible, this type of graffiti generally appeared strategically in downtowns and neighborhoods.

For some observers graffiti is a form of public art, continuing the tradition, for example, of murals commissioned by the United States Federal Administration, works during the Great Depression and the work of Diego Rivera in Mexico. Like the murals of these artists, large works of graffiti can beautify a neighborhood and speak to the interests of a specific community. For example, the graffiti in many Hispanic neighborhoods in the United States is quite elaborate and is considered by many to be a form of urban art. The question of whether such work is an innovative art form or a public nuisance has sparked much debate.

In this regard, Graffiti became notorious and prominent in New York City in the late 20th century. Large multicolored graffiti were created and crafted with spray paint on the walls and subway cars that came to define the urban landscape. It came to cause a certain fascination in the art world for artists who operated with traditional channels outside of the gallery and had stimulated interest in this form of expression. In the 1980s in New York artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, who gained notoriety for their graffiti, have staked their claim to recognition in successful careers as painters, represented by top galleries.

The Mural 

It is a painting applied to achieve an integral work with the surface of a wall or ceiling. The term may properly include painting on fired tiles but does not ordinarily refer to mosaic decoration unless the mosaic is part of the overall painting scheme.  Thus, mural painting is intrinsically different from all other forms of pictorial art in that it is organically connected to architecture. The use of color, design and thematic treatment can radically alter the sense of spatial proportions of the building. In this sense, the mural is the only form of painting that is truly three-dimensional, as it modifies and participates in a given space. Byzantine mosaic decorations demonstrated the greatest respect for organic architectural form. The great Renaissance artists, by contrast, attempted to create an illusionistic sense of space, and the later Baroque masters achieved such radical effects that they seem to almost completely dissolve walls or ceilings. Apart from its organic relationship to architecture, a second characteristic of mural painting is its broad public significance. Thus, the mural artist must graphically conceive a social, religious or patriotic theme on the appropriate scale in reference to the structural requirements of the wall and the idea expressed.

In the history of mural painting, many techniques have been used: encaustic painting, tempera painting, fresco painting, ceramics, oil painting on canvas and, more recently, liquid silicate and fired porcelain enamel. In classical Greco-Roman times, the most common medium was encaustic, in which colors in a molten wax binder (resin layer) were applied to the surface of the paint while it was hot. Likewise, tempera painting was also practiced from the earliest known times. The coating was of an albuminized medium such as egg yolk or egg white diluted in water. In 16th century Europe, oil paint on canvas came into general use for murals. The fact that it could be completed in the artist’s studio and later transported to its destination and affixed to the wall was of practical convenience.

Oil Painting

This technique of painting in oil colors, is made up of a medium composed of pigments suspended in drying oils. The exceptional ease with which the blending of tones or color is achieved makes it unique among fluid painting media. At the same time, satisfactory linear treatments and crisp effects are easily obtained. Thus, the paint can be opaque, transparent and translucent, within its range, and is unsurpassed for textural variation.

Artists make oil colors by mixing dry powdered pigments with selected refined linseed oil to a stiff paste consistency and polishing by hard friction in steel roller mills. Color consistency is important. The standard is a smooth, buttery, non-fibrous, light or sticky paste. When a more flowing or moving quality is required the artist uses a liquid paint medium such as pure gum turpentine should be mixed with it. To speed drying, a liquid blotter is sometimes used. Premium brushes are made in two types: sable red (from various members of the weasel family) and bleached pig bristles. Both come in numbered sizes in each of four regular shapes: round (accented), bright flat (flat shape but shorter and less springy) and oval (flat but distinctly accented). Red sable brushes are widely used for the softened, less robust type of brushstroke. Likewise, the palette knife, a finely tempered, nimble version of the artist’s palette knife, is a convenient tool for applying oil colors in a robust manner.

In this sense, oil paintings made before the 19th century were made in layers. The first layer was a blank, uniform field of rarefied paint called a ground. The ground had subdued the obvious white of the primer and provided a smooth color base for building images. The shapes and objects in the paint were then blocked out with the use of neutral shades of white, gray or green, red or brown. Therefore, the resulting masses of monochromatic light and dark were called backgrounds. Shapes were defined using any solid paint, whereby, the application of thin layers of opaque pigment can then impart a variety of painterly effects. In the final stage, transparent layers of pure color called glaze are used to give luminosity, depth and sheen to the forms, and highlights are defined with patches of paint called thick, textured impasto.

paint Graffiti 

Panorama Painting 

In the visual arts, this is a continuous narrative scene or landscape painted according to a curved background plane, which surrounds or unfolds before the viewer.  Therefore, panoramas are generally painted in a broad and direct manner, similar to the stage, or theater. They were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, so, the panorama was essentially the forerunner of the stereopticon and moving pictures, especially animations and the process called Cinerama.

The actual panorama is displayed on the walls of a large cylinder, the earliest version being 18 meters (60 feet) in diameter and later as large as 40 meters (130 feet) in diameter. The viewer, standing on a platform in the center of the cylinder, turns and successively sees all points of the horizon. The effect of being surrounded by a landscape or event can be accentuated by the use of indirect lighting to give the illusion that the light emanates from the painting itself.

The first panorama painting was executed by the Scottish painter Robert Barker, who exhibited it in Edinburgh in 1788 in view of the city, followed by panoramas of London and the battle of the Napoleonic Wars.

Perspective Painting

In this technique, three-dimensional objects and spatial relationships are graphically represented on a two-dimensional plane or on a plane that is smaller than the original (e.g., flat relief). Perceptive is a method of representing space and volume, which when applied the work is seen at a certain time and from a fixed position. This technique is characteristic of most Western Chinese painting and also of the Renaissance, in contrast to conceptual methods. Paintings of children by early artists, such as paintings from cultures like Egypt, Crete, India, Islam and the pre-Renaissance in Europe, as well as paintings by many modern artists. Thus, these paintings depict objects and environments independent of each other, as they look rather than appear to be and from directions that best present their most characteristic features. Many Egyptian and Cretan paintings as well as drawings and engravings for example, show the head and legs of a figure in profile, while the eye and torso are shown frontally. This system does not produce the illusion of depth, but rather the sense that objects and their surroundings have been compressed into a shallow space behind the picture plane.


Tachism, is a painting technique practiced in Paris after World War II and through the 1950s that, like its American counterpart, action painting, features the brushstroke gesture of the intuitive, spontaneous artist. It was developed by the young painters Hans Hartung, Gérard Schneider, Pierre Soulages, Frans Wols, Chao Wu-chi (Zao Wu-ki) and Georges Mathieu. Also, tachism was part of a larger French post-war movement known as Art Informel that abandoned geometric abstraction in favor of a more intuitive form of expression. Thus Art Informel was inspired by the instinctive, personal approach of contemporary American Abstract Expressionism, of which action painting was one aspect.

Like their American counterparts, the French tachists worked with a loaded brush, producing large works of broad brushstrokes and drips, blurs, smudges and splashes of color. Their works, however, are elegant and lyrical, often including graceful lines and blended colors. Some of these works are also by American painters such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, whom the French artists modeled. The Tachists were also less fanatical than the painters of lighthearted action and psychic inspiration.

Tempera Painting 

The technique is executed with pigment in a water miscible medium. The word tempera originally came from the verb, tempera meaning to bring to a desired consistency. Dry pigments are made usable with a binding and adhesive vehicle. Such paint differs from fresco painting because the colors do not contain binder. Eventually, after the emergence of oil paint, the word acquired its present meaning.

Tempera is an ancient medium, which has been in constant use in most cultures of the world until it was gradually replaced by oil paint in Europe during the Renaissance. Thus tempera was the original mural medium of the ancient dynasties of Egypt, Babylon, the Mycenaean civilization and China and was used to adorn the early Christian catacombs. It was employed on a variety of supports, from the stone stelae (memorial pillars), mummies and papyrus scrolls of ancient Egypt. It was also used on the wooden panels of Byzantine icons, altarpieces, vellum as well as on the leaves of medieval illustrated manuscripts.

What are the main genres of painting?

Since ancient times there have been different ways in which artists have expressed themselves in painting, which could be considered as the designs established in a set of ideas that these artists have before executing the works. Some of them are: reliefs, portraits and self-portraits, landscapes, among others. Below is a description of each of these ideas.

the main genres of painting


Relief is the general name given to the set of forms that stand out on a plane or surface. The word comes from the Latin word relevare, which means ‘to lift’, ‘to raise’; it is also related to the word ‘remains’ when used with the plural form in Latin reliquiae.

In Art, relief is considered both a design and a technique in both painting and sculpture, which allows the creation of an artistic work with the sensation of depth both optically and physically on a plane or surface. In painting, relief is made up of protrusions that highlight figures and stand out on the plane.

Reliefs are classified according to the highlighting and arrangement of the planes. High relief is a complete design that touches the supporting plane. Bas-relief has a thickness less than half a figure.

Throughout history there have been different means of representation in both painting and sculpture. Seeking to determine the placement of the figures in space. This can be done in a conventional way, which is called conceptual system but also, it can be the opposite through an optical representation based on human vision, perspective.

The portrait and self-portrait

The portrait appeared in the 5th century BC on the coins of Persian kings.  In the portrait, the artist takes the physical and personality traits of the person to which he assigns qualities. To make the portrait, he can focus on a part of the body, usually the face, and establish relationships between the physical appearance and the personality of the sitter. The portrait allows a deep vision and offers an analysis beyond the superficial. In the self-portrait, the artist paints himself, highlighting what he wants the viewer to see and perceive.

The Still Life and the Vanities

The still life is classified in painting as a still life, it is a painting that represents lifeless objects in a certain space, such as game animals, fruits, flowers, kitchen utensils, table or house utensils, antiques, among others. It is also determined the floral still life, which represents the still life of flowers. In the literature, a series of symbols with different degrees of iconicity are reported, to represent still lifes of all kinds and conditions, starting with the most realistic and ending with those that are very close to abstraction. Similarly, there is another type of still life, called Vanitas: Vanitas is the Latin term for a particular category of still life in which symbolic elements were used, related to a passage from the Bible of Ecclesiastes: “Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas” (Vanity of vanities, all is vanity). The message is intended to convey the futility of worldly pleasures in the face of the certainty of death. According to this message, it is not worth accumulating objects and riches, because in the end everything will remain in the physical world, since death will inevitably come for everyone.

The Landscape

The landscape is a pictorial representation of scenes of nature, such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers and forests. Similarly, the sky is almost always included and weather is an element of the composition. Traditionally, landscape painting shows the surface of the earth, however, there may be other types of landscapes, inspired by dreams.

Genre painting

In fine art, the term genre painting (genre works) refers to images that depict situations and scenes from everyday life. Subjects typically include domestic settings, interiors, meals, celebrations, tavern or peasant scenes, markets and other street scenes.

In general, the main characteristic of genre painting is that the scene is presented in a non-idealized manner, in contrast to the traditional classical approach of heroically infused scenes, of noble or dramatic characteristics. Also included within this genre are the contrasting characteristics of, for example, the unvarnished characters in peasant scenes by Courbet, the idealized characters of the street urchins achieved by the Sevillian artist Bartolomé or the scenes of Esteban Murillo. Undoubtedly the best exponents of the medium were in the seventeenth century of the Dutch realistic school of genre painting, led by the great Delft artist Johannes (Jan) Vermeer (1632-75).

As a general rule, a genre painting is usually a portrait of normal events, in which individual figures generally play an important role. In contrast, a typical landscape does not contain a significant figurative element, while an interior or still life is really a domestic scene containing an artificial arrangement of items. Even so, it can still be argued that Vermeer’s Little Street (1658) is either a cityscape or a genre painting or perhaps has of both arts.

Religious Painting

Christian sacred art is produced in an attempt to illustrate, complement and portray in tangible form the tenets of Christianity, although other definitions are possible. It is to make images of the different beliefs in the world and what they look like. Most Christian groups have used art to some extent, although some have had strong objections to some forms of religious imagery, and there have been significant iconoclastic periods within Christianity. Therefore, most Christian art is allusive, and built around themes familiar to an intended viewer. One of the most common Christian themes is that of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus. Another is that of Christ on the Cross. In the interest of greater knowledge in this field, an elaborate iconographic system was developed to conclusively identify the scenes. For example, St. Agnes is depicted with a lamb, St. Peter with keys, St. Patrick with a shamrock. Each saint carries or is associated with attributes and symbols in sacred pictorial art.

Abstract Painting

Abstract artists use a visual language of form, color and line to create a composition that can exist with a degree of independence from visual references to the world.  Therefore, abstract painting does not represent a person, place or thing in the natural world, since, it makes no visual reference. What is very important to mention is that in defining abstract painting, its creators do not deal with the figurative interpretation of an object. They only communicate with the viewers in an attempt to understand reality. Thus, abstract artists all share a common position that reality is subjective and depends on a viewer to define it.

The main characteristic of abstract painting is the non-representational practice, which means that the artist embraces departures of abstraction from a precise representation, this departure can be slight, partial or complete. It depends on the artistic movement to which it refers. In geometric abstraction and lyrical abstraction, one can speak of total abstraction.

Realist Painting

In this genre of painting the artist seeks to present non-idealized views of everyday life, in an attempt to use art as a vehicle for social and political criticism. The schematic, almost journalistic scenes of sordid urban life painted by the group of American painters known as the eight fall into this category.  Similarly, the painters of German art known as Neue Sachlichkeit (new objectivity), on the other hand, worked in this realistic genre to express the cynicism and disillusionment of postwar Germany. Also the Depression-era painters known for Social Realism adopted an equally harsh and direct realist genre in their depictions of the injustices and ills of American society during that period.

In Socialist Realist painting, techniques of naturalistic idealization are generally used to create portraits of workers and engineers that were strikingly similar in their heroic positivism and lack of realistic credibility.

Surrealist Painting

Surrealist painter-artists sought to use art to show the inner workings of the mind, especially in regards to the areas of sexuality and violence, as they were often considered oppressed. In fact, these artists, painters often look to psychoanalysis to dig into deep repressed feelings for inspiration. In this painting none of the works has a solid answer. In fact, surrealist art has some characteristics that you may notice. Therefore, surrealist painters were trying to introduce more open, free-thinking concepts that would allow the common people and themselves to be self-aware without influence from the outside world.