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Masters Series – Technique Investigation – JMW Turner

In an accelerating world, the artist’s understanding of the value in the Great Masters is ever diminishing. Few care, few are inspired to care. Galleries and Dealers want paintings. A facile stroke sells just as quickly, if not more quickly, than works that take months. So why bother with looking into what the Masters did…and why bother looking into technical quality at all?

Because without understanding technique the artist is not aware of the best they can do. If an artist is missing a technique, that technique could make the difference between a good work of art and an excellent work of art. But if the artist doesn’t know that technique exists, that artist cannot know what they’re missing out on. The choices they make are not informed.

This is a series I would like to put into the form of a video, and maybe one day will get to it. For now, here’s a glimpse into what the art institutions and run-of-the-mill gazillions of ‘teachers’ worldwide don’t – and can’t – provide.

JMW Turner ‘Coals by Moonlight’

Here in this section are these techniques:

  1. Painting Knife Technique base. 2. Opaque Glazing 3. Transparent Glazing. Very little prominence is given to the early stages, letting the later stages, particularly of Opaque Glazing, to create the illusion of complex detail of reflections on water and the water, including movement, itself. Transparent Glazes were added to provide visual depth and to bring out the richness of the opaques (used as transparent) so that the opaques don’t flatten the imagery and impact the eye bluntly.

Compare those techniques with these in this painting:

Same techniques. However, in this section Turner has created the illusion of these distant elements by increasing the prominence of his Painting Knife Technique in the early stage, and using separate stages of Transparent Glazing and Opaque Glazing to differentiate the elements. He has then used the Creative Knife Technique (different from the Painting Knife Technique) through these for added effect. This use of technique gives the illusion of both detail and distance. In each of the paintings, Turner would have created these effects using those techniques over, at least, six stages.

It is highly sophisticated use of technique, achieved very quickly. The thing is he knew what he was doing, and in weight and which order to do it.

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