Learning to Look

Art is for everyone. Art is something that we can all be around, delight in and respond to. It just helps to have some codes of access. Which is where the Learning to Look blog comes in.

The Learning to Look blog is about building a visual toolkit that you can keep for life and crack open at any time, in front of art or anything. It could come in handy in front of a Bernini sculpture but it could also be useful in front of a billboard or a brick wall. Learning to Look is simply about really seeing what we’re looking at.

This week we’re looking at:

Still-life in art

Still-life – the painting of ordinary objects without any human presence – was long regarded in the Western world as a lowly art form on the grounds that it required only technical skill, not imagination. André Félibien, 17th century French chronicler of the arts and official court historian to Louis...read more»

Animals in Art

Animals have long been part of the art story. They’ve been portrayed in religious rituals, as mythical creatures, incarnations of gods and goddesses, symbolically in Christian art or simply as pets. Some of the earliest images known are of animals brushed into being on the walls of caves more than...read more»

Brushstrokes and Texture

A sculpture is tactile as well as 3D: touching it (when no one is watching!) is as much a part of the experience as looking at it. Paintings have texture too: smooth and flat or ridged and lumpen depending on the kind of paint used and how thickly it has...read more»

How Artists use Colour

Colour is often one of the most exciting components of a painting. In both figurative and abstract painting, colour can be used for its decorative beauty, to create mood and to express or arouse an emotion. In nature and in art, colour has a profound effect on the viewer. Artists can...read more»

Quality of Light

Last time on Learning to Look we considered direction of light. Light is instrumental in contributing to the mood of a painting so as well as deciding what direction the light will come from, the artist also has to decide what kind of light it will be. Painted light can be...read more»

Direction of Light

After a brief break we’re back and going to look at some lovely light this week. Like perspective (which we’ve looked at here on Learning to Look) light is a tool that painters can use to make a painting look realistic. When looking at an artist’s use of light, the first...read more»


I’ve been working on a course on British art for Year 10 at school and this painting has caught my eye for it’s fleshy, pushy viewpoint. British artist Jenny Saville (b. 1970) is best known for her large-scale nudes and “Branded” (1992) is among the most memorable. It’s a self-portrait...read more»

Aerial Perspective

Last time we looked at linear perspective as an important way painters and sculptors can create a believable sense of space in a picture or carving. Linear perspective uses a mathematical system of lines to set up a realistic window onto the world. The key observation for this system (and...read more»

Linear Perspective

Since the Renaissance most Western painters have wanted to make it look as if the picture they are painting on a flat surface is three dimensional: has depth as well as breadth, just like the real world. There are many ways to create this illusion and this week we’re looking...read more»

Terracotta Sculpture

This week we’re looking at terracotta as a medium for art. The word means “baked earth” in Italian because terracotta is clay that’s been exposed to heat. Our first stop-off is Etruria. Etruscan art is that produced by the people of Etruria (modern day Tuscany) from the 8th to the 2nd...read more»

Bronze Sculpture

We’re looking at bronze as a material for sculpture this week. Bronze has been considered prestigious since ancient times and the techniques for casting it have hardly changed. We’re starting with these one-time warriors (they would have had weapons). These two life-size bearded nude bronzes were brought up from the...read more»

Wood Sculpture

It’s wood week. Like marble, wood is carved. It’s softer though (so easier to work) and doesn’t survive as well since it can decay, be eaten by bugs or burned. As with all materials, wood has natural inherent properties that affect the way an artist works and how the work...read more»

Marble Sculpture

In the last few weeks we’ve been looking at painting processes and techniques so I reckon it’s time to get stuck into sculpture. Sculpture can be a taking-away process (subtractive) if using hard materials such as stone or wood or a building up process (additive) if using soft materials such...read more»

Acrylic Painting

Last week we looked at oil and considered the incredible freedom it gave artists to create staggering effects with paint. After centuries of oil dominating painting, acrylics came in from the 1940s and 50s. Acrylics changed the face of painting, altering how artists worked and how their works came to...read more»

Oil Painting

We’ve looked at fresco and tempera painting and talked about how these techniques influence the way an artist works and how the finished piece looks. It’s oil painting this week: having been refined from the early 1400s in Flanders, artists from other countries gradually took it up. By the mid...read more»

Tempera Painting

Last week our look into fresco painting revealed aspects of a demanding technique. This week it’s tempera technique that’ll make us marvel. Until the late 1400s (when oil painting took over) Medieval and Renaissance artists created images in tempera on panel. The panel is wood and the type used depended on local...read more»

Fresco Painting

This week we’re starting to look at the materials, techniques and processes of art and we’ll begin with walls. Early artists painted on walls in the form of frescoes which were popular in Italian chapels and churches. Fresco painting has been around for thousands of years. Our examples are from the...read more»

Composition: Sculpture

This week we’re looking at composition in sculpture. Like a painting, a sculpture is arranged or ‘put together’, but where sculptural composition differs from a 2D picture surface is that it can be seen in the round, from all angles. Not easy, in short. Let’s see how two masters measure...read more»

Composition: Land Art

Last week we looked at Surrealist composition which came across as an assembling of oddball elements made to relate and ‘make sense’. This week in the last of our looks at composition we’re going all natural with Earth Art AKA Land Art. The term Land Art came up in the mid...read more»

Composition: Surrealism

Last week we looked at Piero della Francesca’s painting-by-numbers approach to composition. This week we’re going wacky with Surrealist composition which proposes a different way of building up a picture. Our art starter is Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) a Greek-Italian painter. Although not a signed-up member of the Surrealist group,...read more»

Composition: Renaissance

It’s a composition case study this week and Piero della Francesca (1410-92) is an excellent example of how artists use composition not only to put together a painting but also put across a message. This man is a master composer of works imbued with a sense of keep calm and...read more»

Composition: let's start!

This week we celebrate anyone who’s ever spent more than a moment arranging fruit in a bowl. The man planning his planting in the garden. The toddler lining up his tractors DON’T TOUCH THEM MAMA! These people are all artists in their way. Last week we looked at genres and...read more»

What’s it ABOUT?

Last week I was standing in front of a huge painting of a scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth by the English artist Joshua Reynolds. I just wasn’t feeling it. But then someone came over and pointed out the figures, the creepy prophecies and a huge toad I’d managed to miss. The...read more»

Why Look at Art

Well, why indeed? A good question and one certainly worth asking at the start of a year-long blog project about learning to look at art. Why bother? Why commit? I’m not into preaching or pushing my passion onto others. All I’m going on is my belief that a bit of...read more»