Winslow Homer Wikimedia Commons

The frugal Winslow Homer was at his most parsimonious through words—especially once asked to disclose his aesthetic concepts or his methods of working. "I think it would probably kill me to have actually such a point appear," the told a familiar writer that proposed a biography. The artist doggedly rebuffed every such overtures, left just a slim trail of correspondence and remained resolutely tight-lipped, specifically about his imaginative views.

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But his more than 700 watercolors provide scattered biographical and artistic clues. In the most recent investigation into his methods, an installed by the art Institute that Chicago, a meticulous study concentrated on 25 watercolors.

Using a microscope, Kristi A. Dahm, assistant file conservator at the arts Institute, discovered lines of black color pigment—from carbon paper—barely clearly shows in Homer"s Man v Plow Horse, an indication the Homer moved the style from an additional drawing or sketch. He provided carbon paper in the 1860s and 1870s come make duplicates of his works, come experiment v winning draft in miscellaneous media and also to conserve time—all the prime issue to Homer.

To develop the watch of foam in The Watcher, Tynemouth in 1882, Homer used green and blue washes mixed with red for the ocean, permit the repaint dry, dipped a brush in clean water and made swirls in the waves. That scraped soft colors from other parts the the picture to produce the watch of crashing waves, and then allow this dry before adding touches that opaque white watercolor come create areas of thick foam.

Researchers uncovered tiny grains of silica—from sandpaper—buried throughout the surface of Prout"s Neck, Breakers, a watercolor Homer completed in 1883. In this picture, whereby waves rumble over a shelf the rocks and also throw up clouds that spray, the artist to adjust in a blue-gray to wash for the sky, allowed it to dry and also gently sanded down spots that pigment come the ivory-colored record beneath, therefore summoning increase the watch of mist and also spray. Sanding, scraping and similar methods were well-known to English watercolorists of Homer"s day but were seldom used in America. By examining handbooks and perhaps by interviewing English practitioners, Homer led the way with this watercolor methods in the joined States, whereby they are still used.

Homer deployed a knife tongue to flick a speck of color from the eye of overview Rufus Wallace, paddling a canoe in Adirondacks Guide. The artist"s precision surgery, found by microscope analysis, puts a well-placed glint in the boatman"s eye in ~ a moment of reflection.

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Analysis the several various other works shows that time has changed Homer"s initial intentions, causing the red skies to fade in such watercolors together The Lone Boat, because that to be a Farmer"s Boy and also North Woods Club, Adirondacks. In each, Homer touch up the skies with a pink madder wash from red lake pigment, which ultimately disappears. Come simulate the look of Homer"s originals, the art Institute has created digital reconstructions ~ above its internet site, www.artic.edu/aic/research/homer.

"We did not collection out to demystify Homer," states Martha Tedeschi, the art Institute curator who conceived the project. "But us have gained some understanding into just how this master technician achieved what the did with his watercolors—his works of effortless complexity. That made it look easy, however now we understand it wasn"t."