Techniques and Genres


Cubism developed in the aftermath of Pablo Picasso’s shocking 1907 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in a period of rapid experimentation between Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Drawing upon Paul Cezanne’s emphasis on the underlying architecture of form, these artists used multiple vantage points to fracture images into geometric forms. Rather than modelled forms in an illusionistic space, figures were depicted as dynamic arrangements of volumes and planes where background and foreground merged. The movement was one of the most groundbreaking of the early-20th century as it challenged Renaissance depictions of space, leading almost directly to experiments with non-representation by many different artists. Artists working in the Cubist style went on to incorporate elements of collage and popular culture into their paintings and to experiment with sculpture.

​A number of artists adopted Picasso and Braque’s geometric faceting of objects and space including Fernand Léger and Juan Gris, along with others that formed a group known as the Salon Cubists. Cubists explored open form, piercing figures and objects by letting the space flow through them, blending background into foreground, and showing objects from various angles. Some historians have argued that these innovations represent a response to the changing experience of space, movement, and time in the modern world. This first phase of the movement was called Analytic Cubism.

In the second phase of Cubism, Synthetic Cubism practicioners explored the use of non-art materials as abstract signs. Their use of newspaper would lead later historians to argue that, instead of being concerned above all with form, the artists were also acutely aware of current events, particularly World War I. Cubism paved the way for non-representational art by putting new emphasis on the unity between a depicted scene and the surface of the canvas. These experiments would be taken up by the likes of Piet Mondrian, who continued to explore their use of the grid, abstract system of signs, and shallow space.


If you want to have a go then start by sketching as normal. Once you have a general sketch, use a ruler to sharpen the edges. In any place you’ve sketched soft, rounded lines, go back over them and change them into sharp lines and edges.

You want the geometry of your painting to be more than just a basic outline of your subject. Think about different ways you can further break down the shapes in your painting and don’t be afraid to overlap lines. Try looking at where the light falls o you subject. Instead of shading and blending, create shapes. Then use geometric lines to show where you would normally shade in a painting. Within Cubism, artists focused on the form in a painting, rather than colour. They often used neutral browns and blacks or monochrome. You can guide you paintbrush with a ruler so you don’t lose the angularity and your work will also be enhanced by breaking up large areas of tone with further lines and colour.