The origins of decorative painting

To put it simply, the decorative painting of today has its origins in the traditional or rustic art of the past, which we can collectively call "folk art".

Literally translated, "folk art" is "art of the people" and refers to the type of painting done in various countries of the world by self-taught common folk.

These folk artists were by no means professional artists - they were artisans who decorated their furniture, household objects, doors and even walls of their homes using very basic equipment such as a brush they made themselves using squirrel hair and primary colours they made using natural pigments. As such folk art began as a very simple form of decoration where much of the painting was done using a round brush and the motifs mainly simply-stroked flowers, leaves, birds and scrolls which could be completed fairly quickly.

Almost all countries have some kind of traditional folk art associated with their culture and many are hundreds of years old. The major ones that have captured the attention of and influenced the work of modern day decorative painters include Germany, Austria and Switzerland's bauernmalerei, England's canalboat painting, France's tole painting, the Netherlands' hindeloopen, Norway's rosemaling and Russia's zhostovo, among others.

As with other things, traditional folk art spread from one region of the world to another through travel and migration. The folk arts mentioned above have many similarities with each other and it is not surprising that the early practitioners of American folk art inherited their tradition from German, Swiss and French immigrants who brought their art with them in the 17th century.



Books to help you

Decorative Painting of the World
Susan Gray (Editor) (Hardcover - September 1995)


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Decorative Painting History -  Painted Tile
Decorative Painting History - Painted Jar

These vibrant handpainted porcelain tile and jar from the Orient serve as inspiration and a reminder of the richness of the traditions of the past.

Today's decorative painters still learn from and apply various styles of traditional folk art to their decorative painting. It is a limitless and boundless pursuit and decorative artists of the 21st century are adept at rediscovering various other forms of decorative art associated with many other countries and adapting them to 3-dimensional surfaces.

Many contemporary decorative artists specialise in one or a few folk art styles and others have adapted traditional techniques or developed their own styles and techniques to create a new heritage of decorative art.

Decorative Painting History -  Bridal Pillow

This elaborate bridal pillow or "bantal" from the Far East is not painted but handtooled on gold. Decorative artists today would look at something like this from the past and paint the design on wood to create a treasured heirloom.



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