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Dali's Techniques

Salvador Dali is considered to be one of the most influential modern artists. In addition to using pre-existing methods of applying paint to canvas, Dali also used some methods of his own creation. Dali was born in 1904 and died in 1989. He was regarded as a Surrealist, and painted over 1,700 works during his 60-year career. While Dali was often fond of putting out false information about his methods, there are a few known techniques that he used to create his art.


The piece “Forgotten Horizon,” painted in 1936, is an example of Dali’s unique approach to oil painting. In this work, he used wood paneling as his canvas and applied a white primer. After this, he painted the background of the ocean, sky and sand. After applying the background, the figures were added. He purposely added the shadowed detail to the left figure’s face to accentuate its dream-like presence. In the middle of the painting is a solemn figure walking towards a wrecked ship. This technique was used to portray the middle figure as being a crucial part of the environment, while the dancing figures on the left were painted to give the impression that it was simply a part of the viewer’s imagination.


Dali often used the tempera technique when painting. Tempera painting is done with various minerals, egg yolks and water. In his 1922 cover for the “Fires i Festes de La Santa Creu,” Dali approached tempera painting by combining it with pointillism. He would later refer to this work as a part of his individual Impressionist period. Not uncommon with Dali’s tempera paintings, this work was originally done on cardboard.

Unconventional Techniques

Besides the standard methods of painting canvases, Dali used several unique techniques to create his paintings. In some works, he used an explosive charge to literally blast paint onto a canvas. This technique would later be referred to as “tachiste plates.” Another popular technique used by Dali was to pelt a painting with cartridges containing lithographic ink. However, by far the most common technique that Dali used was “dessin automatique.” With this technique, Dali claimed that he was not aware of his painting but allowed his subconscious to create the work. This can be readily attributed to the dream-like quality often associated with his paintings and sculptures.

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