I am sure that you love to paint. But when you stand in front of the paint display at your art shop what goes through your mind when you reach for those new tubes? I am pretty sure that you are doing some quick multiplication. Maybe you don’t need so many tubes after all. Not if you want to pay the bills this month.
With import duties and currency troubles we South African artists continue to see big jumps in paint prices. So is the answer is to eke out paint and use it sparingly? Not at all. One of the biggest reasons for paintings that disappoint us is skinny paint. You know what I mean?
When your painting has such thin paint application you cannot see a ripple of texture. It is flat, blended and weak. Like bad instant coffee. No thanks. I truly believe that when we use skinny paint we get insipid results and we also feel like we are cheating ourselves. When you hold back on the paint are you really expressing your feelings?
Many new artists are also seduced by the large canvas. It is so tempting when we see that large canvas at the shop. One metre wide – Wow! It will look great. Maybe it will, but that is a lot of painting real estate to cover and it takes up a lot of paint. So we paint skinny and feel disappointed with the result.
I would like to suggest that you paint with emotion and with a generous spirit. Paint with bravura as the critics say. Lay the paint on thick where the painting calls for it. Use layers in the light passages. Texture the foreground with that large bristle brush. Use impasto to contrast against thinner passages in the shadows. You get the idea?
This approach will bring you joy and save you paint too. How so?
First off try painting on smaller panels such as 6 x 8” or 10 x 12” at first. Use a relatively large brush like a size 4 and 6 and lay on the paint. Butter it on where necessary. Because you have a small panel to cover you are not using tubes of paint. But your painting will still be rich with thick juicy paint. Gem-like colours glowing and resplendent!
That one small painting will make a bigger statement than a large canvas with skinny paint. Painting this way will also build your confidence. It forces you to make the shapes simpler. More emphasis on big shapes with less detail. This often means stronger value contrasts too. This adds impact. Your compositions will be stronger too. More cropped with only the strong important shapes.
For inspiration look at artists like Kevin Macpherson and Ken Auster. Artists who work outdoors often will have adopted this approach, because it helps them paint quickly and boldly.
Another tip is to use fewer tube colours. This saves money and reduces the risk of muddy colour mixes. Try working with the primary colours and white. There will be more colour harmony in your mixes plus less wastage. If you have to scrape back then use that scraped off paint for warm or cool grey colour. These greys can set-off your pure colours to great effect.
It is a shame that many artists may feel inhibited by costs. This kind of thinking can spoil the joy of painting. But in truth not painting or holding back is more costly. When you hold back you pay with your spirit and that is too high a price. So the challenge is to make the most of your paint. Go small, but go bold!
Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa