Many artists want to loosen up their painting style. A loose and painterly approach to creating paintings in an impressionist style is highly desirable. But to get that loose and expressive style can be very difficult. In this article I am going to give you my number one tip for changing a tight style to a loose one.
Ready to change?
It is Not Your Fault
Amazingly many artists blame themselves for being uptight or lacking talent. This is nonsense. Most of us are raised to paint in a realistic fashion. Copying for the sake of realism is often a desired result from an early stage in our art training. Childhood actually. The quest for drawing accurately and precisely with fine pointed tools is something we all grew up with. Not surprisingly making the step to loose painting is not only difficult but sometimes traumatic.
Where to begin when changing your painting styles?
The first thing I like to tell my students is to make sure that they really want to paint in a loose and painterly fashion. Personally I do admire artists who create photorealist work. In many cases the work is beautiful and the technique and technical skill is something notable.
However creating work in that style does not light my fire so to speak. This means that it is not the style that I should pursue. There are so many styles of painting and so many different tastes in art that I truly believe there is something for everyone. So only embark on an impressionist approach if that is something you really want.
The BIG Change
Having got that out of the way let us have a look at the most important change that I ask all my students to make. It is a very simple request. In fact in many cases artists think that I am oversimplifying the matter. Many believe that the quest for an impressionist style of painting is beyond them or that it will take many years of struggle. Well any painting endeavour will take many years and should ideally never be completely satisfactory. The pursuit of painting excellence is a lifelong goal.
So here it is. The first thing and possibly the most important technical change that every artist must make is to use a larger paintbrush. An easy thing to say, but as I have mentioned it is sometimes extremely difficult to implement.
The old habit of picking up the little brush and making many tiny little marks in order to finish off the painting is so deeply ingrained in most artists that they cannot simply change to a large brush. Maybe at the beginning of the painting. Thereafter the big brush is put down for the little brush. It is the the little brush that many artists think will give their painting the realism, detail and precision that they require for a beautiful painting. The result is usually disappointing.
Why bigger is better
I like to remind the sceptical artist that when you step outside and look at a beautiful landscape what you are seeing are many large shapes. For example big trees, large fields, a massive sky. Maybe an ocean and so on. It is only when you look at a specific object nearby that you start to see small details. The leaves and twigs and pebbles and things like that.
In general the human eye only sees the big picture. Light on dark and warm and cool masses of colour that is interpreted through our eyes and our mind into a pleasing arrangement. This is what makes a beautiful landscape. We are not plunged into a world of pointellist detail.
In fact in many cases our minds happily fill in all the details for us. These little details do not have to be spelled out to us otherwise we would spend all our time on our hands and knees peering at the million and one little details that are around us.
Of course nature can provide far more information than us mere mortals. Instead let us take up the big brush and create the broad strokes that will delight the eye and stimulate the imagination to fill in the details for us.
What is a big brush?
Artists who want to make a change should use a brush that is big enough to cause them some discomfort. By this I mean if you would normally use a size 2 brush for a particular size canvas then pick up a size 8 brush and carry on.
You may at first be frustrated and think that the painting will suffer for the big brush. But if you follow the general approach of squinting down and looking for the arrangement of mass shapes. Then put those shapes down with an economy of brush stroke, plenty of paint and large movements of the arm and hand you will naturally create shapes with certain energy and boldness that will transform a tight painting into something lively.
I would also suggest working on a small canvas or panel in the region of 10 x 12” and certainly not much bigger and than that. A brush such as a good quality bristle brush in size 8 can be used for the entire painting. It is surprising how many shapes can be created with a long flat bristle brush. Even relatively small details can be suggested with one or two dabs from the edge of the Brush.
If in doubt step back and have a look at the painting from across the room and see how the shapes come together and suggest all the details you could expect in a landscape. With a bit of practice this will become easier with time.
Instead of details, focus on the light .
A bold dark shape against a bold light shape will do a lot more for a painting than a bunch of unnecessary details. So get out the big brush scoop up lots of paint and create lively brush marks that depict light and dark colour and welcome to the world of the painterly artist.
Take a look at the video below to see what can be done with a large brush. If you want to take this further and learn more about painting in a loose style then check out my course How to Loosen Up Your Painting. You will find it packed with tips and demonstrations for a painterly style of painting.
Here is the completed painting ...
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