It is no secret that I love the impressionist movement. But how exactly do you paint in an impressionist style?
Many artists seem to use it as an excuse to paint sloppy. But really, impressionism is just a relaxed form of realism in my opinion. Accuracy is still extremely important in impressionism.
In this post, we will run through some tips to help you paint like an impressionist.
Characteristics of impressionism
Before I get into the tips, here are some of the characteristics of impressionism:
- Broken color;
- Loose and fluent brushwork;
- Relaxed and sometimes inaccurate drawing;
- A focus on capturing the fleeting environment and how we see the world; and
- Compositions which place you in the painting.
1. Use broken color to create the illusion of depth and movement
If you look up close at many of Claude Monet’s paintings, you will notice that he rarely used a static color, but rather a myriad of broken colors which optically blend together when viewed from a distance. This gives Monet’s paintings a certain depth and vibrancy which few artists seem to be able to achieve.
Instead of painting the sky a static blue, Monet often used a range of broken yellows, purples, blues and greens. Instead of painting trees a static green, Monet used broken reds, yellows, greens and blues.
In most cases, Monet used a dominant color and many accent colors.
His paintings of water lilies are brilliant examples of broken colors. If you look up close, you can see just how many colors he used all through his paintings. Yet when you step back, everything works in a peaceful harmony.
2. Use bold strokes to direct your viewer around the canvas
The top impressionists were not afraid to use bold and almost aggressive brushwork. If used appropriately, this kind of brushwork can add a very dynamic element to your paintings.
Vincent van Gogh is obviously the first artist to come to mind when we think of bold brushwork. In my opinion, his brushwork is one of the reasons for his great fame post-mortem.
3. Use large brushes and try to capture form with as few strokes as possible
Painting like an impressionist can best be achieved by using brushes much larger than what you are usually comfortable with. This will help you generalize shapes, colors and other elements in your paintings. But make no mistake, it is not easy to paint with large brushes and every stroke needs to be calculated and have a purpose.
The best way to learn how to paint with larger brushes is just to force yourself to use them. Put away your smaller brushes and try to complete a few paintings with just larger brushes.
In my small painting below, I used a very large brush for the entire painting. You can see the large brushstrokes in the sky.
4. Use your palette knife to create interesting and sometimes dramatic effects
The palette knife is an underrated painting tool in my opinion. You can create such interesting effects using the palette knife and it can help you paint like an impressionist as you can use it to apply thick areas of varied colors without going into too much detail.
The palette knife is also perfect for adding small accents and highlights to your paintings (for example, the bright glimmer of sunlight which is hitting the top of the water in the distance of your seascape).
In my painting below, I used the palette knife to paint the dramatic yellows of the sun.
5. Create stunning contrasts between warm and cool colors
Many of the great impressionists skillfully contrasted warm and cool colors in their paintings to create stunning effects. This can be most effective when you have a dominant warm (cool) color contrast against a weaker cool (warm) color. For example, a dominant orange looks very brilliant when contrast against a dirty blue color.
6. If it is not important, simplify it
To paint like an impressionist, you need to determine what is actually important in your painting and simplify the rest. If you start adding every detail in the scene you are painting from, then the overall message of your painting will get lost. You want to try and communicate your message through your painting with as few words (strokes) as possible.
Most of these tips will help you simplify the clutter in your paintings and communicate what is actually important. That after all is what impressionism is all about. Do not confuse impressionism with just reckless painting.
Anyway, I hope these tips help you with creating your next impressionist painting. If you want to learn more, you might be interested in my Painting Academy course. It goes into more detail on the fundamentals of painting.