(New to painting? Start with my free email series, 7 Days to Better Paintings. Thanks!)

6 Tips To Help You Paint Like An Impressionist

54K Shares

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 sloppily. 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 that place you in the painting.

1. Use broken colors 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 that optically blend together when viewed from a distance. This gives Monet’s paintings a certain depth and vibrancy that 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.

Claude Monet, A Corner Of The Garden At Montgeron, 1877
Claude Monet, A Corner Of The Garden At Montgeron, 1877

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.

Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1914
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1914
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1917-1919
Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1917-1919
Claude Monet, Water Lily Pond, 1917
Claude Monet, Water Lily Pond, 1917

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.

Vincent van Gogh, Dr. Paul Gachet, 1890
Vincent van Gogh, Dr. Paul Gachet, 1890
Vincent van Gogh, Enclosed Field With Rising Sun, 1889
Vincent van Gogh, Enclosed Field With Rising Sun, 1889
Vincent van Gogh, Farmhouse In A Wheat Field, 1888
Vincent van Gogh, Farmhouse In A Wheat Field, 1888

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.

Sunset Study, Kingfisher Bay, Oil, 10x12 Inches, 2017
Dan Scott, Sunset Study, Kingfisher Bay, 2017

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 that 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.

 Dan Scott, Brisbane Sunset, 2017
Dan Scott, Brisbane Sunset, 2017

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.

Claude Monet, Houses Of Parliament, 1904
Claude Monet, Houses Of Parliament, 1904

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.

Summary

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. 

Thanks for Reading!

Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my fundamentals course.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy

Read more of my articles. 

33 comments on “6 Tips To Help You Paint Like An Impressionist”

    • This article was super informative. Most of these acknowledge the obvious and tell u little to no new info for having read them. Your info was enlightening and even more, it is useful! I can’t wait to finish this message, I’m so anxious to pick up my paint brush, and try them all out. THANK YOU

      Reply
  1. I hope,you be able to continue such a good describe about the subject that might take one years of study.I personally appreciate it very much from far distance & another side of the earth. with the best wishes

    Reply
  2. Great article — simply offered, well written, easy to read and full of wonderful creativity boosters. My one suggestion would be to call up some relevant examples for all (and not just some of) the tips you offer. The examples of other well known artists lends credibility, so avoid using your own examples. For instance, I’d have loved seeing some examples by a well known impressionist artist to illustrate your 3rd and 4th tips.

    Reply
    • Hi Rob. Thanks for your very thoughtful feedback. I will try add some more examples to this post when I have time and certainly to future posts! Regards, Dan.

      Reply
      • I have not mastered how to appreciate great paintings of the past masters. I find your (Dan Scott’s) paintings very attractive and the explanation is highly reasonable. You do not have to drop your examples. They are simple and charming.

        Reply
  3. I HAVE ALWAYS LIKED THE IMPRESSIONISTIC WAY OF PAINTING. I WANT TO PAINT MORE WITH A PAINT KNIFE TO BE ABLE TO PAINT THAT WAY.

    Reply
  4. Thanks for sharing with us. Claude Monet is one of my favorite artists, and here lately, I have this desire to paint more in the impressionist style, because of what I have read about Claude Monet. I even admire the kind of man he was in life, and I love the impressionist style he has paved the way for in art. I am working on a painting now that is still not all the way like Claude Monet’s, but I did use a palette knife in the background underpainting, so that helped leaning toward the impressionist style. I have Peruvian lilies, chrysanthemums, which was easy for the quick and short brushstrokes for the Impressionist style, and roses. I worked on the background last night, giving it less details, and that helped it lean toward the impressionism style. Thanks for sharing the Impressionist style with us.

    Reply
  5. I am greatly enjoying all your “tips” which are very well illustrated by the paintings you have chosen. I also like your own paintings and hope that you continue to post.

    Reply
  6. Thank You for sharing these brief but important tips! I have a book on impressionism (but never) seem to find the time to sit down & read. Your information is concise and right on! Examples always help me so I’m glad you included many (including) your own.

    Reply
  7. Thank you for the tips. I thought I had invented some of them as my own and now I see that somebody (you ) haven already implemented them. Makes me feel better with my amateur paintings.
    Nilsa

    Reply
  8. i am trying to make myself paint again.
    i guess just grab paints and brush and give it a go.
    i find your work inspiring.
    thanks, i will be following you.
    mariella

    Reply
  9. Thanks a million Dan. Your ideas and tips have given a much required clarity. Impressionism is something like climbing a mountain with the perfectly and strategically placed least number of steps and as well said by you, it must not be an excuse for a sloppy painting.

    Reply
  10. Hi Yash from India, 68, now 20 years drawing painting landscape, sea , sky and fields
    Most are buddha faces as I visualise from memory, I gift them, an exhibition was a wash out But a look vangogh exhibition at Melbourne in 360• have settled my minds eye to do impressionist painting, as I see around mumbai
    Can u guide to improve my work, will you comment about my paintings, I’d like to join your academy thanks

    Reply
  11. Hi,
    Thank you for your easy reading short tutorial. I have painted now and then since I was 14 years old. Thats ages ago. I always regarded my paintings as impressionistic. Somebody told me that I paint naive which I didnt like to hear. But I think it was her lack of knowledge about impressionism. I am going to send your tips to her (with your permission).

    .

    Reply

Leave a Comment

[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]
54K Shares
Pin53K
Share305