Impasto refers to the texture of the paint created by your brushwork.
Impasto is generally used in reference to paint applied in a thick and bold fashion with clearly visible brushwork, but it can also refer to the more subtle textures created by delicate brushwork on a more smooth surface.
By using an impasto technique you can add another dimension to your painting by adding increased texture to areas of significance. This can enhance the illusion of a three dimensional representation.
You can also create some interesting effects by building up paint in an impasto fashion such as:
- The impasto area of paint will create areas of actual shadow on the painting depending on the light source. This gives another element to your painting and can really add some depth depending on how it is used.
- The protruding areas of paint will be more visible from side angles.
- You could use the impasto technique to give the illusion of distance, with close areas being more built up and distant areas being more smooth and soft.
- By using impasto brushwork, you can help guide the viewer as you please around the painting using directional lines. These do not have to be obvious and could be something as simple as subtle lines in trees directed towards your focal point.
One artist who is famous for using a very impasto technique is Vincent van Gogh. His brushwork was extremely dominant in his paintings and a real signature of his work. His brushwork gives a sense of activity and movement in the painting.
You can see in the close-up of one of van Gogh's paintings below how he builds up a high amount of paint on the canvas to give a rough impasto effect, even in the background. This gives his paintings a very bold and dramatic effect.
How do you use an impasto technique? Well simple really. You just make sure you load up your brush with lots of paint and spread it liberally on the canvas. Alternatively, the palette knife is a fantastic tool for making thick strokes and intense color unmatched by the paint brush.
You can use the impasto technique in combination with other theories to really enhance your painting. For example, you can make the foreground in your painting really jump out at the viewer by using the impasto technique to build up paint and using warm colors to give a sense of activity and closeness.
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