Impressionist Painting Techniques: 5 Tips to Paint Like an Impressionist
This entry was posted on July 20, 2023.
Impressionism is a painting style that emerged in France in the late 19th century, led by a group of thirty artists. The movement is characterized by its focus on the fleeting moments people come across in everyday life. Artists of the impressionist era used light and color to capture such moments from their own lives or others, giving all impressionist paintings a unique sense of beauty.
The Impressionist movement was revolutionary when it got introduced first as the paintings made under the movement were unconventional. Even though impressionism was not received well during its beginner days, especially by critics, it has had a lasting impact on the art world.
Source: Draw Paint Academy
Many art enthusiasts still find impressionist artworks amusing. If you are an artist who is aspiring to be an impressionist painter and learn all its techniques, then this article is for you.
This article discusses seven impressionist painting techniques and tips to help you paint like an impressionist. From brushwork and color selection to capturing the essence of a scene, these tips can help you bring the magic of impressionism into your art. So grab your brushes, and let's get started!
5 Impressionist Painting Techniques to Paint Like an Impressionist
When attempting any art style, you must follow all of its features to capture the true essence of the style. Be it Impressionism, Expressionism, Surrealism, or Realism, if you are attempting any art style, you must try bringing all its features to your painting to call it true to that style.
Below are the various impressionist painting techniques that the followers of the movement used for their art pieces. You have to try following all of them when attempting to create an impressionist painting.
“Broken Color” Technique
The Broken Color technique refers to the method impressionist artists use to apply paint on a canvas.
Source: The Art And Beyond
Using this method, the artist applies colors using small strokes and not blending them. While using this technique, the colors don't blend literally but optically. Thus, impressionists used the method of optical mixing to create a sense of illusion and impression while viewing such artworks.
We can see this technique in many impressionist paintings like Monet's Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge and many such classic art pieces. Such use of small brushstrokes often makes it difficult to make sense of the paintings by impressionists, which was one of the causes of criticism the movement received during its early stages.
Source: Museums of the world
If you are to look at these paintings up close, they appear nothing more than a bunch of scattered colors on a canvas. However, upon stepping back, the painting will come together for you, and you will be in awe of seeing its beauty.
You can achieve this method by making use of a cross-hatching pattern. Scraping your palette knife on the thick layers of paint will reveal the layers of other colors beneath it. You can follow the tips below to paint using this broken color technique of impressionists.
1. Use Oil Paints
It may be best to use oil paints to accurately get the broken color technique in your work and master it. It was also the kind of paint that impressionist artists used for their works mainly because it was the best type of paint to get the broken color technique well. You can make use of various sizes of brushes to get different textures.
2. Prepare the canvas properly
You have to prepare the canvas properly by applying a thin layer of paint. This can help make the surface easier to paint on and also prevents too much mixing of colors so that you can get the broken color technique well.
3. Optical Mixing
Impressionist painters make use of a technique known as "Optical Mixing." In this method, the artists place very small strokes of various colors beside each other to create an effect of the desired color. The broken color technique depends on the visual mixing of colors, so it is better not to mix the colors too much.
Apply the paint using small, broken, quick brush strokes. Make use of different colors to create different layers and a sense of movement and depth. You can create harmony and contrast in your painting by making use of colors that are complementary to one another.
Building layers can provide the painting with a three-dimensional effect. Capturing the effect of light and movement and the atmosphere was something impressionist painters excelled at. Using the broken color technique, you can create an illusion of shadow and light.
While painting using this impressionist technique, it is essential to take a step back often and look at the work you have completed to make any adjustments. Like any other painting technique, the Broken Color Technique also takes a lot of practice to master. Keep experimenting with different colors and textures until you find your unique style.
Thick Impasto Application
Impressionist artists used short and quick brush strokes to add multiple layers of paint, which came to be known as the Impasto Technique. Using this technique allows the strokes of the brush to stay visible, which adds more texture to the painting. The Impressionist painting technique allows the artists to mix the paint directly on the canvas, although impressionist painters only mixed the paintings to a minimum.
Source: Old Holland
In the Impasto technique, the impressionist artists depict various objects using short, thick brush strokes, which makes the painting stand out from the surface. This provides the artwork with volume and depth, which is known as Impasto.
In order to use this technique, you will need to apply paint using thick strokes. Dip your paintbrush in the paint. Then, load the brush with a large amount of color, and place it on the canvas with a heavy hand.
This would create a build-up on the surface of the canvas. You can make this better by creating different textures using different-sized brushes. Create interest and depth in your painting by changing the direction and pressure you apply to the brush strokes.
Before painting a different layer, you must ensure that the previous layer of paint has dried up. The best type of paint you can use for the Impasto Technique is oil paint, but it is also okay to use acrylic paint.
Watercolors are not used often for this Impressionist painting technique. However, artists can create a slight impasto effect by pressing the watercolor onto watercolor papers. Make use of thick Impasto brushstrokes to capture the essence of light and shadow on your subject, thus, creating an Impressionist painting.
Major Emphasis on the Effects of Light
Painting like an Impressionist requires you to focus a lot on capturing the effects of light and color. The focus and detailing must be on these rather than creating a realistic depiction of the subject that you are drawing.
Here are some tips that can help you paint like an Impressionist by giving a significant emphasis on the effects of light technique:
1. Use a limited color palette
The colors that Impressionists usually used to paint their art pieces were limited in number. They focused on using the colors they had to create the impression of a scene rather than try and capture the exact representation.
Some standard colors that impressionists used include ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, cadmium yellow, emerald green, and alizarin crimson to capture the light as well as possible. So, it is best for you to use such a limited color palette when working on your impressionism-inspired painting.
2. Use broken brushstrokes
Instead of using smooth, blended brushstrokes, impressionist painters used short, broken brushstrokes to create the illusion of movement and light. These broken brushstrokes let the colors blend in the viewer's eyes. This effect only gives us the impression of the scene rather than a detailed, realistic image, which is a prominent feature of impressionist paintings.
So, to capture and give a major emphasis on light in your impressionist art piece, it is best for you to use broken brushstrokes.
3. Paint en plein air
Impressionist painters often painted outdoors, in the open air, to capture the effects of natural light on the landscape. This is the best way to capture and create an accurate impression of light in these paintings.
Source: Dan Schultz
So, if you want to create a precise impressionist painting with an actual impression of the light you see while in your painting process, take it outdoors. This will make it easier for you to capture the changing light and the changes that it causes to the colors of your subject.
4. Use complementary colors
Impressionist artists often used complementary colors to create vibrant, dynamic paintings. This helped them create realistic impressions of light and color in their paintings.
If you want to paint Impressionist paintings that resemble the ones the artists of the era created, you must also use complementary colors. For example, if you're painting a landscape with blue skies, you have to use orange or yellow to create contrast and capture the effects of light.
5. Pay attention to the effects of light
To paint like an Impressionist, it is essential for you to focus on capturing the effects of light on your subject. Pay attention to how the light falls on your subject and how it changes over time, especially if you are painting en plein air.
Source: Vintage Everyday
You must use light colors to capture areas of your subject that get hit by direct light and darker shades to create shadows. This will help you make a great impression of your reference that resembles the paintings done during the Impressionist era.
Avoid Hard Edges and Work Wet into Wet
Avoiding hard edges by working wet into wet is an important technique in impressionist painting. Such a painting technique helped artists of the Impressionist era to create a sense of light, movement, and atmosphere. Below are some ways to avoid hard edges in your Impressionist painting:
1. Blend wet into wet
One of the key techniques that impressionist painters used was to blend wet paint into wet paint to avoid hard edges. As the name of the technique suggests, it involves the application of a wet layer of paint on top of another wet layer of paint.
This not only allows the colors to blend together naturally but also creates soft, blended edges that give a sense of depth and atmosphere to the painting.
2. Use a dry brush
Another way that artists used to avoid hard edges is to use a dry brush technique. You must also thus have to do so while working on your impressionist painting.
To achieve this technique, you must use a brush that has had most of the paint wiped off. You have to then lightly drag it over the surface of the canvas with the paint so as to blend the colors together. This can help you create a sense of texture and movement in the painting and also helps you to soften any hard edges.
3. Work with a limited palette
As mentioned in the tips above, Impressionist painters worked with a limited palette of colors. Such a technique helped them create a sense of harmony and unity in their paintings.
By using a limited range of colors, you can create a painting with soft, blended edges and get all the features of an impressionist painting right.
4. Paint quickly
Impressionist painters made it a habit to work quickly to capture the essence of a scene perfectly in a short amount of time.
If you paint quickly, you can avoid creating hard edges by overworking the paint. By painting quickly, you can also bring about a sense of spontaneity and freshness in your painting, like the original Impressionist paintings.
Avoid thin Paint Films and Blaze.
Impressionist paintings are opaque in nature. To achieve this, you have to avoid using thin paint films and blaze. If you want to paint like an impressionist using an opaque impressionist painting technique without thin paint films and blaze, here are some steps you can follow:
1. Use a palette knife
Instead of using a brush, it may be best to use a palette knife to apply paint to the canvas you are using to create an Impressionist painting. Such a technique will help you to create a textured, layered effect making your work seem opaque.
Source: Creative Bloq
2. Apply paint thickly
As mentioned in the steps above, you have to use thicker layers of paint. You have to continue building up the texture of your painting by applying thick layers of paint over and over until you have achieved the desired opacity.
Source: Old Holland
As mentioned in one of the above tips, Impressionists often used Impasto techniques, where they tried creating a three-dimensional effect by applying thick layers of paint.
3. Mix colors on the canvas
Instead of mixing colors on the palette, it might be best for you to mix them directly on the canvas itself. This may be different from the conventional way you used to paint, but this is a crucial way to achieve the opaque feature of impressionist paintings. Such a method of mixing colors on the canvas can also help create a more spontaneous and organic feel to the painting.
Source: ZenART Supplies
Step-By-Step Guide To Help You Paint Like an Impressionist
There are many art enthusiasts and artists who have a special liking for the Impressionist movement and the Impressionist style of art. If you want to paint like classic impressionist artists, you can look into the guide below.
The guide will provide you with all the necessary steps to help you understand the painting style better so that you can make yourself an Impressionist.
Before you get into the different steps, you have to know that you must be relaxed as you begin your practice. It is impossible for almost everyone to get the style right the first time, so it is okay to make mistakes. You also have to keep in mind that you must focus on capturing the moment rather than creating a realistic painting of your subject.
Using Bold Brush Strokes
One of the important features of Impressionist painting is the use of bold brush strokes. So, while working on your artwork, it is important that you paint with bold brush strokes. Follow the below steps to achieve this feature for your artwork!
1. Keep your oil or acrylic paints and large brushes ready
The first and foremost thing you have to do is keep your oil or acrylic paints ready and large brushes ready. Doing this before starting the painting process is essential so you wouldn’t have to leave your work and fetch such essential items during your process.
Insert: Art Instruction Blog
Oil paints are the recommended kind of paint for creating Impressionist art. But they can take a couple of days to dry up. If you don’t have that kind of patience or are not familiar with oil paints, it is okay to use acrylic paints too. Acrylic paints dry within twenty to thirty minutes.
You must also have large paint brushes, unlike the ones you normally use, to help you achieve bold and big brushstrokes.
2. Practice painting distinctive brushstrokes
If you are like any conventional artist, the chances are you are not that familiar with painting large brushstrokes. So, it is best to first practice painting large and bold brushstrokes before getting into the actual painting.
Source: Ken Bromley Art Supplies
You can use a spare or partially used canvas for this step to avoid any wastage. You can start by painting in basic shapes using large and bold brushstrokes. You must also use different colors to see how well you can blend colors and achieve optical mixing using such brushstrokes.
You can then start making smaller brushstrokes that still look bold to see how well you can create a sense of movement. You can continue making patterns and shapes until you feel ready to move into the painting.
3. Make distinct brushstrokes on your canvas
Once you feel like you are ready, you can move to the actual canvas that you set aside for your Impressionist painting. You can dip your large paintbrush into the paint and start making bold and distinct brushstrokes.
You have to make sure to keep all brushstrokes alone and not blend them together. Continue painting your subject this way until you have a vague structure of the foreground on your canvas.
Source: Milan Art Institute
You have to step a bit away from your canvas often through your process and observe the painting from there. Impressionist paintings, as mentioned in the steps above, are done in such a way as to achieve optical mixing.
So when you observe the painting after taking a step away, you will notice that the large strokes blur and combine to provide a sense of movement and completion. If you have seen other impressionist art pieces, you may have noticed how they consist of thousands of individual brushstrokes.
4. Use a palette knife to paint
If even a large brush is not working well enough to create distinct brush strokes, you can try using a palette knife to create depth.
Instead of a brush, you can use the top of a palette knife to paint. When you apply the painting using this tool, you have to press the tip onto your canvas and then drag it to create the best effect. You can continue adding layers in this manner to get the perfect texture.
5. Paint quickly
Impressionist art is all about creating pieces that are an impression of the subject or scenery that they are trying to capture. You have to paint quickly to capture the changes in light and the way this changes the shadows that fall on your subject. Working quickly can help you create a sense of movement for your painting which is a key feature of Impressionist art pieces.
Use of Color and Painting Shadows
Another main highlight of impressionist art is its unique use of color to get a realistic impression of light and shadows. You can use the following steps to achieve this feature for your impressionist painting.
Source: Jeffrey Smith Art
Something that you must keep in mind before getting into the coloring part is that you don’t have to mix colors or paints when attempting impressionist paintings. You can directly apply the different colors onto the canvas in distinct brushstrokes. Your eyes will do the rest of the job of putting it together as an image.
1. Place different colors of paint close together to create an image
Dip your paintbrush into the different paints that you want to use, and then make brushstrokes that are small yet distinct on your canvas. You have to then paint in different hues of the paint color that you just dabbed to help your eyes put all of them together and read it as a single image.
To give you an example, if your subject is a flower, you can paint different hues of bright reds or oranges or both, along with a dab of purple underneath them. The purple can help create shadows to help make the impression more perfect. You have to also add a few strokes of white to the center portion of the flower to highlight it.
2. Paint using bold colors
Use whatever bold colors you want for the subject you are painting to give your painting a good Impressionist touch. Impressionism is not at all about painting realistic depictions of subjects, so it will be bold and unique if you want to use blue and purple brushstrokes for the sky you are painting.
You don’t have to be afraid at all to use a lot of bright colors for your impressionist painting. You can use green, yellow, and blue for your trees and grass, even if that makes them look too bright.
Bright colors won’t make your painting look overwhelming, but it would rather make it vibrant, like how Impressionist paintings typically look.
3. Don’t use a lot of neutral colors
It is best to limit the use of neutral colors in your painting, as this will make it look bleak. Classic Impressionists hardly used white, gray, or black paint for their paintings. It is best that you also avoid the usage of these colors as much as possible.
For dark areas and shadows, you can use dark greens, blues, or purples in place of neutral colors. These are the best ones to create a contrast with the bright paints that may be used in the painting the most.
4. Don’t let the paint dry
You don't have to wait for the paint to dry before painting over it so you can avoid hard edges.
Impressionists used oil paints for their artworks which took hours to dry. They didn't have time to let it dry, so they painted directly on the wet paint, and that is how their pieces got the feature of having soft looks.
Such a technique can also help you achieve a sense of movement for your painting which is, as you know, a desired feature for any impressionist painting. Painting wet-on-wet not only gives a blurred look to your work but also helps mix the colors together to form the effect of a complete image.
5. Include highlights and exaggerate shadows
It is essential that you exaggerate shadows and include highlights for your Impressionist painting. If you paint when the sun makes long shadows, you can bring the impression of it in your painting by marking them using purples, blues, and reds.
If you have a subject, it may be a great idea to draw when the sun is constantly changing to capture the different ways it casts its shadow on your subject. If you want to highlight any areas to get the right impression of light, you can use colors like yellows, oranges, and reds.
Choosing The Right Subject For Your Impressionist Painting
To draw the perfect impressionist painting you have always wanted, it is also important to find the right subject that can help you achieve it. Here are some steps or tips that you can follow to find the right subject.
1. Outdoor Subject
The main characteristic of impressionists was that they painted ‘en plein air’ or outdoors. It may be best to move your art-making process outdoors to feel like you are doing an Impressionist painting.
Source: Time Out
Select any outdoor setting you like if you feel it can look great on your painting. You can then capture the different impressions of it as the light or wind changes.
Some suggestions to help you pick a good outdoor setting are a beach at sunset, a park or lawn with blossoming flowers, a waterbody covered in water lilies, etc.
2. Indoor Subject
If you want to stick to working on your Impressionist painting indoors, you have to choose a good subject that will look great on your art piece. If you have an indoor subject, avoid arranging it or placing it somewhere that makes it look as if it is staged.
Source: Asper Magazine
Fruits lying around a table like they usually would in an unarranged or well-kept table are a great example of an indoor subject for Impressionist painting.
Even though Impressionists often paint outdoors, it is still okay to stick to painting indoors. Van Gogh and Cezanne are two artists who made impressionist paintings using indoor subjects. The former often painted single vases of various flowers, and the latter often painted jugs, bottles, and food items lying unevenly on tabletops.
3. Pick a moment rather than a major event as the subject
If you are painting outdoors or indoors, it is best to choose a single moment or something from your everyday life rather than trying to capture some major event. Impressionist paintings are supposed to be works that capture the essence of everyday life.
Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Conventional painters before Impressionists mainly painted major events like wars or religious scenes. But Impressionist paintings are almost like photographs that capture a single everyday happening.
Painting regular or daily events like people relaxing in parks, the sun rising or setting, or a family member going about during their daily chores all can classify as good subjects for your impressionist paintings.
4. Play around with composition
Playing around with composition is a great way to add interest and depth to your impressionist artwork. You can try different methods to add composition to your beautiful artwork.
You can try different angles to paint your subject. Instead of painting a scene straight on, you can try experimenting with different angles. To give an example, you could try painting a scene from a bird's eye view or a worm's eye view, which can all help in creating a different perspective for your painting.
You can play with the rule of thirds. Instead of keeping the focal point of your artwork at the center, you can keep it off-center. You can even try experimenting and placing your focal point at multiple points of interest.
You can also create a sense of movement in your painting by using different shapes in your composition. You can try to create this effect by using diagonal lines, curved shapes, and directional brushstrokes.
You also don't have to include every element of a scene in your painting. You can experiment with cropping to play around with the composition of your artwork. For example, you can try focusing on a single flower in a field instead of painting the entire landscape.
5. Proceed to simplify the details
The aim of the Impressionists was not to convey a realistic depiction of their subject. Their intention was to create only an impression of what they see when they view their subject.
So, for your impressionist painting, it is best to give all the required amount of detailing to your subject and keep the surroundings simple. This is important so that the surroundings won’t compete with your subject.
To achieve this feature of impressionist painting for your artwork, you can give bright colors to your primary subject. You can then give muted colors to the rest of the painting, that is, the background, using less defined and larger brush strokes.
Impressionism was a revolutionary artistic movement that emerged in France in the late nineteenth century. The artworks that impressionists made were not at all conventional, which resulted in them getting a lot of negative criticism.
Impressionists tried to capture the changing and fleeting moods of everyday life, which was not something many artists attempted to do during their time. This unique movement soon gained momentum and went on to become one of the most influential and inspirational artistic styles of all time.
Impressionist art is still very popular among art enthusiasts and artists. There are now even applications which turns photo into impressionist painting.
The article discussed the different impressionist techniques and a step-by-step guide to help you paint like an Impressionist. It can help you paint an impressionist painting like you always wanted to!
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