Tuesday, 8 February 2011

How can I Paint Light from Life like the Impressionists?

Painting from life will present the problem of the constantly shifting light. The artist might be tempted to keep altering the shadows in accordance with reality, working over the painting until it loses its freshness. In other cases, the light might change before the painting is complete, the sun disappearing behind cloud or sinking behind the house. A painting that remains incomplete is the likely result. How can the artist capture the fleeting light in paint as did the impressionists?

Natural Light in Painting

Technique for Painting Quickly
Rachel Shirley
The beginner who wishes to take on the challenge of painting from life may overlook problems until the painting is underway. The following might cause problems.
  • Not planning ahead for the painting session.
  • Conceiving, sketching and preparing the composition all on the same day, leaving the artist little time to lay down the paint before the light fades.
  • Employing one or at most two brushes during the painting process. Cleaning the brushes between mixes and mixing repeated colours may rob the artist of valuable time.
  • Deliberating over detail or dithering too much over the painting in the pursuit of perfection.
Painting Light from Life Impressionist Style

The key to capturing the fleeting light from the life is preparation. This means having the composition ready-sketched and the location decided. Setting up the art materials, such as the palette and easel can also take valuable time. The following pointers serve to elaborate.
  • Prepare the painting surface and the composition on a separate day. Make a note of where the sketch took place. This means that the optimum light is saved for the painting alone.
  • A white canvas can be off-putting and create bright reflections. To counteract this and to make tones easier to judge, I will apply a thin acrylic wash of a neutral colour, such as brown or pale blue over the canvas prior to painting.
  • If painting out of doors, such as in the garden, make a note of where the shadows creep on certain times of the day. Does the house cast a shadow at teatime?
  • Make a note of the weather report if sunlight is sought after. A bright morning can often be followed by heavy cloud, which could put a premature end to the painting session.
  • Use several brushes during the painting. This saves valuable time from repeatedly cleaning the brushes or mixing the same colours. I often employ several brushes at once: one for darks, one for pales, another for bright colours and more for soft blending.
How to Paint Quickly

If time is the essence, I will block in the larger areas of the painting first. This might be areas of simplified light and dark in the background. The paint will be applied thinly at this stage so that I can add detail or make adjustments on top without the brush picking up surplus paint.
I will often render several areas of the painting simultaneously rather than one at a time. This means picking up a “dark” brush, closely followed by a “pale” brush as the painting is worked over. I will record the most transient areas of light and dark first, making snap decisions on hue and tone. This means being decisive. Does that shadow contain blue or brown? Is that patch of sunlight crescent-shaped or triangular? Once the shadows have been rendered satisfactorily, don’t be tempted to change them later. Leave them and move on.

Technique for Completing a Painting

The Complete Oil Painter: The Essential Reference for Beginners to ProfessionalsWork into the detail as the painting progresses. Don’t worry if the setting no longer resembles the painting. Painting from life means capturing the essence of a day rather than illustrating one moment in full as in the case of a photograph.
The final stages of the painting will often involve neatening and soft blending. This means knitting the painting together with a soft brush. Standing back from the painting at regular intervals will help the artist make honest comparisons with the setting. Absolute accuracy is not important, but the capturing the mood of the day.

Painting Impressionist Style

Capturing fleeting moments in painting entails planning ahead and using the paints in a certain way. Sketching the composition on a separate day means the artist may use the time for painting alone. Using several brushes at once will save time on cleaning them and remixing colours. Making strategic decisions on where the painting will take place will prevent un-preceded shadows from creeping across the setting before the painting is completed. And lastly, allow robust brush-marks and colour streaks to remain. It is pointless to pursue perfection in painting if time will not allow; the light will not wait.

Links to Oil Painting

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