Secrets of the Impressionist
Workshop with Robert Bissett
Friday, 9 - 12 am, Jun 23, 2006
An introduction to the
techniques used by the Impressionist to fill their paintings with light and
This is the demonstration done in class, 18 x 24", acrylic on canvas.
Hard at work...
Comments, Questions & Suggestions...
from Workshop Attendees and others:
I really enjoyed your workshop and thought it was the perfect time period (for old people with bad backs !). I actually sat down and painted in my little "cottage" Saturday and tried to refer to your instruction sheet. I never thought I would enjoy acrylics as much as watercolor but I find that acrylics give me a completely different feeling, maybe more relaxing." M.K.
Thanks M.K. That's the reason I went to the shorter workshop...back issues. Standing most of the day is too much for me. The explanation below is more complete and should be more helpful than the handout. Yes, acrylics are great fun and very forgiving...easy to make corrections. Watercolor can be intimidating with the "only one chance" characteristic. There are ways around that, too, like giving your watercolor paper a coat of gesso first. I just learned they are starting to call gesso acrylic primer so as not to confuse it with the old traditional gesso with rabbit skin glue used in oil painting. Glad to hear you're using what you learned there at home! Bob
"Hi from V. and T. We were so excited after class was finished, we had to go to Sandpoint and buy more tubes of paint because we want to try again on our own, but with more colors. T. proudly displayed her painting in the kitchen since she felt that fruit belonged there and I want to work a little more on mine before calling it complete. Your class has definitely motivated us! My daughter and I have never worked in acrylic before, but your instruction and demonstration was right at our level. We appreciate your patience and diligence in teaching and helping beginners like us. Thank-you, V. & T. R."
V. & T., glad you enjoyed it. Your email was the first thing I read this morning and it put a smile on my face. Remember not to "finish" the painting. Find a place to stop even though you can see more you'd like to do. It's the finishing that ruins so many paintings! Leave things undefined, ambiguous...let the viewer finish. Add a little detail at the center of interest along with the greatest contrast in light and dark values. Bob
Starting the Paint step.
Forgot to photograph the setup at the demo. Here's the same fruit back at home...not quite the same setup and lighting.
The finished demo
See another step by step demo
I used three brushes and a water-soluble crayon.
Top to bottom: Nylon bristle, round; Nylon bristle, flat; Bristlette, round; crayon, water soluable.
REVIEW OF THE DEMO...FIVE STEPS
Step 1: Movement and
The crayon was used. You could just as well use a No. 2 pencil. The idea is to explore the limits of your canvas, allow your hand to follow your eye as you visually move around your subject matter. At the same time you give some thought to how the subject could be placed on the canvas. Use a scribble technique, let it flow, keep your options open for the next step, make no commitments, don't try to draw the objects. All of this will be painted over.
The smallest brush was used here. I used red paint and a fair amount of water so it would flow easily. This brush is a "bristlette", softer and more flexible than the other two...more like a sable watercolor brush. Still not going to draw the objects. By squinting you will be able to see the values more accurately. Artists do a lot of squinting...at their subject and at their painting. While squinting note where you see the greatest contrast in values. In this case it was the upper curve of the peach and the lowest part of the strawberry as it contrasts with the light table top. Make a line along these curves. They will be your darkest and widest lines. As you squint you notice that the shadow side of the peach and the shadow it casts on the table are so close in value they seem to merge into one shape. You would make no line at all here. All other lines will be some where in between these two extremes according to how much contrast there is at adjacent areas of value while squinting.
The top brush is a round nylon bristle made for acrylics and works very well for scumbling with the side of the brush. Now we will mix up colors that are similar to those we see on the subject, but somewhat lighter. Leave the white of the canvas for the lightest areas. We make no commitment to final values now. The image should emerge slowly like a Polaroid photo. The constructions lines will be covered over. Keep it light and make sure the colors you choose look good together on the canvas. Scrub a little of a new color on the canvas and see what it does to the colors already there. If it looks better, go ahead; if it looks worse, wipe it off or paint it over. Work all over the canvas. Don't stay in one place too long. You're figuring out what colors to use for this painting by trial and error. Make no attempt to finish anything, but get a good start on everything. Generally the less you do in that direction the better. Still no commitments and we are not trying to paint a peach and a strawberry...just apply beautiful areas of color that begin to give the impression of fruit. Leave plenty for the viewer to do.
Back to the bristlette and reestablish those boundaries between areas of value contrast. This time I'll use a dark green paint to see what happens. The line work gives it structure. By scumbling we lost all the lines. It is possible you'll like this effect. If so, stop and frame it, you're done! Or you may do such a good job of reconstruction that you want to call it done and start another one.
Step 5: Paint.
Finally we get to the actual painting. We will use the flat nylon bristle brush for the entire painting. It is the Swiss Army Knife of paint brushes. You can make a broad stroke with the flat side, a narrow stroke with the edge, make several different strokes with the chisel part, or load a tiny bit of paint on the corner and make a small dot. Mix up thicker paint of about the same color and somewhat darker. Let your strokes be short and generally follow the contours of the peach which will add to the illusion of a 3D object. Aim for variety in your strokes and in color. Leave space between the strokes so the underpainting can show through. This will add life and interest. Don't finish the painting.
Thanks to Jerry Fresia for these steps.
This is a way to learn the techniques and the thought process. Soon you begin to get the idea and then you can mix things up. For example in the underpainting stage you might try a few thicker strokes of color or reestablish a dark construction line. In the painting stage you may decide to do some scumbling along with the broken strokes. At the very end you could outline some or all of your objects for a more structured look or take the whole painting back to the underpainting stage to start over with a better color scheme.
I could keep working on this one. It's not a finished painting. Lots of things could be improved. That yellow in the upper left hand corner should be painted over, while the yellows near the bottom aren't too bad. The strawberry could use a few highlights. I could work on the peach. On the other hand as it is the viewer has to work a little to make it become a peach. Better not to spell everything out. Suggest things with paint spots: shapes and color and value and line.
In the details below note the variety in stroke and color and how that adds interest. The second one down shows the peach stem. I left it as just three paint spots of about the right value and color. From a little distance it suggests a stem, but it isn't really there. Would it be any better to switch to a small brush and detail that thing to the max? Maybe in photorealism...not in impressionism.
The detail of the strawberry stem shows the use of negative painting. As I painted the table top I shaped the leaves at the same time. Look for opportunities to do this in your paintings.
Can you analyze these paintings and guess how they were done?
French, 1893 - 1894
Oil on canvas
25 3/4 x 32 1/8 in.
During the last thirty years of his life, Paul Cézanne painted
the same objects—the green vase, the rum bottle, the ginger pot, and the
apples—over and over again. His interest was not in the objects themselves but
in using them to experiment with shape, color, and lighting. He arranged his
still lifes so that everything locked together. Edges of objects run into each
other; for example, a black arabesque seemingly escapes from the blue cloth to
capture an apple in the center; the sinuous curves of the blue ginger pot's
rattan straps merge with other straps on the body of the bottle behind. Giving
form and mass to objects through the juxtaposition of brushstrokes and
carefully balanced colors and textures, he gave the painting a sense of
French, Giverny, 1891
Oil on canvas
25 9/16 x 39 3/8 in.
Sorolla y Bastida
Spanish, Valencia, 1909
Oil on canvas
43 x 39 in.
Oil, 72 x 92"
This is a pretty large painting. It
looks like a much smaller painting because he used a big brush and made big
strokes. I measured that bright pink stoke in the middle foreground.
It is about one inch wide and four long. Some of the green strokes in the
lower left corner look even bigger. Auster manages to retain much of the
energy and excitement of his smaller plein air works which most artist lose
when going to a large size canvas in the studio.
American, Idaho, 2006
Acrylic on canvas
16 x 12 in.
American, Idaho, 2006
Acrylic on canvas
6 x 8 in.
American, Idaho, 2006
Acrylic on canvas
9 x 12 in.
The Handout...Another Demo
|STEP 1 - MOVEMENT
Line expressing movement or gesture
Use a pencil, don't draw the object like I
did here. Locate the edges of the canvas
with line. Find the movement, feel out your
|STEP 2 - CONSTRUCTION
Locate value separations. More contrast means
a darker line. Don't draw the object. Use a
|STEP 2 COMPLETED|
|Step 3 - UNDERPAINT
Scumble on light color, thin, use side of the
brush. Establish a color scheme...discover what colors look good together.
|Continue until construction lines are covered.|
|Step 4 - RECONSTRUCTION
Reestablish line between areas of value
|Step 5 - PAINT|
Back to: REVIEW OF THE DEMO...FIVE STEPS
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