Impasto… why, though?

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I’ve written before about why I tend to paint in an impressionist style, but I don’t think I’ve gone into much detail about the various techniques that I like to use. My favourite by far – particularly when painting flowers – is the impasto technique.

The word impasto comes from the Italian root meaning “to enclose in paste”.1 This technique is often used by impressionist and expressionist painters, typically using oil paint or perhaps acrylic with the aid of a bulking agent.2 Thick paint is applied to the canvas or other painting surface using a brush or palette knife so that a heavy texture is achieved, in which the paint literally stands out from the surface, creating a 3D effect. As the paint dries, this 3D effect remains, allowing the painting to play with light and shadow in a way that is separate from the tonality of the paint itself.

I also like to mix the paint directly onto the canvas when using this technique, so that stripes of colour appear within a single brushstroke. This is especially interesting when I’m painting feathers, as in the image of the bird above. It also fits with the stylistic vibrancy and contrast of colour that is typical of impressionist paintings.

The final overarching reason why I enjoy painting in the impasto technique is because it encourages me to think carefully about the texture of the object that I am painting, and to emulate it in the strokes of my brush. Often, I’ll need to angle my brush in unusual positions in order to get the texture right; making the process of painting all the more physical and expressive. I hope that this also comes across to the viewer, so that the image appears to be full of life (if not ‘lifelike’ in the traditional sense of a realistic painting).

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