Composition | Perspective | Anatomy | Shadow & Light | Color | Style 


Brush Strokes
Exploring the Artist’s Style

This topic is usually associated with the decorative arts as well as Japanese and Chinese calligraphy, but many fine art masters paintings are evaluated and appreciated for their identifiable signature stokes with a brush.  A painterly technique is comprised of using brush strokes to create interest as the eye moves closer into a painting. In contrast to the illusion created within the image’s composition itself  this can also be a  texture you would actually feel if you were to touch it. Paint can be sprayed or brushed out to be smooth as glass without any indication of impasto or heavily applied with a palette knife, trowel, or even strait from the tube to create intriguing textures. You can make multiple daubs to an area for blending or create each segment of a subject with one smooth descriptive stroke.

These techniques of applying paint are generally utilized as a means to achieve four basic visual effects enabling you to render your subjects as you see them.

  • Hard line – exhibits a clean sharp definitive edge

  • Soft line – is slightly blurred or bended but that are still precise line

  • Graduations and blending – the gradual transition between colors

  • Texture – creating supple or coarse patterns either by visual description and/or actually to touch on the surface.

Single Hatching The art of painting Porta San Paolo
Nelly Erichsen  1900
Cross Hatching The art of painting Three Beggars at
the Door of a House
Rembrandt van Rijn

The most descriptive examples of hatching methods can be found from early wood prints and etchings.  (see above)

Notice how in both images the deeper tones or shadows are rendered by tightening the distance between the stokes where as, the lighter tones have broader gaps. 

This detail illustrates a means to build different tonal values within a composition without the need to change color hues or to smudge or blend. This provides opportunity to utilize limited pallet strategies.

Cross Hatching – One of the earliest means of rendering with a brush used by old masters involved employing a blending method known as cross hatching. Where used to depict tones of lights and darks or shadowing, parallel sets of lines  were gradually blended in a criss- cross configuration as seen in many pencil or pen and ink drawings.  This technique which builds up layers of transparent color  is frequently used in painting with egg tempera casein and other water based media.When painting with heavy mediums one advantage of using cross-hatching in your work is that it creates a unique woven texture.

Single Hatching – is a similar method using one set of parallel strokes in the same direction. This can be applied to the entire painting in one direction (a method used often with pastels) or changing directions within each individual segment of the painting as the artist deems fitting.

Directional Strokes are made to depict elements of  focus you are drawing as they appear such as blades of grass, the bark of a tree and commonly with portraits in the flow of your subject’s hair.

Scumbling– is sometimes defined as a random (scribbled) hatching stroke technique using varied length, width, or density that can be utilized in any medium. In drawing or pastels a tonal value can be rendered with a definitive hatching pattern of scribbled strokes resembling the texture of a brillo pad.

In painting scumbling applies a thick opaque layer of paint by scrubbing with a lightly loaded brush over a previous dry layer and is usually applied ‘light over dark‘ or ‘warm over cold’ to establish value or form detail highlights. The overall idea with this painting method is to allow some of the under layer to show through. It produces a dry brush appearance that creates texture and tonal value and adds character and influence to the piece.

The Rembrandt painting below is an excellent example of how the artist mastered this technique. By highlighting with lighter hues with dry brush strokes on the subject’s clothing and scribbling in areas of detail, depth and reflective qualities are built into the painting.

Glazing – or “wash” unlike scumbling is a means to adjust tonal value and hue by totally covering the working area with a transparent film where an adjustment necessary. This method  uses a reduced pigment ratio thinned with medium to produce the effect over a previous dried layer. Avoid using too much water with acrylic paint or turpentine in later stages of the painting with oils .

Sfumato– This softer blending method is a Renaissance canonical painting style (others being Cangiante, Chiaroscuro, and Unione) which is a “toning down” method where first a darker pigment is laid down and a lighter color (usually white) is worked into the wet layer to create tonal values. Most portraits use varied degrees of  sfumato, glazing and scumbling techniques.

“Hendrickje at an Open Door”
Oil on canvas
Rembrandt van Rijn 1656

Rubbing – is a technique used to blend, remove or create texture. It is most often used with dry media such as graphite and pastels where Blending StumpsTortillons, tissue and erasers are used to rub of f or blend colors. In painting, similar practices are used with tools such as palette knives, rags, and Colour Shapers to blend or remove color. Rubbing to blend mixes pigment colors on canvas where to make smooth gradient changes. 

In dry and water based media rubbing removes excess pigment that has been applied taking advantage of  the white of the canvas for highlighting. With paints that are fairly resistant,  painting  and then scratching or rubbing off recently applied pigment lightly to reveal the underlying layer leaves an appearance similar to scumbling. The difference is that the detail is from the paint that was removed v/s applied.

The art of painting

Drawing from
25 June 1889
Vincent Van Gogh

The art of painting

Cypresses with
Two Female Figures
Oil on canvas
92.0 x 73.0 cm.
June, 1889

Van Gogh’s reference drawing (above) is obviously a preliminary sketch describing the artist’s plan for use of his painting stokes. This a perfect example of signature in the artists stroke.

Impasto – is a heavily loaded brush stroke utilized  intentionally providing a surface texture as a means of expression. Van Gogh was famous for his intense heavy bodied strokes. Rembrandt applied paint in this way to the final details to present additional detail to his work. There are no set rules for leaving impasto in a painting. It can be as thick or thin as you wish. In most cases it’s recognized only as the movement required as you worked on the painting.

Daubing – provides the appearance of texture with thinner viscosity paints but can be applied with thicker body paint to for impastos. 

Palette Knife – use of palette knives and and color shapers are another unique means that leaves an Impasto texture on  canvas where it can be used like a brush.

Wet on Wet Painting – involves different procedures for watercolor and oils. Generally watercolor requires the canvas to be placed in the horizontal position where  small quantities of pigment are applied and manipulated on wet paper and allowed to saturate it.

Often described as Alla Prima, with this method pertains to the completion of  an entire painting in one sitting or before the paint is dry. Colors are applied over an existing layer or blended on canvas. Sfumato is a refined form of wet on wet painting with oils.

One stroke – is a method of painting best expressed and perfected in Chinese calligraphy and water media techniques although it can be used with any brushed media. This technique is usually accomplished using a ’round’ brush where it is an advantage to use the different shapes that can be made but the shape of any brush can be used. This method is used heavily in the decorative arts to paint on ceramics and furniture, etc. However, it is also an effective method used in still life or floral paintings.  In principal the process entails developing a correlation between the detail of the shapes within your subjects that can be produced with your brush, thus the term ‘in one stroke’.

Stippling – with painting stippling is a means to create various tones and/or texture applied either by dry brush daubing or illustrated gradients with varied intensity of marks.. This technique is frequently used  in drawing with pen-and-ink.With paint you have the added option to add or remove paint. Pouncing over a transparent glaze removes small areas to see an under laying complementary color.

You can also add different raw colors beside each other by daubing dots as with the  Pointillism style. These paintings often appear to be realistic works from a distance but are intriguingly abstract as you approach for a closer view of it. (see painting to the right)

The art of painting

La Pointe du Rossignol
Painting – oil on canvas
H:28.98 in., W:33.46 in.
Theo van Rysselberghe 1905

Series 113

Da Vinci Artist Bristle Stencil Brushes

Sponging – is much like stippling used mostly with water based paints where paint can be applied via a dry brush method or by using a clean sponge to remove excess glaze to create visual texture.

Splattering – employs the process of tapping the ferule of a lightly loaded brush on a hard object making stokes towards the canvas without actually touching it where the paint on the brush is jarred off and splashes in drops on the canvas. This can also be achieved with a tight stiff bristle brush like a stenciling brush (left) and dragging a knife across the tip of the bristles while aiming at the canvas creating a random spray.

Stenciling – a masked method of painting commonly associated with the decorative arts, is  the result of lightly pouncing over a masked cutout template with a special dabbing brush to create a patterned  design. The Chinese and  Japanese for centuries have created intricate elegant patterns with their stencil and batik-dyed textiles (mostly silk) and to produce repeat images on walls. They began using their invention (paper) to create stencils with.

Pochoir print
Paris 1946
Federico Armando Beltran-Masses
(Spanish 1885-1949)

After recognizing the need to make stencils more serviceable Europeans soaked their stencils in oil or coated them with wax and some started to create them from leather or thin sheets of copper.

In the Victorian era before silk screening, a multi-layer version of stenciling that called for each color field to use a separate stencil was developed by the French for printing. Known as ‘ pochoir’, it is a long complicated process but when competed looks like an original painting. The better quality stencils were cut from metal and gouache or ink was applied by hand. Standardizing the prints was accomplished by controlling the pouncing and the consistency of the paint. 

The stencils today are mostly made of Mylar or similar form of plastic and for multiple layers they are available in  Assorted Colors. Now an image stencil can be set up easily traced and cut out with an X-Acto Pen Knife or designed on a computer to be cut with a laser cutter. They are still used for decorative purposes and reverse sign painting but are also an important tool for illustrators and air brush artists to use with cut outs and free hand. Doing it by hand, masks are also painted on and removed after each layer.

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