Painting impressionist style is a great way to learn about the properties of oil paint. It also provides the ideal opportunity to inject expression into oil paintings. The teacher may provide images of the most notable Impressionist artists, examples of which are:
• Claude Monet
• Pierre-Auguste Renoir
• Camille Pissaro
• George Seurat
• Edgar Degar
• Edouard Manet
Study into Impressionism
The French Impressionists were initially reviled for their loose brushwork and suggestive lines which were not in keeping with the established cultural style of the time, which was known as the Bourgeoisie. Their exhibition at the Paris Salon in 1874 caused a revolution on how light and form can be expressed in art. The following qualities marked Impressionist style painting:
• loose wide impasto brushstrokes
• broken lines and imperfect glazes
• pure colors
• painting alla prima, or in one go
• juxtaposition of opposing colors and tonal values
• suggestion of form as opposed to an illustrated approach
Art Materials Required for Painting Like the French Impressionists
The art students will be required to provide the following materials in order to have a go at painting like Monet or Renoir:
• wide bristle brushes no smaller than no 6. Flat or filbert sizes 6, 10 and 12 and a round size 6 would be ideal
• a limited color palette, including the three primary colors, which in terms of oil pigments are cadmium yellow (pale), permanent rose and pthalo blue. French ultramarine, lemon yellow, burnt sienna and titanium white will also prove useful.
• primed coarse linen canvas stretched over a frame
• artists’ white spirits
Photographic reference could be a reproduction of an Impressionist oil painting, or a landscape featuring bright colors and contrasting tones. Recommended Impressionist paintings to emulate are:
• Monet’s paintings of London sunsets
• Renoir’s lily pads
• Degas’ ballet dancers
• Manet’s paintings of public interiors
• Cezanne’s still life studies
• But students are free to choose any Impressionist painting they wish
Impasto Oil Painting Techniques
The teacher may plan a plein air painting excursion for art students wishing to have a go at painting out of doors like the Impressionists did. Either way, the teacher may encourage students to practice the following whilst producing Impressionist oil paintings.
Stand back from the painting periodically. Sitting too close will give a misleading impression of the overall look of the artwork, as every small brushstroke will appear to have more significance than it really has.
Half close the eyes to cut out irrelevant detail. This will help the art students express only the most important aspects of the painting and to practice economy with brushstrokes.
Resist the temptation to mix colors too evenly or to apply flat layers. Allow color streaks and impasto marks to remain when applying the paint. This will help bring a sense of movement and vibrancy to the oil painting.
Do not attempt to emulate realism, as this is not what Impressionism is about. A painting that suggests form rather than detail will add expression to the painting.
Bright colors were the mark of impressionism, which can be achieved by using complimentary colors. Rather than use black to darken a color, use it’s complimentary. Yellow can be darkened with a little violet; green can be darkened with a little red and blue can be darkened with a little orange. Similarly, juxtaposing contrasting hues within a painting will create dazzling effects and chromatic focal points. This may entail placing bright colors next to subdued darks.
Art Lesson into Impressionism
Learning how the impressionists used oil paint will help students learn about the properties of oil paint, regarding painting impasto and alla prima. Pushing color contrast to the limits will also help students practice color theory and how complimentary colors can be used to create focal points and dazzling effects in an oil painting.