Saturday, March 10, 2012

Brushwork

"Connecticut Flower Farm"
 Like most 21st century artists, I find myself so often perusing the internet as a means of keeping up with the happenings of the art world today. Between social networks like Facebook (my socializing tool of choice), and the personal sites of most modern working-artists, I can conveniently see what everyone is up to with just a few clicks of my trusty "mouse". I really do love it.

 And why not? It's inspiring, educational, and yes even entertaining, all at the same time. In fact, I credit much of my “art-education” to the sites of artists that have made their work available for viewing over the years via the internet.

 I'm labeled as "self-taught" -which is certainly what seems to be the most befitting term for it- and, while first beginning to explore painting techniques, my main sources of information were the sites I visited just about every day. I spent untold hours each and every week just staring at the images of masterful works that literally glowed on the screen before me. Not being able to afford the more expensive teaching tools available at the time -books, DVDs, workshops, etc.- I made the most of these moments by going over every inch of each painting... despite the pixelated images, poor color reproduction, or the eye discomfort that comes from sitting in front of a monitor for extended periods of time.

 While exploring the virtual-art-universe in the only way that I could at the time, I found just one thing to be inadequate: Very few, if any, detailed *close-ups* of the artworks were ever posted for public viewing. (This isn't a criticism of course - how were the artists to know that a young kid in a small town was desperately searching for the information necessary to grow as quickly and efficiently as possible [albeit by whatever means were the least expensive]?) I could fairly clearly discern the drawing, color temperature, edges, and composition, of each piece in their respective photographs, but the actual brushwork escaped me. I had no way of knowing how the "look" of the painting that was on screen before me was actually achieved.

 So, I struggled along, having some successes, and even more failures, until I was ultimately able to see in person the works that I had admired so much. Things truly became clear to me after this point. Seeing paintings by the likes of my now friends, Mr. Richard (Schmid) and Miss Nancy (Guzik), and others, for the first time, was undoubtedly one of the most inspiring experiences of my artistic life, and I felt as though I had read an entire library of books shortly afterward. And the best part: Being able to get as close as possible! I could literally see each brush-stroke, and each one told me how the piece was painted! 

 Here is a selection of "close-ups" of some recent works that I'd like to share with whoever takes the time to read this. I do hope you'll take the time in fact, not just to admire, but also study, dissect, and mentally absorb them. There's an unlimited number of ways to apply paint, onto whatever surface you chose (I prefer canvas), and I love to think that I can still learn with each stroke...

Creating Texture


I LOVE the scratchy surface that was created here, behind the teacup. The canvas itself is quite smooth, so I had to employ several techniques to achieve this impressionistic look.
 First of all, I applied my block-in colors -thinned with medium- and loosely wiped off the excess with a stiff paper-towel. This created a variety of tones, even with minimal color on the canvas (only two or three colors initially). Many of those scratches and striations created by the paper-towel were left in the finished product. 
 On top of that block-in -as I was delving into thicker paint and more detailed brushwork- I was able to maintain the original "looseness" by using a brush that was very well-worn and frayed. I like some of my brushes kept that way because they create texture when applying paint and force me to push the paint around in a way that doesn't look too "controlled". In some instances I even rolled the brush hairs up and down the canvas surface!

 Applying the Paint Thickly


Wow! There's so much going on in these detail-shots of a recent self-portrait. First, notice that even though most of the paint is applied thickly, I still manage to keep my shadows transparent-looking. I do this with a very stiff bristle brush that makes striations with each stroke, and therefore gives the appearance of transparency - even where the paint is opaque.
 Second, the lightest regions are also the thickest, and tend to draw the most attention. Even if most of the painting is going to be thickly painted, I usually save my thickest brushstrokes for those lighter areas, and complete those strokes last. I use a softer brush, typically a mongoose, because they'll hold and transfer larger amounts of paint at a time.
 Lastly, notice the edge-work. The softened edges are created by simply taking a brush and dragging one color into the next, in as few strokes as possible. I don't mess with what are often labeled "blending-brushes", because over-blending can cause the paint to become "over-worked" looking and I'll lose the effect I was reaching for in the first place.

Applying the Paint Thinly


In the example above (a detail shot of "Roses and Hydrangeas"), you can see areas of the painting -particularly in the leaves- where a single color is applied thinly. By thinning the paint and quickly applying it in a back-and-forth motion, I can achieve the look of several colors even though only one has actually been spread on. This is because the thinner the paint, the more transparent it will appear, and as I go back-and-forth with my brush (sort of like coloring with crayons - my favorite!) some areas are covered more than once and receive more paint, therefore appearing darker. Also the thinner paint tends to give the impression of being warmer, so I can get a variety of subtle temperature changes with a single color - depending on how much of the canvas is showing through.

Dry-Brush


 I love the dry-brush technique, and often wonder why I don't use it more often in my paintings- especially in fabric. It's done by taking a brush (usually something stiff, such as bristle) that's completely dry (there's a surprise) -void of any solvent or liquid of any kind- dipping it into the paint, and applying it by dragging the brush across the canvas, usually in just a few strokes (so as not to completely cover the canvas surface). This causes the paint to adhere to the highest points of the canvas-weave, leaving the deeper grooves untouched, and accentuating the natural texture. In the image above, you can clearly see an example of the dry-brush technique in the multicolored fabric beneath the yellow crayon.

Additional examples…

As I've said, there are so many more ways to apply paint -and I'd be remiss if I didn't admit to not knowing them all- but I hope this will give you a good foundation for your own endeavors. And please don't stop with just what you've read here... visit museums, attend gallery openings, and take time to see your favorite paintings in person whenever you can. Don't just admire from afar, get up close and personal if possible. Each brushstroke holds a key to understanding how every painting was painted, and we can learn something from them all!

 Stay inspired!

 Your friend,
-Dan Keys

 (Detail) "Silver & Orchids"

 (Detail) "Dolls, Books, & Crayons"

38 comments:

  1. Such a great read over my morning coffee, Daniel. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  2. Wow, exactly; I have lamented the same problem- it's most difficult to study brushwork and texture on the computer.
    This is most helpful, you are definitely paying it forward, as did your mentors.
    Thank you!

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  3. Thank you sincerely for taking the time to share this with us. I am a "beginner" and "self taught" too and I value all the input I can get from artist whom I admire.

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  4. Cheers Daniel, this is so good , thanks again for sharing your knowledge, it is a very philanthropic way to be , It is to be admired.

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  5. Hi Daniel, Thanks so much for sharing. I listened to your interview on "Artists Helping Artists" recently. You are inspiring me to be a better artist.

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  6. Self taught, huh? Damned good I'd say.

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  7. Daniel, I can't tell you how much I appreciate the time that you have taken to write this and post the close ups of your work. I can definitely relate to the way you have learned. I too, have learned everything I can originally through library books, then art magazines when I could afford them, and now the internet. I have so much to learn and i'm so thankful for generous artists like you. Your work is so beautiful and inspiring.
    God bless.

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  8. Daniel, This is a terrific blog post and the close up images are very informative, especially when combined with your comments. Thank you for writing and publishing this.

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  9. Thanks, Daniel, good explanations of your technique. I'm presuming that your thin transparent color looks warmer because the canvas is toned with a warm color underneath and it shows through the brush strokes. Like, you, I learn from everything. I'm also inspired by artists like you. I have to say my choices in subjects are influenced by work that I see... and thank you.

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  10. Hi, Daniel. Thanks so much for the great blog post about brushwork! I especially liked the detail shot from "Silver and Orchids". Absolutely beautiful! Take care and keep up the great work.

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  11. Thank you Daniel! This was very informative. I have admired many of your still life paintings on line but have not seen your plein air work. Both reflect the light and warmth of your Inspiration.

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  12. Photos are one thing but your added comments help to get a feel for what is going on. Learnt a great deal from this one post. Thanks.

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  13. Wowww, I just wanted to say that I loved your blog, your work is great and I am waiting for more wonders from you! Best of luck!

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  14. Great post, Daniel. Congrats, and thanks.

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  15. Great work and awesome blog Daniel. Thanks for sharing with us, this post was very informative.

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  17. Thank you for taking the time to post a painting blog, beautiful art and very educational.It's always a joy to drop by.

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  18. Wonderful post Daniel!! Love your examples and of course your beautiful work! Thanks for sharing!

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  19. I love this post, it explain many important points, thanks, I am going to pass it to my students, they need to read things like this.

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  20. Love this information. Inspiring even to a watercolor artist like myself.

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  21. Just stubbled apon this blog and it looks so informative can't wait to get the time to really sink my teeth into it

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  22. This is a very useful post regarding brushwork. See reproductions at the Website of El Prado of Madid in HIGH RESOLUTION. ALL works own by the museum are reproduced. See the brushstrokes of great masters. Notably Joseph and the Wife of Putiphar by Tintoretto.

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  23. Thank you, Daniel! Just watched your Lilies, Tulips & Stock video and love it! You are simply amazing!

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  24. Stunningly beautiful Daniel and thanks so much for sharing. I will be referring to this numerous times to learn and I thank you for that. I also am sharing it with my 2 favorite teachers to help pass it along. Love your work and hope to take a workshop someday...Take care!

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  25. How inspiration-triggering and generous of you! Thanks.

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  26. As a beginning "art student" at the quite young age of 61, I'm so amazed at the generousity of those in the field. I feel so blessed to have found this group of people who share, instead of competing and guarding their "secrets". Better late than never!

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  27. Great Daniel! God bless you brother!

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  28. Wow, thank you for taking the time to write this up! You are super inspiring to me:) Now I wanna go paint! I really appreciate being able to read all this.

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  29. Thank you so much for the kindness of revealing what others guard with so much (fearful) zeal.

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  30. There is so much to learn about how to use the brushes or whatever one uses to apply paint. I'm so glad you touched upon it. That is one thing no one seems to teach at workshops. I don't have any formal training, but have attended many workshops; brushwork is the one thing that is not focused upon, but needs to be, I think. Thank you for sharing some!
    J Allen

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  31. Thank you for all your generous advice, Daniel. I can't buy the canvasses you use in Mauritius. Are you able to advise me as to how I can prepare a canvas to have a similar surface?

    Many thanks.
    Lee-Ann

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  32. Thank you Daniel. It is hard for many beginners to realize all their strokes don't have to be perfectly smooth, and they spend a lot of time worrying over this. Most of these techniques took me years to learn for the same reason...I had to spend many hours in Museums looking closely at painting to see how the artist achieved what he did. I love seeing the close up's. I saved them to show my class in the fall!

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  33. why do you keep wearing a hat?

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  34. Daniel, I would like to take the time to thank you so much for posting close ups of your brushwork. This had made such a difference in my painting and is a total inspiration. Thank you for being so giving to your fellow artists.

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