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How To Use Impasto : Tips & Tricks


What is impasto in classical painting?


Understanding how to use impasto is crucial to creating depth and dimensionality in classical painting. Impasto refers to the technique of applying thick layers of paint that create a textured, three-dimensional effect on the canvas.


The goal of impasto is to make the painting appear more vivid and believable, and it is an essential tool for creating a sculptural quality in a two-dimensional medium. By using a palette knife or brush to apply the paint in thick, layered strokes, you can create a range of effects, from smooth and blended to rough and textured.


Impasto can be used to highlight certain areas of the painting, such as the foreground or focal point, or to create an overall sense of depth and richness throughout the work.



Old Master Secrets - Impasto | Classical Painting Techniques Via Nic Thurman on Youtube

How To Use Impasto


Use More Paint

The simplest way to build up impasto is to just paint more thickly and to load more paint onto your brush. However, there are many strategies for building impasto that you can try.


Use Direct Marks

One effective technique is to apply the paint directly in one clear brush stroke, leaving it thick and defined on the canvas. By leaving the paint clearly defined in one thick stroke, it will dramatically stand out from the canvas.


Use A Bigger Brush

You should also consider the size of the brush you use. A large brush can be helpful in many areas because you will be able to build impasto more sculpturally than if you use a small brush.


NO Small Brush

A small brush can cause problems and create what looks like many little mountains of paint, while the big brush makes large blocks of paint that better imitate human flesh and natural forms.


What If You Mess Up?

In any case, if you run into problems while painting, you can always remove thick paint by using a palette knife to scrape it away.




Dry Time

If you are happy with the impasto effect you create, you should let the paint dry for plenty of time so that you can build even further on top of it. Keep in mind that impasto will take significantly longer to dry than thin paint. The best use of impasto is layered and can even have transparent effects built on top of it.


Palette Knife Painting

In addition to using a brush with very thick paint you can also build up paint by using a palette knife. Using a palette knife can be a much more precise way to build up impasto, but can be difficult. A palette knife generally does not lend as well to imitating the shape of the human flesh so it’s best to reserve it for only the absolute brightest highlights or most precise marks that need to be carefully placed.


Combine Effects

You can also add additional effects together with your impasto to increase the liveliness. Some of the most important effects to use with impasto are the ones that create transparency like dry brushing, glazing, sanding or scraping, and sgraffito.


Sanding & Scraping Impasto

When planning to scrape or sand on top of impasto, it is important to consider the surface you are working with. To avoid breaking back into the wet surface, it is essential to wait until the impasto is thoroughly dry before sanding it. Depending on your painting style, this could take a week or longer, but the result is often worth the wait. Alternatively, you can try building up thinner layers of impasto on top of one another to speed up the drying process. Once dry, the paint will be firmly attached to the surface and feel hard and rough to the touch.


Test Adherence

To ensure that the paint adheres well to the surface, you can do a simple test by scraping over the surface with a palette knife. Anything that falls off probably did not have a strong enough bind to begin with. By performing this test, you can identify any weak spots in your impasto and address them before proceeding with any further layering.



Where To Use Impasto


Impasto can be used in various areas of a painting, but it is particularly effective in areas that protrude or appear very solid. It can make a painting appear more three-dimensional and sculptural or add textural effects. For example, impasto can be used to create highlights in a portrait, to give the appearance of texture in a landscape, or to add 3-dimensional depth. It is often used in areas that require a high level of detail and precision, such as the human face or hands, to create a sense of realism and luminosity. Test out using impasto in different ways to find the most suitable applications of the technique.



Why is impasto used in classical oil painting?


Impasto is a technique that can create a striking 3-dimensional effect in paintings, making them appear more lifelike and adding a sense of depth and texture. When used skillfully, thick impasto can closely imitate the look and feel of flesh, giving a painting a heightened sense of realism. This technique is particularly evident in the works of masters like Rembrandt, whose paintings are known for their lifelike quality and dramatic contrasts of light and shadow.


The thick layers of impasto can catch the light in interesting ways, creating a dynamic interplay between the painting and the viewer that can't be achieved with thin layers of paint. By building up layers of impasto, you can create a rich, complex surface that draws the eye and captures the liveliness of the subject.



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