Oil Painting With Impasto

By: akw

The following discusses some of the points relating to the use of the impasto technique in oil painting. It looks at the basic method and some useful additional ideas, and offers some advise on how the approach can be employed.

Whatever the medium one uses, painting must always remain a two dimensional attempt to depict a three dimensional setting (except, of course in the relatively small number of cases when a two dimensional object or scene is being painted). But one of the advantages of painting in oils is that, to a (admittedly limited) degree one can attempt to impart a three dimensional characteristic to a painting by giving a greater sense of depth to parts of the image by using greater thicknesses of paint, either throughout the painting or in selected areas.

The Basic Impasto Technique
The basic idea is a simple one. Oil paints can be used in a quite wide range of thickness, from very thin coats of paint (usually referred to as glazing) to those as thick as the paint from the tube will allow. Some artists habitually operate at one or other of these two extremes. In the second of these alternatives the approach is very noticeable because of the thick manner in which the paint has been laid on the surface, usually with very obvious lines showing in the paint from the manner in which the artist’s brush or painting knife has been used, which is generally regarded as an advantage. This advantage can be given even more emphasis by glazing over the lines and indentations, especially if a darker colour is used, which makes them even more obvious to the viewer.

But the thickness of paint does not have to be left at that level since one can add a further layer or layers over the original one. In doing this, one needs to remember that the (usually linseed) oil in the paint will tend to be absorbed by the layer of paint below. This is because oil does not evaporate but is dried by exposure to the air. The loss of oil to the layer below will cause a denuding of oil in the upper layer of paint which will cause it to shrink or sag. In some cases, over time it may also crack and the paint flake off. Hence each additional layer of paint will need extra oil adding to it over and above what is already present in the paint. (This is similar to the reason why supports need treating before painting on them).

“Fat Over Lean”
This is one of the golden rules in painting: when adding one layer over another, always paint “fat over lean” i.e. always add paint with a greater oil content over a layer with a lower oil content. Some painters begin with what is called an “underpainting” in which the initial layer of paint is thinned with turpentine, and in this sense is “lean” since the oil content or “fat” has been reduced. Such an initial coat (often of terre verte) was frequently used by the old masters as part of the planning and development of a picture. Being thin, it dries very quickly but it can also be easily removed with turpentine to correct a mistake.

Using Mediums for Impasto Work
Impasto work can be confined to a particular area of a painting or used more extensively. In the former case, for example, if one is developing a picture with, say, fairly large stones or rocks or a fence in the foreground, these can be given a three dimensional element by building them up with successive layers of paint, which can ultimately be quite thick. In cases like this, adding more oil to later layers may be less critical due to the unevenness which one desires for the finished surface. As with most techniques, repeated practice will help one to develop the skill of shaping these mediums. Sometimes it is useful to use a pallet knife smeared with linseed oil to push the impasto into the required shape. When dry, shapes like these can also be shaped by slicing thin layers off with a sharp knife, or even cutting into sections.

But some artists may develop their pictures with a very comprehensive use of impasto. Very thick layers of paint are thus used throughout the painting. Clearly, as the size of the picture increases so does the cost of paint and it does so, unlike in the case of thinner applications of paint, more than proportionately to the size of the support. Consequently, to keep paint costs down, some painters will use a special type of medium to develop impasto work. These come as a quite thick, translucent gel which can be squeezed straight onto the painting surface, or onto a pallet and used from there. These gels dry relatively quickly and so very thick layers can be built up without too much time being lost. One can also mix paint into them before they are applied which facilitates the final colouring.

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AUTHOR: A K Whitehead This article is copyright but may be reproduced providing that all this information is included. This www.paintingsinoil.co.uk”> will take you to paintingsinoil.co.uk main page of original images painted by A K Whitehead. All the paintings in oil here are by A K Whitehead, who is aself-taught artist, and are original oils and not copies. The approach is traditional, making use of various techniques, including impasto and glazing. This link will take you to the main categories of landscapes, seascapes, snowscapes, waterscapes and still life and all are provided with free frames and fastenings. Free delivery is also included within the UK.

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