I want to talk about surface in this post. There are two main sorts of surface, enameled (as it is sometimes called) ie. very smoothly painted without ridges or areas of deliberately roughened paint, and an impastoed, or 3D surface where the artist has intentionally allowed the paint to project from the surface to carry his illusion. Great painters have fallen into both camps.
The head at the top of the page is a detail of a Raeburn. He has used the thickness of his brush strokes which follow the forms of the sitters face to express the structure there. Until the early twentieth century painters worked with lead white. Lead white comes in a variety of handling qualities from ropey or stringy, to liquid and flowing, to crumbly and dry. The most common was an unguent and easily manipulated version such as you see in the painting above. One of the few drawbacks of flake lead (other than its toxicity) is that it becomes more transparent as it ages. Knowing this, artists would often load their whites ( paint them thickly) to make sure they retained opacity over time. However this gave an added benefit, these thick lights contrasted with the thinly painted shadows and a heightened dimensionality appeared. The artist gained another means to express the illusion of volume and dimensionality on his flat surface that an enameled surface didn't give him.
Painters who work over canvases with carefully transferred drawings on them tend to work very smoothly. Often they are coloring in or glazing these drawings in transparent veils to make their paintings. This is an academic approach. Painters who use impasto tend to paint directly from nature. They drag paint here, load it there, or use a palette knife to create the illusion of texture and form by various kinds of manipulative paint handling.
Below is an example of Rembrandt painting a sleeve. He was perhaps the greatest manipulator of impasto. The globs and striations in the paint surface appear at a distance to be the brocaded details of the material. In the upper left of the detail is a good place to see that. Incidentally, this is some of that crumbly look I spoke about earlier as opposed to the more liquid handling in the Raeburn above.
Art is what the artist brings with him to a painting. It is not found in nature itself. Art is man made and the result of an artists decision making process. It is not resultant from observation or accident, but is deliberately installed through intention.
The use of impasto requires the artist to make decisions about the nature of his paint application and its the varied effects he wishes to obtain. It cannot be more than inspired by nature in front of him, it must be invented. The same sort of passage can be painted absolutely smoothly to great effect as well.
Above is a sleeve and hand painted by Ingres. It has great complexity like the Rembrandt yet it is smoothly painted. In the hands of a master either approach can result in triumphant verisimilitude. I don't mean to say that one approach is better than another, however the use of impasto does require an additional set of decisions for the painter to make about how his surface will look.
Here is a detail of Rembrandt's' Hendrickje bathing. The impasto emphasises the simplified and broad planes with which Rembrandt has described the forms of his subject. The use of impasto and the expression of form are entwined and work together to further the artists purpose. More on this in my next post.
I also received this e-mail:
I have backed off to posting about once a week for now. I may return to greater frequency but I need to do this for a number of reasons which are:
- Unspecified and serious difficulties in my private life.
- A need to concentrate on my painting, I have to get my inventory up, which is off partly due to the unspecified difficulties opaquely alluded to above, but also because I have been making such difficult studio paintings, seascapes and such that take forever. I am much faster out on location than in the studio.
- The blog was intended to be a one year project and instead extended to a thousand posts, which are archived and available should anyone want to read them. It is an encyclopedic "book" of what I have learned over the years I have painted. It should be useful to many who are looking for that information ( or perhaps slant is the better word ) which is hard to find in the mainstream art world.
- I have written most of what I set out to write. The technical and design posts most importantly. I don't want to become repetitive. The low hanging fruit has been picked. There are lots more posts I can write and will, but they are more time consuming and difficult. The Encyclopedia of Dumb Design Ideas are a great example of that. I will do more of those but each one takes about 20 hours. They are worth the time and a lot of fun to do, providing I have the time to use doing them.
- The blog will continue, but as I said above, I will have to keep to a reduced schedule for now. I do want to be useful. Thank you all who have continued to follow along.