Friday, September 10, 2010

Painting with no brushstrokes

Dear Stape:

- How do I paint without showing brush strokes? I read all your posts about brushstrokes and it was very helpful and you mentioned painting with no brushstrokes but didn't explain a technique. Sure, we all love a 'confident painterly' brush strokes but what if I'm in the mood for a classic? Many old school paintings are plate smooth with fantastic effect. I'd like to tap into that. I've tried softer brushes, sables, thinning and brushing it after it dried a bit (which worked a little but blended the colors more than I would wish). How do I flatten those tiny juicy hills and valleys?

Painting without brushstrokes requires a different approach than the thick, one shot impressionist method. Generally it is best to work with a finished drawing transferred to your canvas. This will help you paint thinly and without building up much paint. A highly finished underpainting is the next step, that should be one earth color and thinner. Care needs to be taken to keep from building up a surface or ridges where the different shapes come together. In gfact if it is not completely smooth, scrape it when dry with the side of your palette knife.

Once you have your completely rendered monotone underpainting, use a medium with a high gloss, like Gamblin's Gamsol, a varnish and oil medium or walnut oil-alkyd medium to thinly paint the color in on top of your underpainting. Try to keep the paint a little more liquid than you would using bristles in an alla prima piece. Use soft brushes, sables or synthetics and keep your edges soft and fused. Round brushes rather than flats will help to conceal your strokes too. Be careful where edges come together not to build up a ridge of paint there.

At the end of your painting session, take a 1/4 inch sable brush and fuse your edges together and soften the passages where you have overly visible brush strokes.Police your painting, looking for places that need to be smoothed out. Do this the last thing each session you work on the painting. If you let the paint dry with a ridge or visible brushstroke you may be stuck with it.The trick is not to build up brushstrokes in the first place, rather than relying on brushing them out later.

Painting smoothly is a discipline and you will have to work at it to get it down. But it is not terribly difficult. Drawing is difficult! If you have the drawing down, the smooth painting part is a lot easier. Fudging and repainting creates surface and you don't want that. Ideally your painting will be two "skins" thick. The underpainting is one and the colored layer is two. Of course that is an ideal, but strive for that.


Ramon said...

Thanks Stape! This is really helpful, I've been wondering about that too. Is this how you proceeded in your figure paintings under Gammell or were brushtrokes allowed?


Gregory Becker said...

I learned this from Alexei Antonov where he works on a piece for up to 6 months and keeps many paintings in rotation finishing them and starting them daily. His blending methods are great. His method of creating temperature contrasts is beautiful.

Brad said...

Thanks Stape. I can see where I've been lacking. I think impatience and lack of discipline have been hindering me from trying all the techniques at the same time. Thanks for the help. I'm going to get a hold of myself and give it a try! Thanks for the quick post response. said...

Also, doesn't the type of medium one uses effect how the strokes are even out. I've seen brush strokes melt away in some mediums.

Anonymous said...

Glazing and scumbling is two of the techniques I use. I'm sure the time spent on a work done in oil takes much more time to finish using these methods simply because of the drying time. However, acrylics are faster and the same techniques can be used to get the plate smooth effect. Also, a glazing medium does LEVEL out the application as it dries.

Unknown said...

I believe that this type of painting requires a special temperament, certainly one far different than mine, which needs more immediate gratification. My wife does still life paintings using this method. One thing she does that might be helpful is that, as she begins a new layer on a dried surface, she gently rubs the surface with a small piece of Tarllaton, {not sure of the spelling}, which is a material used by printmakers. This removes any ridges, dust or stray brush hairs from the surface. She than prepares the surface with a thin layer of linseed oil applied using a microfiber eyeglass cleaner. This seems to really work for her, as it often takes several weeks for her to finish a large piece. For this reasons she tries to have two or three pieces in process. Hope this is helpful information, much to tedious for one of my temperament.


willek said...

I am a day late with this question. Sorry... Can you comment some more on de-chromatifying with a gray scale of black and white as opposed to using compliments. Seems that grey scale neutralizers tend to be illustrators and that compliment greyors tend to be fine artists..(I can't imagine a George Nick using a black and white scale of pigments) From a painter's perspective? Historically? Maybe this is an "Ask Stape

Richard J. Luschek II said...

Good question, good response. I would say I tend to work in such a way as to obscure brush strokes, though that is not necessarily my goal.
I, and most folks that study with Paul Ingbretson, work in such a way that we paint big and fast the first day on a blank canvas trying to get the correct value, the correct color, in the right place on the first day.
I have described it as alla prima- all over again.
So drawing, in the finest sense, is something saved for the end.
Interesting how there are so many ways to "skin a cat".

Stapleton Kearns said...

We usually painted smoothly with no brushstrokes under Ives.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Great for him, too slow for me.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are welcome.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Marian; yes some mediums will help flatten brushstrokes.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You know that you can underpaint in acrylic and then glaze in the color in oil.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Nick; too tedious for me too, nut good advice for those patient indirect painters out there.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Willek; Yes I will get to that.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That is pretty much how we worked under Gammell.