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The Art of Seeing: Explore the Revolutionary Style of Impressionism

The Art of Seeing: Explore the Revolutionary Style of Impressionism

One of my first influences was Claude Monet, back in the day when I used to do oil paintings of a scenic nature. I was captivated by his ability to portray light and the soft simple effect of his style, especially the water-lily scene. So here is a bit about Impressionism for you.

Impressionist was an art movement that started in France around 1870 which attempted to capture the fleeting impressions or feeling of a scene, rather than the usual detailed realism of the time. As all great movements go, the term ‘Impressionist’ was first used by the art critic Louis Leroy in his review of the 1874 group show of more than 30 painters who'd been rejected by the official Paris Salon. Leroy titled his review, ‘The Exhibition of the Impressionists,’ after Monet's painting called ‘Impression: Sunrise.’ This painting is now in the collection of the Musée Marmottan in Paris.

Impressionism is a movement in art characterised by visible brush strokes, ordinary subject matters, and an emphasis on light and its changing qualities; a style that avoided traditional harmony, and sought to invoke the impressions of the composer; a style that used imagery and symbolism to portray of what they saw.

Monet and Renoir would have to be the best-known Impressionists.

Impressionist art is not painted from Photographs. This form of painting is not about making a picture or making a tree look like a tree. It is about learning to see. Its not about making pretty pictures, in fact, the French Impressionists painted the middle-class life around them as well as the 19th century landscape in which they lived – which by today’s standards appears more than a bit sentimental. Unfortunately, many of us have come to believe that that is what Impressionism is about: The reality is that it is more about painting the light and acquiring a fascination with colour and line and tone not the actual item or scene as such as the main focus. If the French Impressionists were alive today, I expect they would paint the contemporary elements of life that would fascinate them – like neon signs, urban chaos, traffic jams and graffiti sprayed buildings. The point being that Impressionists painted with their eyes, not their heads.

Although it may look like it to some, Impressionism is not about making little dabs of paint all over the canvas. The dab of paint or ‘broken colour’ is used to make the paint become light. Broken-colour isn’t an end in itself; it is a technique to convey the thrill of careful study and right emotion. Brush strokes ought to be varied and reflect a range of emotion. It provides a structure. But in the end, every method or structure may limit our growth – if we get that far. Impressionism is more of a point of view, a love of the sensual experience. It helps us to master the notes so we can play the music. And once we play the music, it means that we have tossed all the rules out the window. Few of us will every get that far. Few of us will ever get to the point of expressing who we really are. That’s the challenge. Impressionism opens the door to all the expressionist painting that follows.

So how can you paint like this?

·        Set up your supplies outside. Not all impressionists' paintings were done outside, but most were, and the artists made a point of freeing themselves from the studio setting.

·        Look for unusual weather and interesting skies. Impressionists loved to paint the way different types of natural light affected objects in their paintings.

·        Study the way natural light hits objects, especially when the effect is fleeting. For example, watch how light bounces along the edges of waves in the water or flickers when moving objects, like leaves, block direct sunlight.

·        Consider how movement should look in a painting. In a photograph, a running child will be caught in a stationary pose, but in a painting, effects can be utilized to give the viewer the impression of movement over time.

·        Choose ordinary subject matter. Impressionists liked painting scenes of everyday life. Do not set up a scene that you would like to paint. Find something natural and unplanned.

·        Paint quickly. Contrary to the slow step by step process of studio painting, impressionists liked to finish their paintings in one sitting.

·        Do not blend colours. Advancements in photography at the time taught the impressionists that light is made up of a variety of colours. Instead of blending blue and yellow, impressionists would put blue paint next to yellow paint to create the optical illusion of green.

·        Use short, quick brush strokes. Paintings of the impressionism movement often dried raised up from the canvas, in the impasto style. Detail was not as important as the initial impression of a scene.

·        Do not use strong lines. Dark colours are placed next to light colours to create the illusion of an edge. Wet paint is placed next to wet paint to encourage colour mixing and soft edges.

·        Avoid black paint. True pieces of impressionism had very little black paint. When dark paint is required, try mixing gray paint with a strong colour for the impression of black. From a contributor to ehow

The featured artwork is Collettes very first ever oil painting as a teenager titled "Lake Wanaka" it was painted in an impressionist style and remains in her own collection

Posted: Tuesday 9 February 2010


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