I like going to art museums so I can look at paintings really close up. I like to see all the brush strokes. I want to see how much effort was put into a highlight or a shadow, or a transitional color that connects the two. Usually I’m surprised by what I see.
Have you ever painted and thought, “I don’t really like this.” Then you leave the room and come back and when you see it you think, “actually that looks pretty good.” This happens because we are painting the canvas at a distance that is closer than viewing distance.
When you go to museums you can quickly tell who the artists are. They are the ones getting yelled at by security to “Please step back from the painting!” Artists like to see how brush strokes were put together, but the average viewer stands 6 to 8 feet away from the painting when looking at it.
What happens when we step back from the painting? Well, our brushstrokes melt together, we don’t see the canvas ‘bumps’, we see the painting as a whole, and we can see the overall contrast much better. If you’ve taken some of my online painting lessons you’ll hear me roll back in my chair pretty often. The reason I do this is so I can get to viewing distance and see the painting as a whole. That helps me determine how much more effort I need to put in to render an object.
After doing workshops for the past 4 years I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t get up and step back enough. If you are too close to your painting all the time you start to overthink the brushstrokes because you are thinking too much in great detail. Details appear more clearly at a distance. That’s why Sargent was able to create masterful works with just quick single brush strokes.
If you focus more on value, color and proportion your paintings will be great, no matter the brushstrokes. There’s a reason why impressionist paintings are so popular. The further you step back from them, the more real they appear (with masterful colors and movement).
So try to stop overthinking your brushstrokes and be free. Take your time when you paint, but don’t dwell. Dwelling is the land of over painting. Step back and observe your colors and values. The way you apply the paint is your own style. It’s great to know how to approach brush strokes, but to try to paint every single detail with a tiny brush can just make your painting look plain.
Get a chair that rolls, and start rolling back and loving your paintings! 🙂