How to Use Large Brushstrokes to Build Composition

From Still Life to Landscape — Learn Painting with Identical Steps

Lemon Wedge (oil, 6×6) By Karen O’Neil. Article contributions by Cherie Haas.

Learn painting — with boldness and a big brush. Karen O’Neil shows you how in this extensive step-by-step painting demo. And remember: from luscious citrus still lifes to landscape painting, the approach to composition always comes down to the same steps. But that doesn’t mean finding a powerful composition is always easy, which is why Johannes Vloothuis’ Paint Along 36 is Composition Lessons Using Mass Planning. Reserve your spot for the class and gain insider knowledge from one of the best painting instructors teaching today! Enjoy!

Courtney

Beginning Shapes

1. Using a No. 12 bright. If you aren’t used to such a big brush, I recommend taking five minutes and just playing with strokes on a scrap surface. When you feel comfortable, block in the large shapes of the lemon. For me that came down to the rind and the segments.

 

 

2. Make each shape with one stroke of a No. 12 bright. Do a few fake strokes in the air. Hold in your mind how you want the stroke to happen, and then do it. The shapes join to become the flat plane, or the side of the lemon in shadow.

 

 

3. Using the thin edge of a No.10 synthetic bristle bright, I produce a crisp, clean edge—without using a small brush. Learn painting with big brushes not because it is easier, but because it forces you to really be aware of every stroke you put down. That’s the key to all this!

 

 

4. Using a No. 8 bright, I put down the lemon rind in one continual, crisp stroke. Just because you are using a bigger brush doesn’t mean there isn’t precision there. Be mindful of still keeping to a light, controlled stroke.

 

Bring in the Biggies

5. My well-worn No. 20 bright makes quick work of the foreground and background shapes. It’s mammoth, right? There’s a lot of power in a big brush. Don’t be afraid to use it. Start by painting backgrounds with it and take it from there.

 

 

6. With the same No. 20 bright, I block in the cast shadow. Notice the variety of the strokes. Big brushes don’t mean you get one-dimensional art. Every brush has the same capabilities, but on different scales. It is all in the way that you use it.

 

 

7. With the shadow shape fully blocked in, I make the thin lines under the lemon with the edge of a No. 10 bright. With the same brush, I also make the more subtle movements of the half-circle shape in the center of the lemon and the suggestion of lines separating its segments.

 

 

8. With a No. 12 synthetic bristle bright and one decisive brushstroke, I reshape the rind by repainting the lemon segment to its left.

 

 

9. I need a #4 bright to darken the center seed shape. A larger brush wouldn’t allow me the control I need for this quick, small brushstroke, but I challenge you to try. You’ll learn a lot, even if you need to do some reworking.

 

Sweet Victory!

10. Lemon Wedge (oil, 6×6) is finished! I’ve captured the essence of the lemon; the light works, and each stroke has contributed to the compositional movement of the painting. While the paint was still wet, I scratched in my signature with the handle of a No. 4 brush.

 

 

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