How to Use Large Brushstrokes to Build Composition

Lemon Wedge (oil, 6x6) By Karen O'Neil


Learn to paint boldly with a big brush. Karen O’Neil shows you how in this free demonstration from the April 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.



1. Using a No. 12 bright, I block in the large shapes of the lemon.



2. I make each shape with one stroke of a No. 12 bright. 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.



4. Using a No. 8 bright, I put down the lemon rind in one continual, crisp stroke.



5. My well-worn No. 20 bright makes quick work of the foreground and background shapes.



6. With the same No. 20 bright, I block in the cast shadow.



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.



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.


To learn more about painting boldly with big brushes, read the entire article in the April 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.

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