What Is Impasto Painting?

Editor’s Note: There are so many terms that define specific painting techniques, and often, you’re probably familiar with the style even when you don’t know the word that describes it. Such may be the case for impasto paintings, or paintings with texture. Richard McKinley’s new DVD, Pastel Impasto Painting Techniques is dedicated to this rich style, and to celebrate it, today’s newsletter comes from the artist himself on impasto painting.

If you love McKinley’s teaching style (and we know that if you’ve experienced it, then you probably do), then also check out his other new DVDs: Composition and Design for Landscape Painting and Alla Prima Pastel Painting. ~Cherie

What is impasto painting? By Richard McKinley | ArtistsNetwork.com

This sectional close-up shows my “pastel impasto impersonation,” created with acrylic grit. (Pin this!)

Pastel Impasto Impersonation by Richard McKinley

One of the great advantages of oil paint, beyond its inherent richness of value and color depth due the pigment’s suspension in oil, is the ability to apply it thickly–to create an impasto surface effect. The term impasto originates from the Italian word pasta, which means “paste.” When associated to painting, it signifies a technique in which paint, or pigment, is laid onto a surface heavily enough that the brush, or tool used for application, leaves a visible impression. Artists working in pastel can use a softer pastel stick with a bold application to recreate the appearance of impasto, but in doing so, a layer of pigment is created that is often fragile and prone to damage.

The Purpose of Impasto: The effect of impasto in a painting serves several purposes.

  • It adds a surface topography that is capable of reflecting light, which imparts a sculptural quality to a painting and is useful for accenting surface form.
  • It can indicate the gestural force of the painter adding more expression to a painting.
  • It can be used to create areas of visual fascination due to its variance from surface consistency.

Both old and modern day masters have utilized it to great effect. Jackson Pollock said, “I continue to get further away from the usual painter’s tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added.”

Two Ways to Create an Impasto Impression in Pastel: When working in pastel, there are two basic ways of creating the impression of impasto yet retain a stable final pastel surface.

  1. The first relies on the use of fixative. The addition of workable fixative, either by spray application or brush, is capable of adding body to a layer of volatile pastel allowing for heavier upper layers of soft pastel to be thickly applied. Layer after layer can be built utilizing this technique, which can be traced back to the experimental techniques of Edgar Degas.
  2. The second has developed from acrylic pastel grounds that are capable of retaining substantial texture. The modern acrylic binders used today for the formulation of gritty pastel primers are heavy enough to preserve impasto, yet flexible enough to not be prone to cracking and flaking. This allows the pastelist to experiment with a wide variety of potential surface textures in advance of pastel application.

Targeted Impasto Effects: Recently, I have been enjoying the experience of building sectional texture into my pastel surfaces before applying pastel. With advance compositional planning and the anticipation of where textural impasto indications would best serve the overall design, I am able to produce the impersonation of traditional impasto. Typically, I build it up gradually with multiple layers of acrylic pastel grit. As they begin to dry, I will either boldly brush into them with a course bristle brush or use the wooden end of a brush handle to scribble. The first applications of pastel are rubbed or wetted into the crevices. The final drifts of pastel then glisten off of the textural high points creating a heightened effect that just speaks of painting.

MORE RESOURCES FOR ARTISTS
The special Pastel 100 Competition edition of Pastel Journal is on sale now. Get your copy today to see this year’s 100 top pastels!

New Pastel E-Mag! Discover a master pastelist’s tips for painting the landscape in our special e-mag collection, “Albert Handell: Essential Lessons in Pastel Painting,” available to download for only $2.99!

 

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