There are three components to a representational painting: subject matter, medium and style. Each provides a painter with a means for creative expression. I like to compare them to music. The subject matter becomes the arranged notes upon a sheet of paper. The medium becomes the instrument to be used for the performance such as watercolor, oil or pastel. The style becomes the manner or fashion of the performance. While all of these elements coexist in any successful painting or musical performance, their final appeal will ultimately be governed by individual taste and the artist’s technical ability. Generally when viewing paintings, the public is attracted to subject matter first, followed by medium and style. They are drawn to, and associate with, the story of a painting—its content. Conversely, fellow artists and connoisseurs of art tend to appreciate style and mastery of medium over subject matter. This observation helps to explain why some artists sell very well and others win more awards. To be relevant in both is the goal of most artists.
One term linked to style that denotes virtuosity and painting passion is bravura, defined as a show of daring, boldness or brilliance with a florid technical display. In painting, this is often associated with brushwork. Classic examples of bravura flair are associated with the works of artists John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini. While pastelists may not use a brush to apply their medium, there’s no less bravura demonstrated in many of their paintings. The immediacy of application and capability of mark-making of pastel makes it a near perfect medium for the display of bravura.
If you wish to express bravura in your work, realize that it’s rooted in self-confidence, a self-confidence that’s attained by having a familiarity with the subject matter and command of the painting medium. This is accomplished through practice. To use the music analogy again, the better known the musical score and practiced the instrument, the bolder the flourish of style during the performance. Being able to paint with bravura relies upon the fundamental painting components of accurate drawing, good compositional design and harmonious value/color relationships. Without them, all the expressive pastel strokes an artist may make will be for nothing. Bravura is not by accident but by design. The paintings of Sargent may be filled with bold, expressive brushwork that appears effortless, but historic documentation shows that it often took many failed attempts before a bravura outcome. Making it appear effortless was his genius!
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