Baby steps to better paintings: Brushstrokes

25 Mar

IMHO, there isn’t a right or wrong way to paint. But there definately is a “better” way to do things.

I have been always been holding my paintbrushes as I would a pencil.

I shall call it pencil-grasping 

Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

I have a natural tendency to hold my brushes this way because it feels natural to me and I feel it gives me more control.

Little did I know there was “another way”…

I shall call it friendly-grasping, because it’s like shaking your brush’s hand. Heehee…

Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Ahh… doesn’t this look more artist-y?? 🙂

While it is not wrong to pencil-grasp your brush, it does somewhat restrict the range of movements to render brushstrokes onto the canvas.  Because your brushwork would be restricted by the turning radius of your wrist (unless you are a contortionist).   

Although it took some getting used to, I’m beginning to understand why the seniors at the Association have been teaching newbies like me to get out of my comfort zone of pencil-grasping.  By friendly-grasping your brushes, you free yourself to a wider range of movement for your brushwork and hence making it possible to deliver brushstrokes from a variety of angles comfortably. 

Why is this “better”? 

Well, I think of it as increasing your arsenal in the taming of the canvas.  Brushstrokes are yet another element that I can control in the creation of a painting.  And friendly-grasping your brush makes it possible to do so. 

Also, you can use brushstrokes to create “character”. Like how Van Gogh developed his own characteristic brushstrokes in his paintings. 

Here’s one of my favourite paintings by Van Gogh (and probably his most well known) as an example –

Starry Night by Van Gogh (1889)

See how each and every stroke of his brush can be individually identified?  And notice how he also uses his iconic swirls to make the picture seem like it is moving.  Clever! And pretty. Here’s a higher res pic from Google Art Project.

Sure, Van Gogh is a Master.  But that does not mean we can’t do it too (or at least try).  In fact, if 5 year old Sophia can do it (and she’s SO cute) , so can we!

OK I digress! 🙂 (incidentally, see how she pencil-grasps her brush).

Back to the topic – Brushstrokes!

Here’s another video of artist Duanne Keiser painting sunflowers. You can catch glimpses of his hand in the video.   Observe how he holds his brush and how freely he moves with the brush.

The brush is but a tool in the artist’s hands but knowing how to master your tool will enable you to fully exercise your creativity. 

As I said in the beginning, there is no right or wrong way to paint.  BUT why shortchange yourself right?  I guess it is important for beginners to always open our minds and challenge ourselves to step out of what feels comfortable.  We are all constantly learning and yet sometimes, we can be tough on ourselves (as adult learners).

Well… when the naggy thought of “I can’t paint!” seeps its poisonous tendrils in your mind, just think of Sophia.

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