Two weeks ago talked about pushing further, and adding extra polish to your paintings. In that case, more was better. More brush strokes, more details, more polish. Sometimes, though, less is more. In the case of the painting by Gregory Manchess (right), you can see many large brush strokes. Arguably the beauty and depth of this painting come from the raw, visible, marks.
A term for this quality is ‘stroke economy’. It’s when an artist evokes a rich, detailed, image in the mind of the viewer through implied detail. Where photographs shine is in their specificity, though paintings offer a different opportunity: simplification. John Singer Sargent (seen above) is a true master of stroke economy. If you ever have a chance to see a Sargent painting in person, make sure to do so -- the marks are unbelievable up close.
For beginners it’s easy to misread stroke economy as ‘painting quickly’. The big, visible, strokes seem to indicate a haphazard painting technique. In reality, stroke economy is only possible after the artist has mastered formal realism. An artist might first learn how to paint something accurately with 50 strokes - and only after years of practice might approach the same subject with 5 brush strokes. Stroke economy is a visual reduction on the part of an accomplished painter.
I encourage you to experiment with this concept. Is it possible to represent a landscape photo with 10 brush strokes? You won't be painting a realistic image, but it's possible to capture light, gesture, and color. More importantly, it demonstrates the importance of deliberate brush strokes - and is the first step on a path of efficient painting.
Coming Soon to the Store
As a beginner stroke economy poses a conceptual challenge. The road from basic to intermediate rendering is somewhat linear: you paint what you see. Add more polish whenever necessary. Learning to simplify, reduce, and imply can seem like uncharted territory. On top of that, Photoshop brings its own technical challenges to the table. For all of these reasons, I’m creating a new series for the Ctrl+Paint store. It focuses on a technique I use to achieve a balance between painterly, active marks, and careful craftsmanship. This new series is called “Dynamic Brushwork”, and will be released on Thursday August 29th. Though it’s not ideal for absolute beginners, I’m very excited to share it with the Ctrl+Paint audience. As long as you’ve gone through Basic Photoshop Rendering, it’ll be right up your alley. Stay tuned for a more full reveal next week!