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Western Painting - Impasto - A Sculpture on Canvas

Impasto - The Concept

The Italian term 'Impasto' refers to a painting technique, in which thick textured paint is applied on canvas to get a three dimensional appearance of the picture being created. The style often leaves visible brush or knife strokes on the finished work, with a distinguished raised surface visible from the side. Heavy Impasto may even have shadows underneath the paint.

The Details

Of course, Impasto is all about using more than the standard required quantity of paint on the canvas. Instead of scrubbing the paint to blend wet colors, artists use minimal strokes to let it sit on canvas. Once the thick layer dries, the additional layers of paint are applied to add to the thickness, often blending them on canvas itself. Oil and acrylic paints are the most suited for Impasto, due to its required thickness and slow drying time. Experimentations with watercolors mixed with thickening agents had limited success.

Impasto can make a simple work impressive, as the artists can control the effect of direct light on the paintings. The common applications are creating folds in clothes, jewels, adding depth to landscapes by projecting few objects, or adding "action" to the painting through visible brush strokes, as is the case with Expressionist Art. This technique is usually used to bring up aesthetics of a simple subject matter by adding realism to a piece.

The Artists & Artworks

Painters Rembrandt (Dutch - 1606-69) and Titian (Italian - 1490-1576) have used Impasto, though not dominantly highlighted, in their several art works. Vincent Van Gogh (Dutch - 1853-90) brought this change in using the technique, with his Expressionist Art. His 'White Field with Cypresses' (1889) captures the movement of sky on canvas, through brilliant colors and powerful brush strokes. It marked the beginning of his Cypresses Impasto series, with his other masterpieces being 'The Starry Night' (1889), 'Cypresses' (1889), and 'Road with Cypress and Star' (1890).

While, American Expressionist Jane Frank's (1918-86) 'Crags and Crevices' (1961) is her most impressive piece of the range, Willem de Kooning's (1904-97) 'Woman' (1940s) series is known for the use of best Impasto in the Abstract Figurative Expressionist Art. Figurative British painter Lucian Freud (born 1922) uses the style to capture every harsh detail of his models. His self-portrait, 'Reflections' (1985) is among his best Impasto works. Colorado artist Carol Nelson has used the technique in themes, like landscapes, portraits, and floral paintings, such as 'Red Roof,' (2007), 'Fusion III,' (2007), and 'Birthday Surprise (2007).'


Impasto has also received dissension from critics at few occasions. Thick paints, due to their own weight, may at times, fall off from a hanging painting. Impasto can grow so heavy in some works that it may look sculpted, instead of brushed. The technique does give a powerful tool to artists to play with light in a painting. If applied well, the depth and expression possible can do wonders to an aver

Annette Labedzki received her BFA at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver, B.C. Canada. She has more than 25 years experience. She is the founder and developer of an online art gallery featuring original art from all over the world. Please visit the website at http://www.Labedzki-Art.com It is a great site for art collectors to buy original art. Artists can join for free and their image upload is unlimited.