One of the most important things an art student can learn is how to have proper brush control when making color strokes. Executing a brush stroke that resonates confidence takes many years of learning and constantly refining one’s abilities.
The first concern should be your posture whether sitting or standing, whichever you find most comfortable (note: Standing is always preferable over sitting as it will teach you to constantly move and evaluate your painting from afar). The brush should be an extension of your arm and not a utensil of some kind. When making brush strokes do so with your whole arm through one single fluid movement without too much flickering of the wrist. The brush should be held firmly as if you were holding a comb. Getting away from holding your brushes like pencils will seem daunting at first but with time will impart greater control and confident strokes.
Secondly, you cannot make brush strokes without applying enough paint. I see this time and again with students, where little pea sized dabs of paint are placed on their palette. They try to paint a full painting maximizing what they’ve limited themselves to. They do this by making excessive brush strokes on their painting back and forth with limited amount of paint on their brush. The key is to squeeze out more paint then you think is necessary and constantly reload your brush. Once you’ve arranged your color palette and pre mixed your values, here is a 2 step process in making sure your every brush stroke matters:
1. Unless you are vigilant about cleaning your brushes after every color application, you will find that after some time, your palette will lose its color vibrancy. Everything will become duller and grayer. This is inevitable since your brushes will retain some of the previous color in it, when you mix the next color batch. One way to avoid this as mentioned is to clean and clean; yet another more practical is to use multiple brushes for multiple colors.
However, if you are like me and don’t want a hassle of cleaning multiple brushes every day or after every stroke, applying color to your brush with a palette knife could be your solution.
The concept is pretty straight forward. Instead of mixing your color with your brush on your palette, do so with a knife and then transfer the oil paint on to your brush. You will find that you will be less wasteful and the color will retain its vibrancy better.
2. Once you’ve loaded your bush with paint, now is the time to apply it as mentioned earlier. Hold the brush straight out and make 1 to 3 strokes at most and then reload. Your brush should be at an angle so the paint flows on to your surface seamlessly. As you can see below, I’m holding the brush at an angle which will facilitate this easier.
What you want to try and avoid is holding the brush incorrectly (as illustrated below) and applying the paint perpendicularly to your canvas. Instead of transferring color from your brush to your canvas, what this will do is disturbed the below layers. If you’ve loaded your brush as indicated in step 1, some of it will transfer on to your surface but not as much as you’d like.
Making strong and calculated brush strokes is the cornerstone of any successful painting. Remember the two step process of loading color and applying at the perfect angle and you will find that your paintings are more alive.
Although the techniques are more applicable to my direct alla prima painting style, they can be useful for other painting methods. One must always strive to create visually refined paintings by applying and maintaining properly tested painting techniques from holding brushes to final application of paint strokes. Happy painting.