Brushstrokes are the Painter’s Fingerprints

Have you seen the Google Art Project? Wow. That is something I could truly get lost in for a couple of hours at a time. The project provides the opportunity to not just look at the most famous works of art, but examine them in a manner of closeness that’s unavailable when standing in front of them in a museum – well without being grabbed by security at least. When you look at a painting you are learning about the subject of the painting and the intent of the artist. When you look closer, down to the texture of the canvas, you learn about the artist himself.

Vincent Van Gogh - "Self Portrait"
Vincent Van Gogh – "Self Portrait"

Just as every human has a unique fingerprint, artists have a unique brush style. The brush strokes tell a story much like a words in a book. Each stroke is a sentence. The strokes are weaved together in a section to form a paragraph. The sections form the entire painting or plot of the story. Each stroke must coordinate with the next one in order to create that visual harmony that so many of the world’s most famous paintings possess. What do these strokes tell us about these artists?

Van Gogh had short and heavy strokes. The marks are laid in with a hurried yet confident approach. There is also a frantic feeling and slightly obsessive approach as the colors ever so slowly change across a plain versus a more standard and sharper delineation to light and shadow. We know that Van Gogh battled with mental problems; we know he bordered on obsessive behavior. Perhaps these brush strokes are not just telling a story of the subject, but are providing a clinical diagnosis to the mental state of the man himself.

John Singer Sargent - "Coventry Patmore"
John Singer Sargent – "Coventry Patmore"

In a quite different example, John Singer Sargent features long flowing brush strokes. The marks appear to be more blended and feature sharper hue variance. Sargent was very comfortable with the dramatic light approach without going the full Rembrandt tilt. His lights are soft and his shadows are deep, but there is always a strong harmony through the painting. In many of his works his brush strokes are almost hidden as he seems to blend away the laborious work he poured into a his painting.

What do my brush marks say about me? I would say they tell of a man who is still discovering his place in the art world. I have experimented with different styles throughout my 9 1/2 year painting career. From the light short strokes of my early paintings, to the heavy opaque marks of just a few years ago; I have tried to change up my brushwork to better understand the medium itself. Oil painting is great for experimenting and learning. One observation about my own work, I have loosened-up in my brush work and I’m less afraid to use brighter colors.

Ryan Williams - "Mrs. Rachel Williams"
Ryan Williams – “Mrs. Rachel Williams”

Which brings me to my final thought – this is the 50th painting that I am about to complete. I thought it might be fun to see where I came from to get where I am now in my painting style. So in the next post and perhaps in a video on my YouTube channel, I will be showing all of my works and we can laugh at how bad I was when I started. Well actually I hope to show you all that with a little dedication and open-mindedness you can improve and reach a level you might not have thought possible. I’m no pro, but I’m certainly closer now that I was in 2005. So when I return I’ll be showing my 50th painting and taking you on a trip down memory lane.

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