I've been experimenting with thick paint recently and decided to share some of my insight as I continue to explore what works for me. This discussion applies to oil paint specifically. I also think it's relevant to point out that this way of painting requires a lot of drawing practice to pull it off effectively.
Two years ago, I took a trip to Spain and saw some works by Sorolla, Sargent and Velázquez which left me speechless. How could I capture that same feeling in my own work? That question rattled around my head ever since that trip.
I was recently on an en plein air hike and did a painting that really turned out badly. That bad painting sparked off a re-examination of my process that inspired this blog post. So what was missing? Or rather, what was I doing that I shouldn't have been doing? The main thing I was doing was being timid about my paint application. I was applying passages usually thinned to some degree with OMS. So I was covering the canvas, but there was a lifelessness that resulted as the painting dried.
This was also inspired by a recent webinar that I watched, hosted by George O'Hanlon from Natural Pigments. George discussed the problems with solvents and their use in painting, which got me thinking about my process.
1. Painting doesn't really begin until the entire surface is covered
2. Paint that's applied straight from the tube can be rubbed thinly without the need for OMS.
3. Thick paint is where the magic happens
4. If you're timid, then it won't work. You need concentration, not fear.
Below is this self portrait that I painted today, alla prima, in about 2 hours and you can see that some areas are more thinly applied (background and areas of the shirt), but this effect was achieved without OMS. I don't much care for oil painting that has the watery appearance of solvents, oil paint should be sculptural and strongly applied.
As I said, this bolder approach requires a level of draughtsmanship to be successful. For instance, I was working on this painting and noticed that the distances between the eyes, nose and mouth was slightly off. I obliterated the mouth and nose and reestablished them at different distances. I trust my eye and if something feels wrong, then I have no fear in ruining it to rebuild it. However, this can get out of hand and turn into mud very quickly if you don't have a firm command of your drawing.
Those are my thoughts for today and I hope it inspires you to paint more boldly.
“If you see a thing transparent, paint it transparent. Don’t get the effect by a thin stain showing the canvas through. That’s a mere trick.” – Sargent