On the Topic of Brushstrokes

Image of Nelson Shanks and Mark B. Goodson

I did not attend Nelson Shanks’ school, but I have studied him, attended seminars and spoken with him. He is/was an amazing modern Master. Here is a quote by him regarding the brush stroke:

“There is way too much preoccupation with the brush stroke, the looseness or tightness.

The other day I made the comparison of the brush stroke to the typewriter; I’m not interested in the type of the typewriter, but rather the words, thought’s and meanings they convey. I’m more interested in the philosophy of the novel or the information of the biography and less interested in the type. I’m more interested in the ends than the means…

So many people get carried away with the brush stroke of John Singer Sargent; that’s not the great thing about John Singer Sargent, it’s the understanding of form and color and that can be elucidated, that can become painted and that can become masterful by painting either tightly or loosely depending on the master.”
– The late, great, Nelson Shanks

Mr. Shanks mentioned the following aspects of painting, Form and Color. Here are some thoughts on these aspects which I’d like to share with you.

Rendering form is best done by one who understands values, the degrees of tonal lightness and darkness running from white to black, and how to use them in rendering the effects of light and shadow as it naturally works in the world around us. This, of course, requires persistent study, observation, and lots of experience.

Color decisions are best experienced and expressed through observation. Nature provides the most beautiful colors and combinations of colors, whether boldly intense or delicately subtle. For those who paint from life, color theories and formulas must be put aside.

One must:
1. Observe the subject matter with intensely.
2. Analyze the colors on the palette.
select and mix paint.
3. Adjusting the color based upon its: hue, value, intensity and warmth or coolness.
4. Apply the paint to the substrate (canvas, panel).
5. Analyze the results.
6. Adjust as needed based upon these same steps. Every brush load of paint requires this process.

Fortunately, with experience it gets easier, one develops skill. Not that the nature of the thing becomes easier, but one’s ability to do it increases.

There are of course other important aspects to painting well, like dealing with edges, but these are among the most key to successful painting. If it sounds hard, it is. Remember, it is artwork.

Talents may be given but they must be developed through effort if they are to be mastered.
Do not fall victim to fear, accept your gifts and follow your passion.

Sometimes fear won’t go away, so you’ll have to do it afraid.

The secret is to do it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *