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Artist Maria Marino Brings the Famed Style to Modern Day
Whether meeting a person or seeing a place for the first time, impressions are what remain with us. When reflecting on a person or place, I search for a clear picture, but it’s the impression that always seems to surface. To paint like an impressionist, the most important goal is to draw a viewer in from afar and create a painting that lures them in.
They move closer and closer and immerse themselves in the intricacies of the work up close. Then they step back to get the overall impression once again.
What’s an Impressionist Painting?
Impressionist paintings are always evocative. Sometimes they are full of movement. Sometimes they are quiet, dreamy, still and reflective. No matter the feel, they always portray an atmosphere of spontaneity.
The style lends itself to creativity and subjectivity and successful examples of the style are works that appear as fresh as the day they were painted.
1 – Choose the Right Subject Matter
When choosing appropriate subject matter, it must speak to you. I look for a subject that excites me and stirs up some type of feeling, whether quiet and subtle or clamoring for attention.
The intent is to always capture the beauty of the living world — emphasis on living. You may use a photo for reference, work in the studio or en plein air. Work how you need to as the particulars aren’t relevant. To paint like an impressionist, seek a freshness that isn’t overworked and choose a subject matter that feels alive to you.
The original Impressionists chose subject matters that were relatively ordinary and the moments were fleeting. But the depiction of the moment was extraordinary because there was such an emphasis on color and light. The subject matter can be relatively everyday — it is your depiction that will make it extraordinary.
2 – Keep It Peripheral
In the process of painting like an impressionist, it’s critical to first lay down the bones of the painting. When painting a pastel impressionist painting, I start with soft charcoal pencil to establish structure first before laying in any color.
I often choose to not let my focus be on the painting as a whole. Instead I keep the whole in my peripheral vision and move through the painting with mark making to unify the masses. That’s when I will step back and view the overall composition.
It is critical to see the masses in a composition, while establishing foreground, middle-ground and background together. Scale and establishing a point of interest are also very critical. Do this deliberately and an observer will enter the painting and travel through all of its parts. Exploring and sometimes getting lost in the build up of color and light.
3 – Visible and Various Marks
A key characteristic of Impressionism is small, visible brushstrokes or marks that remain broken and unblended. The Impressionist approach to painting is also like breathing, unlabored and instinctive.
Your strokes should be your own and come naturally to you. Keep the edges soft. Practice using a variety of strokes for different effects and don’t try to hide your marks. Instead, emphasize them at every phase of your painting.
4 – Unexpected Color Choices
When establishing Impressionist light, color and movement (created with textured strokes of various kinds) are applied layer by layer, weaving in and out like a tapestry. That is when your composition emerges. With light and color and more light and color I strive to connect areas of a painting to an overall image.
Impressionists also reach for unmixed as well as mixed color. Use a variety of colors to create shadow and light — that is one of the joys of Impressionism.
An Impressionist Demo
See how Maria Marino’s impressionist pastel painting, The Pond in Spring, takes shape over the course of eight phases from charcoal drawing to laying in successive layers of color.
The Overall Impression
In the end, painting like an Impressionist is about getting the viewer to feel rather than to understand, to explore rather than to examine, and to love the artwork in front of them rather than to pass it by. Explore impressionism from your own unique perspective and for more resources to support you on your way, consider The Secret to Pastel Painting en Plein Air with Michael Chesley Johnson or Learn to Paint Gardens in Pastel with Jackie Simmonds.
And if you have an impressionist photo or picture you want to recreate in paint, soak up the techniques in this video to make sure you capture all the drama you can on canvas.