Simple Impressionistic Painting

Let’s Start Painting. Here’s a simple step by step start

Let’s Paint! We’ll start with a simple painting in an impressionistic style. I will show you some steps. But I know you’re going to say, “How did you go from one step to the next?” I know, I hate those guides too, but I’ll fill in as much as I can for you.

Here’s where we end up.

Winter Beauty 2017
acrylic on canvas 36×24″

It looks simple right? Well, don’t be hard on yourself. It is doable. Let’s see how. We start with an orange wash. Yes, orange. I want to have orange to show through the sunset. But we are going to allow more than just one spot around the sun to be orange.

Step 3

I know, I cheated already by leaving out a step. (I forgot to take a pic while working on the sky) Block in the sky with blue, white and orange. Mix orange from the background into the blue to create a chromatic grey. By including orange in many of the colours in the painting, harmony is created throughout the painting.

So on my palette, I now have orange, cerulean blue and cyan blue, white, and a dark mixed grey. I started at the horizon with grey because it’s mostly overcast and backlit clouds, so they would be darker. Then I add blue and white to the grey in alternating spots to limit the colours used.

My intention when I began this painting was to put the paint on and not go back over it but that didn’t completely work out. So as I finished each section I put paint on in my one-touch style. Colour placed unmingled by the brush will combine at a distance to give an overall look of another colour. So in the example above, we have grey-blue and white together to give an overall muted blue overall. This is the essence of impressionism.

Step 4
Blocking in River bed and foreground rock

I have a dreadful secret to confess. I had the place in mind, but I had several Group of Seven books open to Tom Thompson style paintings. It’s very hard to recreate an oil painting using acrylics. The secret is to use lots of paint to give it body.

Tom Thompson, Pine Trees at Sunset

The Canadian Group of Seven (G7) were post-impressionists mostly in Ontario, Canada active in the 1910-1940s and were revolutionary in Candian painting at the time. Until they started showing in the 1920s, critics considered the great Canadian outdoors to be ugly. Yup, ugly. Hard to imagine the British colonial mindset at that time. Few people, especially professional painters, really explored the outdoors in paint at the time.

So meanwhile, back at the painting. The beauty of G7 painting is that their oil “sketches” on masonite panels were essentially one-touch strokes. Let me explain. Much Like Van Gogh, the G7 put a brushstroke on the masonite and didn’t go back over it to mingle or blend the different paint colours together.

So the overall effect is a painterly picture with luscious brushstrokes, which creates an effect of immediacy and unhindered creation. I will on occasion call this style one-touch painting or some call it mosaic painting.

So to continue, back to step 4, I blocked in the riverbanks similar to what I did with the trees. The intent was to leave some fof the orange showing, to give the painting fresh life. Again, I tried to put the paint on with one stroke. Sometimes I have to admit, I went back over what I thought were mistakes, which I should have just left alone. 

Step 5 Adding Depth

Now please, learn from someone else’s mistakes. Namely mine. As you can easily see in the lightened areas on the left bank, I completely obscured the background. In the foreground, you can see the different layers of snow colour. Always remember to create depth by using at least three versions of the same colour, dark, medium and light.

Also, you can see my ghastly mistake in the light from the sunset swallowed up by sky colour, where I forgot again to allow the background colour to show through. But the fix turned out to be easier than hoped. I repainted over some of the brushstrokes using the background colour and a lighter version of it in the last step.

Step 6 adding detail to the depth of trees and snow

At this point in the painting, I was ready to call this a failed painting. So learn from my mistake. I completely failed to leave orange throughout the painting by this point, but I was determined to at least finish the painting with as little as mingling as possible.

Step 7 Finished

I was careful to create as much depth as possible using dark, medium and light versions of colour in each part of the painting. You’ll notice I went back and recovered my sky. Before I went back, it looked like the sun was a hole in the clouds and not very convincing.

You have to remember that you can only be loose to a point. If you do even impressionistic realism, you have to live by the rules of realism. You know, like perspective and the change of intensity of light as you move away from the source.

So I wanted to show you an imperfect example of what turned out to be a not bad painting. I want you to learn not only how to paint, but to how to recover from mistakes and making the best of an imperfect painting.

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