Brushstrokes - The Early Masters

Jill Poyerd
A free video tutorial from Jill Poyerd
Professional Artist and Fine Arts Educator
4.7 instructor rating • 7 courses • 18,491 students

Lecture description

How do brushstrokes influence a work of art? What are the different brushstrokes and which Masters made them famous? This three-part groundbreaking series traces the history of artistic brushwork beginning with the pre-Renaissance era up to the 1800s.

Learn more from the full course

Mastering Brushstrokes - Part 1

Master key brushstrokes that lie at the core of watercolor, oil, and acrylic painting.

05:13:50 of on-demand video • Updated November 2020

  • Gain a thorough understanding of a broad range of brushstrokes
  • Develop a toolbox of strokes for reference when creating works of art
  • Learn how each brushstroke impacts form
  • Learn the history behind brushstrokes and paint application
  • Expand your creativity by increasing your knowledge base
  • Understand how brushstrokes are affected by painting medium
English [Auto] What is said about a painting that allows us to differentiate one artist from another. How is it that we can distinguish ourselves on for example from a Rembrandt. Part of it is the artist's selection of colors and their perspective on subject matter. Paintings are also unique because of the brushstrokes used by the artist in this video we're going to explore the development of brush strokes and the masters that made them famous. We'll take a look at how the various strokes influenced artistic style as we trace their progression through history beginning with the Middle Ages. From the fifth century all the way to the start of the Renaissance in the 13 hundreds. There was a limited variety of brushstrokes available to artists because of the nature of the painting mediums that were popular at the time. Back then artists primarily worked in either fresco or fresco and egg tempera. Limited artists abilities primarily because of their fast drying time a stroke of egg tempera can dry within five seconds and that means that shortly after laying down a stroke of paint it would dry and could then very easily leave a hard edge which would create an obvious brush line. Both paints are pretty much permanent as well. So they presented some challenges for artists because of these limitations. Much of the artwork seen throughout the Middle Ages which would include Byzantine Romanesque and gothic art has a similar look. So what brushstrokes did fresco egg tempera and even watercolor artists use at that time. In basic terms there were three ways that they would apply the paint. One method was to apply strokes of paint next to one another in hopes that they would remain wet long enough to blend before drying. They would typically paint in the direction of the form so that any visible signs would coordinate with the image and an egg temperature which had to be applied in very thin layers a section painted this way would be referred to as the glaze glazing which we see throughout history and in oil painting is the slow build up of thin layers of paint. Now egg tempera and fresco painters could also use a hatching technique or crosshatching to do this brush strokes are applied in rapid repetition in the same direction and sometimes also at perpendicular angles which is called cross-hatching. It's reported that Michelangelo used this technique when painting the Sistine Chapel frescoes. And finally an artist can simply paint lines and shapes directly called Direct painting intending them to stand alone to communicate something such as a boundary of an eye. So when did oil painting come into use. Well prior to the start of the Renaissance we find that artists did have some knowledge of oil paint but it wasn't until a Flemish painter Yanbu in Iraq perfected its use in the early Fortean hundreds that the mediums started to gain recognition. It's important to keep in mind that most artists at this time had been trained in or worked with eg tempera or other water media paints. So initially they used oil in the same way. In fact today experts sometimes have a hard time distinguishing whether paintings during this time of transition were painted in oil or Again the oil paint stays wet much longer than the other paints and has a denser battery or consistency making it remarkably easy to achieve smooth blends artists especially the innovative ones like that I think must have been thrilled to discover that when they painted strokes side by side as they had with the camera they could now easily blend them together at a relaxed pace producing virtually invisible brush strokes and resulting in beautifully smooth color or value transitions. And this then made the effectiveness of glazing even more powerful when done in oil. The transition to oil as a primary painting medium was gradual through the first part of the Renaissance. John Vandyke was a critical part of this transitional time period. The style he developed was characterized by incredible realism minute detail natural light and brilliant color all made possible through his ingenious use of oil paintings. He had absolutely seamless brushwork and his art appears so fresh as if they could have been painted yesterday. Some of the artists during this time of transition would actually use both mediums in the same painting including the ingenious renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci who was quite an innovator Her fact did a brush technique called fermata where the outlines of forms are softened and shadows painted so gently that the image conveys a soft almost Misty appearance referred to as Leonardo's smoke. He achieved it by painting multiple layers and making the changes in value very very gradual it's one of the reasons his paintings had a very unique lifelike appearance around 1900. We see the artist Titian come into the public eye. Another incredibly important figure in our end someone that would inspire many future generations Titian is really the first artist to show vigorous expressive brushwork often called painterly work a style in which the artist doesn't care whether a stroke shows. And in fact uses the lines of the individual stroke to impact the painting he can use his brush to DAB scraped smooth and stumble a freedom of expression that would increase as he progressed in his career. He's also one of the first to use Shick paint called Impacto beyond emphasizing highlights. As we'll see once you add him Pasto paint as a type of application the thicker paint opens up the door to a wide variety of brushwork another dramatic step in a progression of brushwork is seen in the work of El Greco who painted in the late 1800s. He completely broke with tradition through his use of very thick paint very unusual colors and a distortion of his figures. El Greco looked at Titian's vigorous brushwork for inspiration rather than the smooth techniques used by many of his contemporaries and started allowing his Prasher painting to express emotion. Out Graco is one of the first artists to use a very stiff Haug hair bristle brush and he would use it to create textural brush lines. You can tell when an artist uses hog hair bristles because unless they smooth it afterwards with a soft bristle brush the bristle lines are visible in the paint. Is also one of the first artists to use an early version of a palette knife for painting a close look at his art work shows that both his brush or knife strokes are broken and he makes no real attempt to smooth the paint. His contemporaries thought this was really crude. But today critics consider his work an early form of expressionism. Now if we compare Algren those rough creed of style with that of his contemporary Caravaggio who also had an incredible impact on the world of painting. If we forget about their difference in subject matter and color palette and just look strictly at the artist's style in their brushwork you can see an amazing difference and you can see how the diametrically different brushwork impacts the piece. They both had major impacts on future artists Caravaggio as use of light seamless glazes and his invisible brushwork would inspire artists like moleskins Rembrandt and Vermeer. While El Greco was imaginative expressive brushwork would inspire more modern artists like monay Cezanne Picasso as the use of oil became established. Artists continued to discover the medium's capabilities. They began to see that they didn't need to be so rigid with their brush. The pain gave them the opportunity to innovate which is exactly what artists like Rubens velázquez hows and Rembrandt would do throughout the Baroque period. These artists would also famously expand the use of him past him using it to more interestingly pro-trade fabrics jewellery and skin texture while artists like Vermeer stuck to the traditional glazing methods. Peter Paul Reubens was an admirer of Titian's work and his own work reflected that he was known for his variety of brushwork and is the first artist known to send his paints with turpentine as he aged his brushwork loosened and began to take on a kind of energy that later artists would incorporate into their own style both the Spanish artist Diego Velazquez and Dutch artist friends Howells would paint realistic portraits and figures and would find ways to individualize their brushwork Velasquez through a feathered kind of a dry brush technique and howl's through vivid quick strokes and dams. In fact Van Gogh said in a letter to his brother what a joy it is to see friends house. How different it is from the paintings. So many of them where everything is carefully smoothed out in the same manner. House and Velasquez set the stage for Rembrandt a later contemporary in one of the greatest of all Dutch painters. His early work uses the thin smooth glazes common to the period. But he became highly influenced by the variety of fluid vigorous brushwork seen in the work both Titian and Rubens Alaskas house and Rembrandt to me represent an important step in the history of our. Not only do they masterfully combine thin and thick paint application methods but they begin to popularize the single stroke expression or bravura brushwork which is basically bold daring brushwork. In fact Rembrandt is said to have done in one stroke what would have taken others 5 passes to accomplish house and Rembrandt were also the first great masters of what we call directional brush strokes where the strokes are intentionally left visible and are painted in a direction or with a certain motion in order to convey an object or an aspect in the painting. Now round this same time period. Landscape painting began to take a prominent role in art Jayco von Ruysdael one of the greatest Dutch landscape painters developed new methods of applying paint in order to better communicate aspects in a landscape. He picks up on the idea of using him Pasto paint to emphasize texture in nature. John Constable who was popular in the early 8900 was distinctly influenced by the work of race down. But he felt that landscapes should represent what you see not the idealized version that was seen in the Baroque period. Constable painted oil studies on location in order to better reflect realism. What's interesting is his work in these studies is very similar to what we'll see in the work of some of the post-impressionist. At the end of that century he developed lively free brush techniques in order to capture the quickly changing elements of nature. This freedom initially resembled the style of priest and as his career progressed his self-expression it as well he took the use of imposture even further than Ruysdael had whether using a brush or a palette. And he would fleck on little bits of off white paint to add texture to his waterin skies which proved to be a slight irritation to his contemporaries and critics. You could almost call some of constable's work messy due to the incredible amount of textural brush work that he has and some of his paintings. It's not until you see it from a distance that it pulls together to convey reality. And of note towards the end of his career he picked up watercolors a painting medium and employed some of the same brush strokes and his vision of nature to that medium including using lashes of color and scambling one of constable's contemporaries was GMW Turner who is also very innovative especially in the portrayal of light in atmosphere. Turner worked in both watercolor and oil paintings because of his work with watercolor and he was considered one of the greatest watercolor wrists of his time. He had an additional knowledge of transparency and the benefits of using white Sir Turner increasingly used less detail in his work as he advanced in his career. His methods of application included transparent glazes soft scambling imposture and palette knife work but he also used directional brush strokes to the extreme. Producing an intense sense of drama in his work Turner had a major influence on the impressionists who were to come shortly after including Clodd money and discovered Turner's work and a trip to England.