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Basic Brush Techniques

There are four basic brush techniques in this lesson that are a good foundation to have in your repertoire of painting skills. There are many other techniques in these lessons and far more beyond that. As you move along in your painting experience, you will find your own unique techniques or variations on these standard ones. I have also selected four paintings by master painters that demonstrate each of these techniques in their work. You may find that some of these artists have used these techniques in more sophisticated ways than the simple, pure technique lessons presented here.


The four basic brush techniques are Gradient Blending, Wet into Wet, Scumbling, and Optical Mixing. These painting techniques are frequently used in painting today and have a wide range of application, from color transition of a sky, to creating a texture in a fabric, or softening the edge of an object, etc.

These techniques are applicable to oil or acrylic. I suggest using Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow to create these brush techniques, as it will be an easy and natural combination of colors to see the process develop as you are working, however, any colors can be used. Use a sheet from your canvas pad for these exercises, and draw a rectangular area of 5 x 7 inches for each technique. It is more than likely that you will have to do each exercise a few times before you begin to master the brush technique. Make sure you save your best effort for reference.

Gradient Blending

This consists of blending two colors to create a gradient transition from one to the other. While this can be done with any brush, a Fan bristle brush is best and is made for painting skies and similar transitions. The trick is to control what is called the curve, the center of the transition, so that it is 50% red and 50% yellow, with each blended out to the pure 100% color.


Example of artist Tim Maguire using Gradient Blending.


Tim Maguire, Slits 94.27, 1994.

Wet into Wet

Start by painting a solid field of yellow, and while the field is still wet, paint strokes of red on top. Use the same size brush spaced out to create a gradient effect. Have the stronger red at the top with more overlapping paint strokes and stronger yellow at the bottom by using fewer brush stokes and spacing them further apart. The stroke directions should appear random and not regimented or lined up in a formal pattern for this technique. A Round bristle brush was used for this example.


Example of artist Richard Diebenkorn using a Wet-into-Wet technique.


Richard Diebenkorn  Abstract Expressionist  - 1922 - 1993


In this lesson, you dip your brush into the paint, push it straight into the canvas so that the bristles splay out, then rotate the brush slightly, creating a mottled effect. This is simply repeated, keeping more red paint at the top and yellow at the bottom. You will need to experiment to see how the paint blends as you create the transition from red to yellow. Keep in mind that this is a mottled effect and not a smooth transition. A Flat bristle brush was used for this example. However, you should experiment with various types of brushes.


Example of artist Joseph Mallord William Turner's use of Wet-into-Wet technique.


J. M. W. Turner, Snow  Storm, 1842, oil on canvas.

Optical Color Mixing

Create evenly spaced strokes of pure color, randomly spaced. Start with the yellow paint and allow it to dry completely (this could take overnight in the case of oils). Then with the same size brush, create the same randomly placed, evenly spaced red brush strokes, creating an optical mix of red and yellow that will appear orange from a distance. A Round bristle brush was used in this example.


Example of artist Georges-Pierre Seurat's use of Optical Color Mixing technique.


Georges-Pierre Seurat, Detail from Circus Sideshow, 1888.

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