As I progress through a painting, I try and use the biggest brush I can, resisting the urge to ‘go small’ too early on in the process. A small brush makes the painter think small, as in details, and this can lead to a disconnect from the bigger picture.
Big and small are relative and brush sizes are relative to canvas size. If you are in the habit of painting a particular size of canvas and you decide to, let’s say, double up on the size. I think it is a good idea to double up on the size of the brushes you will use. This is effectively a scaling up of your usual painting method and should not cause too much bother. If, however, the usual size brushes are used, you are embarking on a new unfamiliar method and as mentioned previously, could cause problems with ‘fussy’ details too early in the painting process.
Having extolled the virtues of the large brush I’m not a fan of the very large brush style of painting. This style of painting was made popular in watercolours by artists like Ron Ranson using a ‘Hake’ brush. This is a long bristled, flat, wide brush and was used to apply large washes and later, in the painting, to suggest detail using the unique brush shape. Watercolour is a medium of washes, and whereas oil painting can be made to look like a watercolour, its charm, in my opinion, is in the solid sculptural effects of the thick paste.
In case you are not familiar with this style of painting, here is an example of how to paint a blue sky with clouds. Firstly, a layer of white is painted from top of the painting to the horizon. The blue is then applied at the top of the sky, on top of the wet white and worked down producing a very regular smooth gradient because of the wide brush. The clouds are then applied by ‘stabbing’ the canvas, here and there, with the same brush loaded with white. A pleasing sky is produced, but nowhere is seen the ‘hand of the artist’. It’s machine like. The ‘landscape’ of the sky, with its mountains and valleys of clouds will never be explored and conquered.
For a beginner it looks great, a reasonably realistic sky, even on your first landscape painting. But there is a danger here. The beginner could become ‘cul-de-sac’ed. By this I mean the technique is dead ended, there is instant success so the need to learn and become more proficient is not here. I’m reminded of the painters, employed by the early porcelain and china tea set manufacturers in England, to hand paint the designs on the items before firing. The painters were required to paint the landscapes or flower designs, quickly, without brush marks and without variations from item to item. Specially shaped brushes were used for the different parts of the pictures and the skill could be learned very quickly. The results were beautiful. The same scene on cups, saucers, sugar bowls, milk jugs, plates, were all identical, even though they were painted by different people. This is what bothers me about teaching beginners this method of painting. When the end result justifies the method. Of course the beginner must have a successful painting very early on or frustration will set in and painting will stop. The above method will be quite acceptable for most beginners, but for those who are looking for more, or who feel a ‘sameness’ from painting to painting, I address these sentiments.
Here is the video of my struggle with a complicated sky. I hope, if you are a beginner, you will get something from watching the process. It can be watched full screen if the quality if turned up. There is a little more information on this painting in the previous post.