September 9, 2009

A Movement in Brushstrokes

In the egg tempera panel paintings of the 15th century, such as the detail above from a painting by the Osservanza Master, the paint was thinly layered using strokes of paint from a dry brush built up with cross hatching. You can see the lines following the land, the spirited form of trees and stepped hills, the glorious sky.

For many years, I used this traditional cross hatching technique for my egg tempera paintings. I limned the form by layering stroke upon stroke following its curve to enhance the illusion of volume. Though sounding laborious, the mark making goes very quickly since the paint dries right away. It's almost like using a fast moving pencil.

In 2007, in another conscious decision such as described in the post "At a Point in Time, Change", I abandoned the cross hatching technique in order to let my brush move more freely across the surface of the painting. I had begun to feel that the precision of cross hatching was perhaps preventing a more vivid painting. Clarity of form was still a goal for me, but I wanted to get there in a more fluid and open manner.

In many ways this kind of brushwork is more difficult than hatching: the regularity of the hatching technique makes it easy to get from here to there, while more freedom means uncertainty. I now frequently have to repaint, over and over, a section of the painting that's not working. The brushstrokes have to not only carry the correct color and describe form and light, but also must have energy and conviction; they can't look sloppy or arbitrary.

As I stood at my easel today, letting my brush flick and dance across the painting, applying dabs and lines of color, I felt happy.

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