What should you do if you want to paint more like an Impressionist?
Impressionism was a big change in the way paintings are made and seen. Landscape paintings changed from this detailed, idealized view:
(Ommeganci, Landscape With a Flock of Sheep, 1800)
To this more naturalistic view, painted on-location:
To this Impressionist painting by Monet:
(The Parc Manceau, 1876)
The changes happened for several reasons, including:
- The invention of the camera, which realistic artists knew would put them out of work.
- The invention of the screw-top paint tube, which let artists paint on-site using many colors simultaneously, and gave them brighter colors to use.
- Edward Manet’s paintings, which changed the purpose of painting. Instead of being a window into reality, in his paintings he brought the subject to the surface and made the shapes the most important thing. Manet blew everyone’s mind!
With the careful use of shadows to create three-dimensional form, this painting feels like you could step into it. The surface of the canvas disappears – you go into the space. Creating that illusion was the point of Western painting for centuries. Until Manet came along.
Manet, “The Fifer”, 1866
Manet’s painting is not three-dimensional, you can’t step into it. His painting is flat, which means the shapes themselves become the subject. Instead of the art happening deep within the canvas, it’s right on the surface. This changed the whole definition of Western painting! Nobody had ever thought of using the canvas that way.
So if you want to paint like an Impressionist, you can start by thinking about art differently.
It’s not going to be about recreating reality, or trying to be a photograph — it’s about reacting to what you see. About finding a color so interesting, you just have to paint a bunch of it so that your viewers will enjoy the color, too. Manet started off with the red pants, above.
Monet started off with a moody sunrise:
(Impression Sunrise, 1873)
Monet knew how to paint that landscape accurately – but he wanted you to love the purples and blues and oranges, just the colors themselves. Not because they described something.