What is the “impasto” technique and can it apply to acrylics as well as oils? The word impasto comes from the Italian language and involves heavy layering of paint with a knife, usually.
Answer to the first question – impasto is a painting technique in which dimension and depth is created by thicker layering of the paint.
Impasto comes from an Italian word “impastere” that translates from “to knead dough”, or it might simply have been “paste” emanating from “pasta”.
Which is highly appropriate, as it does appear like a paste in action, at least by the artist. It’s a technique with some antiquity behind it, going back to the Renaissance era and employed by masters of the craft to capture the essences of light, gold, fabrics like velvet and silk.
Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velasquez….all of these classical masters of the past (think 16th-17th centuries) were denizens of the textural effect.
And of course, the famous Starry Night painting by Vincent van Gogh, is a great example of impasto, look at the swirling texture of the background. In fact, Van Gogh was a true connoisseur of impasto, he was known for using paint very generously and would dispense paint right from the tube to the canvas.
I, myself may have practiced impasto without realizing it, purely by accident if I were to go through some of the work I have done before. I looked at one that I did years ago and I can see the autumn foliage I did, I can see a little bit of layering. So you can see I dabbled in it, especially since I have always been drawn to layering and depth in art.
Modern day abstract artists are credited with utilizing this style well, their heavy applications of textured paint helped to emphasized movement and action. So if you enjoy the look of art with real depth to it, this is a great style to look into.
Impasto is utilized with a brush, but tools like palette knives are far better as they give you that leverage to scrape up even rolls or beads of paint to create uniform shapes.
The key to understanding impasto is not to overwork it. When you dab paint on the canvas like a paste, focus on developing the overall design, but don’t spend too much time trying to manipulate the paint as you will lose the effect. It will stand out, there won’t be obvious brush marks revealed, and the key to controlling the level of depth is: lighter on the texture, lighter effect, heavier texture to create darker shadows.
Some subjects that do well with impasto – flowers, foliage like trees and shrubs
Can you accomplish impasto with acrylics? Although oils were the medium of choice historically speaking, you certainly can master it in acrylics by making use of heavy body types and applications of gels. the brand Golden has a line of these kinds of paints.
So yes, with the use of gels and pastes, you can do this, in addition to knives with varying blade styles, including rounded as well as the diamond-shape you may have seen before.