33 Why is painting with thick paint so hard?

zzz GENERALLY speaking, it is easier to paint thinly than it is to paint with thick, rich strokes of color. It is also better to start painting thin and work your way to thicker paint applications. The reason is that thin painting can be tentative–you can slowly build up the paint layer and adjust color and value very slowly via dry brush, glazing, or scumbling.

Mountains near the Maynard Dixon Studio. Mt. Carmel, Utah.

In this painting, I have kept the paint film quite thin. This allows for additional paint after the initial thin layer has dried. If it had been painted thickly, I would have had to scrape off the large impasto strokes using a sharpened ceramic loop tool or a canvas scraping knife to add additional texture. If the surface is too textured all subsequent manipulation becomes more difficult.

For example, imagine trying to glaze on a highly textured surface. Parts of the glaze with sink into the clefts of the strokes. The ridges would get less of a glaze as some pigment would naturally sink into the clefts. This is essentially what happens when someone antiques a painted surface when they are refinishing a piece of furniture. In a painting, it can give an odd, uneven effect that I try to avoid (although I do use the effect occasionally in my acrylic abstracts).

If you have tried applying thick paint and have not had as much success as you want I highly recommend painting thinly and gradually increasing the thickness of your paint. If you look at Van Gogh’s paintings in chronological sequence, you see that he started painting quite thinly, almost with the thinness of an academic painter, and gradually increased the texture as he matured artistically.

If you find the thick paint defeating your intent from time to time drop back to a thinner style for a few paintings until you get your courage back, then dive into thick paint once more.

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Updated: 26th September 2023
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