Painting Spring in the Style of the Impressionists

An Orchard in Spring, Claude Monet (1886), Style: Impressionism. WikiArt

After a winter of snow, ice, and grayness, I'm eager for the colors of spring and to paint the first delicate buds and and colors that start to appear. But painting the look and feel of spring is not easy. I find that in order to avoid an approach that is too heavy-handed, and not representative of the freshness of spring at all, I need to paint like an Impressionist. With their focus on capturing atmosphere and light, and the impression of the subject, rather than reality, the Impressionists successfully succeeded in capturing the essence of spring.

Here are some tips for painting the look and feel of spring in an Impressionist style:

1) Get outdoors and paint en plein air if you can.  The Impressionists loved painting everyday scenes en plain air. This encourages the painter to look hard and paint fast, for light and the environment change quickly, leaving only time to capture first impressions.

2) Use short broken brushstrokes of analogous colors side by side to create the impression of your subject.  Analogous colors are those that are next to one another on the color wheel - i.e., yellow and yellow- orange, and orange. Don't belabor mixing colors on the palette to achieve the "perfect" color. It is okay to use thick paint and build up the colors in an impasto style. This is typical of the style of Impressionists, who painted quickly and vigorously, rather than patiently building up glazes as more realistic painters did before them.

3) Avoid painting sharp edges. Impressionist paintings have a soft, subtle feel due to painting visible brush strokes wet into wet. Hard edges are rare. Don't let yourself get too detailed or realistic. You will lose the freshness and spontaneity in the painting as well as the fresh feel of spring.

4) Notice the subtle colors, soft edges, and muted contrast. Rather than the fully saturated colors of summer, the emerging colors of spring are subtle and soft, resembling the colors of autumn but with the colors toned down and gentler.

Remember to mix opposite colors to desaturate a color.

See: Understanding Color

Learn how to mix the various hues of green in the article How to Paint Landscape Greens.

5) Paint pockets of more intense color amidst the subtler ones. Use these pockets as focal points in your painting. Place them along one of the Rule of Thirds lines or the intersections of these lines.

6) Avoid using black. Rather than creating your shadows with black, mix complementary colors to create beautiful grays and dark values. If you need a really dark value, ultramarine blue and burnt umber make a very nice color.

7) Don't necessarily avoid including people. The Impressionists liked to paint scenes of everyday life and included people, dogs, and hints of human presence - such as a wagon, a boat, people enjoying a picnic - in their paintings. Paint people in the same style as you are using for the rest of the painting. Use short broken brush strokes of color that are only suggestive of human form. The people are merely a part of the landscape  - they should not dominate it.

See:  Famous Landscape Arts from the Impressionism Movement

More: See images of Monet's paintings at Vetheuil in the spring at The Impressionists.

Enjoy spring while it lasts!

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RESOURCES

En Plein Air, Signature Character of Impressionism. Impressionism in the Visual Arts. http://www.impressionism.org/pleine.htm