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Impression of Impressionism

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“When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you– a tree, a house, a field, or whatever. Merely think, Here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives your own naive impression of the scene before you.” – Claude Monet

I’ve been studying up on impressionism lately, and Monet is by far my favorite artist of this style. He’s looked at as one of the leaders of the impressionist style, and one of the more modern style seeking artists of his time. He looked more to creating a new sense of modern artwork than he did to capturing the attention of the media and publicizing his work, or so my textbook tells me.

Whatever Monet’s motivation was to paint as he did, his work still manages to inspire me every time I see it. One of his more famous works, Impression: Sunrise (shown above), does exactly that. I’m fascinated by the short, choppy brushstrokes, sketch-like quality, and the simpleness of the scene that Monet gave this painting. However, what captures my attention most is it’s color.

Impressionism is identified, along with the visible brushstrokes and its sketch-like quality, by the colors. Most impressionist artists made use of optical mixtures and painted en plein aire to capture the true colors of natural light in their work. Optical mixtures, it turns out, became popular around this time because that’s when paints became portable. Artists would squeeze paint directly from the tube to canvas and then layer up heavy brushstrokes with different colors to achieve the greatest and truest form of color from their paints.

I’m going to admit it doesn’t seem like a big deal that they figured out that layering colors creates new colors, but it’s the way the artists of the time, and Monet especially, used this optical mixture technique to make colors stand out vividly, while still looking natural, that amazes me. Orange contrasted with blues, yellows added here and there. These colors all work in unity to create a very natural lighting.

Now, I’ve been looking into impressionism for a few weeks and even mentioned about trying to take advantage of the colors in my colored pencil drawings, making use of colors from the opposite ends of the color wheel to create nice effects. It’s actually a very handy tool and much more useful to darken a red using green than it would be to use black or a shade of brown. It’s nice to see my studies actually affect my own artwork in this way and is pretty encouraging in ways of actually getting my work done!

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