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Painting Technique: Impasto

Impasto is a technique used in painting where paint is laid on an area of the surface (or the entire canvas) very thickly, usually thickly enough that the brush or painting-knife strokes are visible. Paint can also be mixed right on the canvas. When dry, impasto provides texture, the paint coming out of the canvas. 

Painting oil is most suitable to this technique, due to its thickness and slow drying time. The latter can even be extended with additional linseed oil. Acrylic paint can also be impastoed, though the technique is rarely used because of the faster drying time of this material. Impasto is not possible in watercolor or tempera, owing to the inherent thinness of these media.

Purposes of Impasto Painting Technique
Impastoed paint serves two purposes. Firstly, it makes the light reflect in a particular way, giving the artist some control over light. Secondly, it adds some expression to the painting, the viewer being able to notice the strength and speed applied by the artist. While both purposes are commonly accepted today, the first objective was originally chosen by masters such as Rembrandt and Titian, to represent folds in clothes or jewels: it was then juxtaposed with more delicate painting. The second objective is more prominent in later works, Vincent van Gogh using it frequently for aesthetics and expression. Still more recently, Frank Auerbach has used such heavy impasto that some of his paintings almost become three-dimensional.

Because impasto gives texture to the painting, it can be opposed to flat, smooth, or blending techniques.

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