Want Texture? Seek Unconventional Tools
Breaking out of a painting rut sometimes requires a little more oomph than just adding another color to your palette or going from a still life to a figure painting. Sometimes your whole process needs an overhaul.
A few years ago, artist Francis Di Fronzo took a fairly drastic measure to take his work to a new level. He set aside the traditional painting brush for a texture tool of his own invention — a “comb” with individual hairs seated along a length of wood.
Artistic Dead End
In 1998, Di Fronzo was facing what he describes as an artistic dead end. He’d been working on non-traditional trompe l’oeil paintings of unusual objects like mechanical tools that were no longer satisfying to him. He wanted to create large-scale landscape paintings with the same attention to detail as his earlier trompe l’oeil paintings.
“I figured the only way to do that was to paint every single blade of grass,” he says. He started by using a brush with only one bristle, but found that this process was too time consuming, so he created a brush with fifty or sixty individual hairs on it, lined up in a row. This “comb” allowed Di Fronzo to paint texture convincingly and capture the illusion of fields of grass as he built up the surface.
The invention and learning how to paint with it gave Di Fronzo a major boost of confidence. “I’ve always felt a need to do things differently. I’ve never really felt comfortable using the tools that exist and simply accepting that traditional brushes are the best tools for the job,” he says. “So when I came up with the idea for the comb and it worked, I felt much more confident in approaching art with an open mind-both in subject and technique.”
The comb allowed Di Fronzo to paint individual blades of grass precisely and quickly. The comb was only used for the grassy expanses in his work. All the other parts of the paintings are made with traditional brushes.
And although Di Fronzo has transitioned out of landscape painting to other subject matters, leaving the comb behind, he marks it as a creative peak for him, mostly because of the high value he puts on process. “Making any artwork is not just a matter of creating an interesting and powerful image. There’s always the question of how the painting will be made,” he says.
Need a Boost?
I couldn’t agree more. Art can stand on its own. That doesn’t take away the importance and interest we have in the details of the creative process. Di Fronzo created a new technique for himself. It opened doors for him at a time when his creative sensibility needed a boost.
My studio bookshelves — lined with artist monographs, technique manuals, and more–give me that same kind of boost. Talking to artists, boost. Watching painters paint, boost. And just playing and having fun with my materials–big boost. All of these give us food for thought when it comes to the “how” of making art.
A Sweet Note to End On
From grisaille and tonal painting art processes to prismatic palettes and palette knife painting, the techniques we explore really can keep our creative juices flowing. That includes the topic of the day, which is all about texture.
To end on a sweet note, I want to offer you the opportunity to explore all the ways of texture in painting with oils, pastels, and watercolors. Join Johannes Vloothuis for his next Paint Along: Enhance Your Paintings with Texture and you’ll get just that! I hope it reveals the “next step” you have been waiting for. Enjoy!