No One Could Beat Rembrandt

When it comes to being able to draw with a paintbrush, no one can touch Rembrandt. He was able to turn abstract brushstrokes into forms with texture, weight, and liveliness. He could turn two swipes of a painting brush loaded with white paint into the coarse cloth of a girl’s sleeve. He captured ruddy and calloused hands with just two or three colors and no more than a dozen strokes of the brush.

A Girl With a Broom by Rembrandt, oil painting.
A Girl With a Broom by Rembrandt, oil painting.

But it is the way that these strokes were applied that makes all the difference. Rembrandt didn’t let thoughts of anatomy override him, nor did he micromanage his strokes. He made a stroke abstractly–as if he were not painting forms at all. As a result, the viewer sees the paint articulating as much information as possible. Because of this, Rembrandt’s work is very subtle–each stroke does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of conveying information.

For example, a dab of reddish paint around a paler area indicates a knucklebone poking at the surface of the skin of the hand in A Girl With a Broom. It sounds simple, but the way Rembrandt applies the paint conveys the lax way the girl is holding her hand, with the muscles at rest, as well as the chapped texture of the skin that has been exposed to hard work.

To build up your ability to make each stroke count and learn how to paint as Rembrandt did, try painting a simple still life with a large brush and only black, white, and burnt sienna. Focus on communicating with each brushstroke, since you don’t have color to fall back on. It may be a frustrating exercise, but well worth it as you begin to recognize how to make your brush move in different ways and “say” more than one thing.

To enhance your art techniques and solidify your painting process like Rembrandt did all those years ago, you can shop the North Light Store and use the code NEWART to save 30% on your purchase. The resources at your fingertips cover the essentials of art-making and all kinds of subject matter, so I’m almost positive you’ll be able to find one that is in step with what you are working on in your own studio practice. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

9 thoughts on “No One Could Beat Rembrandt

  1. I really enjoy Courtney’s talent of conveying pictures though her words. It takes a gifted writer to get us to enjoy the things we can’t see. (Such as brush strokes) I can certainly feel Courtney’s passion for art in her columns. Thank you Courtney.

  2. I agree, Rembrandt is a key reference to learn how to paint, specially because the use of a very limited palette but a very deep study of tone.
    I have seen many of his paintings live in Europe and I could stay hours watching each of the amazing brushstrokes.

  3. Congratulations, brilliant article.
    But besides all that, what a wisdom in that atonal high contrast scheme, that he use, where white presides over everything from his throne.

  4. Congratulations, brilliant article.
    But besides all that, what a wisdom in that atonal high contrast scheme, that he use, where white presides over everything from his throne.

  5. Congratulations, brilliant article.
    But besides all that, what a wisdom in that atonal high contrast scheme, that he use, where white presides over everything from his throne.

  6. Very good article indeed. Thank you.

    I only wish to say in what is hopefully constructive critique that I believe we ought to be wary when assuming that an effect has been achieved with only a couple of brushstrokes, just because these are visible on the surface; many of Rembrandt’s paintings are very heavily laboured and show signs of extensive rubbing back, layering and re-working etc. Later painters such as Sargent are recorded to have rehearsed, applied, removed and repeated single strokes of the brush numerous times until achieving the effect they sought after. Whilst the final appearance may be that of an effortless genius of economy in handling, it is likely that this comes about only as the result of extensive tests and trials of labour, which themselves may not be driven by concern for economical efficiency as such, but rather what has been described by some as the labour of love; doing whatever necessary to achieve the desired result, in spite of mishaps and shortcomings.

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