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.
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!