As a painter, it’s natural to want to experiment with different mediums, styles, and techniques. These are just some of the ways to challenge yourself, hone your craft, and discover more about yourself as an artist.
But there’s one technique that a lot of painters love but shy away from:
Impasto painting is characterized by its thick layers and textural details. It is available in every style, from the modern art of Jackson Pollock to the Baroque art of Rembrandt to the Impressionist works of Claude Monet.
Yet many young painters avoid it based on the notion that it takes a long time to dry and can be quite expensive.
But you know what, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to make impasto painting more affordable (and dry faster than you may think).
History of Impasto Painting
In Italian, the word “impasto” means dough. And it’s that thick, dough-like texture that characterizes the impasto painting technique.
In impasto painting, artists apply thick layers of paint to their canvases to produce a heavy texture that makes brush strokes and knife strokes more visible.
The impasto technique is primarily used in oil paintings but can also be created in acrylic paintings when artists use heavy body acrylic paint gels. Impasto is rarely done with watercolors, though artists can create a limited impasto effect by pressing soft pastels into watercolor papers.
The impasto technique is widely credited to the 16th-century painter Titian, though it rose in popularity throughout the 17th century in Baroque artists like Rembrandt and Velazquez. The technique is unique in that it adds three-dimensional texture to canvases while also changing the way light reflects in a painting.
Artists of varying styles and periods used (and still use) the technique, including Vincent Van Gogh. His Starry Night and Still Life: Vase with Pink Roses are some of the most well-known examples of impasto painting.
Want to see impasto up close? Check out Starry Night in 3D.
Applying Paint Straight From the Tube Can Be Costly
Depending on how three-dimensional you want your work to be, impasto painting can be expensive, primarily if you apply the paint right out of the tube. Whether you use oil paint or acrylic paint, the cost of materials can add up quickly if you use paint alone to achieve an impasto effect.
You can create an impasto painting in several ways, such as painting with thick brushstrokes or adding paint to your canvas with a palette knife. Both are effective ways to apply thick paint, and many artists believe that the best way to achieve a 3D texture is to use thick layers of paint on top of one another.
But using paint alone can cause you to run through paint tubes rather quickly. You can use alternatives to create a textured impasto painting without spending a small fortune on paint.
Add Mediums to Stretch Your Paint Further
Rather than using only paint, there are various mediums that artists can apply to their canvases to create an impasto effect.
Here are five popular mediums that are quite effective in creating an impasto painting while keeping your supply costs to a minimum.
Gel mediums are an excellent option for artists who work in acrylics. Heavy body acrylic paint gels have a texture and consistency similar to paste.
When mixed with paint, it thickens the paint and makes it easier to achieve richer, thicker textures within your brushstrokes.
Impasto mediums, which are often made from silica, bentonite, and ground calcite, are ideal for thickening oil paints.
One of the best benefits of using an impasto medium is that it dries evenly without cracking or wrinkling. It does not waste paint yet still produces the desired pigment.
Oleopasto medium is another oil paint option designed to speed up drying time and add extra body to your paint. It does not shrink or collapse as it dries, and it allows you to build body without wasting pigment.
It’s very similar to the traditional impasto medium, but it dries matte, whereas impasto medium tends to dry with a bit of a glossy finish.
Glass beads are exactly what they sound like — a medium composed of tiny glass spheres that can thicken both oil and acrylic paints.
You can also thicken and build up the body of acrylic paints with white flakes. As the name suggests, they are rough and flaky in texture.
Flake mediums allow you to stretch your paint further and use less paint directly from the tube, yet still achieve a rich, heavy impasto texture on your canvas.
5 Products to Make Impasto Painting More Affordable
While there are dozens of different impasto mediums on the market, some stand out above the rest. Here are some of our favorite mediums for conserving paint while still creating a textured impasto effect:
Winsor & Newton Liquin Impasto
Winsor & Newton Liquin Impasto is ideal for use with oil and alkyd colors. This medium is quick-drying with a semi-gloss finish. It’s perfect for creating crisp textures and prominent brush strokes and is a great way to stretch your paint further and make it dry faster.
Winsor & Newton Artisan Impasto
Winsor & Newton Artisan Impasto is quick-drying and quite stiff. This medium allows you to build texture upon texture without waiting days for your paint to dry. It’s ideal for creating heavy 3D textures. Just apply one layer, let it dry, and then apply another layer on top.
Winsor & Newton Liquin Oleopasto
Winsor & Newton Liquin Oleopasto dries fast, does not crack, and does not yellow over time. It’s a stiff translucent gel compatible with oil and alkyd colors. It’s perfect for artists who want their paintings to have a matte finish.
Liquitex Glass Bead Gel
Use Liquitex Glass Bead Gel alone or mix it with other mediums to create various different effects. It’s designed for use with acrylics and can be thinned with water to create different textures. Even when mixed with water, it becomes water-resistant when it dries.
Liquitex White Opaque Flakes
You can thin Liquitex White Opaque Flakes with water straight out of the jar or mix it with other mediums. These opaque flakes are ideal for use in impasto painting and other textural techniques. Mix these flakes with acrylic colors to stretch your paint further, build dimension on your canvas, and add depth to your paintings.
Add Modeling Paste
For artists who prefer not to thicken their paint with mediums, there is another option altogether:
Building up the depth and textures on your canvas before you apply any paint at all.
Modeling paste, also referred to as molding paste, can be applied to just about any surface, including canvas. It’s thick and heavy and dries to a solid, hard texture — perfect for building dimension on a surface before you ever brush on a dab of paint.
Modeling paste is an acrylic medium in an opaque white hue that dries to a solid finish. It comes in light and hard versions, with the light option being a bit more flexible. You can apply it freehand, apply it over stencils to create specific shapes and designs, or glob it on your canvas and pull at it to get your desired texture.
Keep in mind that, because it’s white, it will lighten the color of the paint you apply on top. Once you apply your modeling paste to your surface, you can continue building upon it by adding more or by adding additional layers of paint.
You can mix modeling paste with paint to thicken and stretch your paint further or let it dry completely and paint over top of it. Both ways work and produce different effects.
If you’ve never used modeling paste before, Liquitex Light Modeling Paste is an excellent option to start with. It’s lightweight and a breeze to use, making it perfect for both beginners and fine art professionals.
Give Your Paint Some Time to Thicken
Many artists struggle with impasto painting in oil paint because of the thin consistency of the paint. It’s much easier to achieve an impasto texture if your paint is thicker to begin with.
If you don’t have any impasto medium on hand to thicken your paint, there are other ways to do so.
One option is to brush on a lot of paint at one time. Though the outer layer will dry faster than the inner layers, it can cause cracking or wrinkling.
Another option is to let your paint sit and thicken before applying it to your canvas. Add paint to your palette and let it sit for a day or so. The thicker the paint, the less you’ll need to use and the more texture you’ll be able to achieve.
By allowing your paint to sit untouched on your palette for a day or two, some of the oil content will naturally lift from your paint. This creates a consistency similar to putty, which is the ideal thickness for creating an impasto painting.
Speed Up Impasto Drying Time
Another reason artists shy away from impasto painting is its notably slow drying time.
The thicker your paint layers, the longer they will take to dry, which can be frustrating for many artists. But there are a few products you can buy to speed up drying time, even if you paint in thick, dense layers.
Holbein Duo Aqua Oil Quick Drying Medium speeds up drying time considerably. When mixed in equal parts with DUO Aqua Oil Color, it can make your work tacky substrate surface dry within about thirty minutes.
Over time, this medium can turn a bit cloudy, but it’s an excellent way to speed up impasto drying that would otherwise take days.
Gamblin’s Galkyd Gel is a quick-drying medium that helps to thicken paint for impasto work and also allows it to dry faster. It also has a thicker texture than some other gel mediums, making it an excellent option for artists who like to create sharp, thick brushstrokes.
Keep in mind that the temperature and conditions of where you paint can also affect drying times. Paint dries slower in humid conditions, so it’s always best to let your paintings dry in a dry room where the heat is high, but the humidity is low.
Oil paints are slow to dry, so your studio’s weather conditions become even more critical when creating impasto paintings with oils.
Impasto works well in impressionism, contemporary art, and abstract art and in the case of Rembrandt, even more realistic painting. It is a unique technique that many artists choose to add expressionism, depth, and texture to their work. But because it requires you to apply paint in thick layers, many artists don’t like how much paint it takes and how long it takes to dry.
If you’re looking to test your hand with impasto painting, you can save on the cost of supplies by merely painting on a smaller surface.
If you’re most concerned about drying time, there are products you can add to your paint to help them dry faster.
And if you wish to save money and time, there are various mediums you can use to thicken your paint, stretch your paint further, and help speed up drying.