Expressive Gesture

30 Nov
Wilderness Welcome 72 1200 with logo

“Wilderness Welcome” watercolor by Katie Turner

I’ve had some great conversations with artists about whether or not they like their touch to show in their work.  What do I mean by “artist touch”?

When applying a medium to paper, it will take on a texture.  The way an artist builds the painting with paint strokes, softness, boldness, neatness or spontaneity – all of this works to establish the “artist touch”.

So, should an “artist touch” be visible in the artwork?

I’ve heard two schools of thought on this.  The first argument points out that the viewer’s focus ought to be on the image, not the paint quality.  This perspective views brushwork and gesture as distractions.  These artists want the viewer to have an immediate response to what is being said, not how it’s said.  To these artists, texture and technique should be secondary to the message and it would be even better if texture and technique are completely unnoticeable.

The second position suggests that brushwork and gesture are the artists signature.  These artists believe it’s important to see the artist hand in the work.  With this argument, how the artist says what they say is critical to the message.  The brushwork and gesture enhance the message, emphasizing the content of the painting.

Whatever you choose, to emphasize gesture and brushwork or not, you will definitely establish a texture of some sort and this touch gives an inner life to a piece of art.  Keep in mind that different textures stimulate our senses in different ways.  In the same way that no two people have the same handwriting, no two artists apply their paint in the same way.  I’ve illustrated a few types of texture below.  Although this is not a complete example of all the many hundreds of textures, you can see how each brush style has a different textural feeling.

texture samples

Experimenting with various brushwork and gesture in your art can be a key to discovering which you prefer – expressive gesture or hidden?   Have you thought about how much of the “artist hand” you prefer in your paintings?  Either way, it’s a fabulous tool to have in your creative toolbox.

Thanks for reading.  I’d love for you to share your thoughts.

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4 Responses to “Expressive Gesture”

  1. Jess T. November 30, 2019 at 8:31 pm #

    I could best relate this to personal experience with tattoos! Different artists have different styles, and some will switch up depending on what the customer prefers (others will only use their personal style). There are the traditional style tattoos with thick black lines or the “visible artist touch” that you talk about, and then there are cartoon style tattoos and even tattoos with NO visible outlines. I think obviously making artwork without any evidence of an artists’ touch is a very difficult thing to do. Personally, I like something in-between when it’s about tattoos. Art is art though, so I think whatever the artist prefers is best.

    • Katie Turner December 1, 2019 at 8:15 pm #

      Very good! Hadn’t thought of tattoos! Great example.

  2. Julie Gratien December 1, 2019 at 12:12 am #

    Why would you want to cover up what makes the artwork special? Having a visible artist’s touch is part of it being handmade.

    • Katie Turner December 1, 2019 at 8:17 pm #

      Great point! Edgar Whitney once said “when Rimsky-Korsakov composed “Flight of the Bumblebee,” he didn’t put a tape recorder in a hive.”

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