Last updated
Still Life: Vase with Pink Roses is an oil painting by Van Gogh in 1890 which makes extensive use of the impasto technique. Roses - Vincent van Gogh.JPG
Still Life: Vase with Pink Roses is an oil painting by Van Gogh in 1890 which makes extensive use of the impasto technique.

Impasto is a technique used in painting, where paint is laid on an area of the surface in very thick layers, [1] usually thick enough that the brush or painting-knife strokes are visible. Paint can also be mixed right on the canvas. When dry, impasto provides texture; the paint appears to be coming out of the canvas.



The word impasto is Italian in origin; in which it means "dough" or "mixture"; related to the verb impastare , "to knead", or "to paste". Italian usage of impasto includes both a painting and a potting technique. According to Webster's New World College Dictionary, the root noun of impasto is pasta, whose primary meaning in Italian is "paste". [2]


Oil paint is the traditional medium for impasto painting, due to its thick consistency and slow drying time. Acrylic paint can also be used for impasto by adding heavy body acrylic gels. Impasto is generally not seen done in watercolor or tempera without the addition of thickening agent due to the inherent thinness of these media. An artist working in pastels can produce a limited impasto effect by pressing a soft pastel firmly against the paper.


The impasto technique serves several purposes. First, it makes the light reflect in a particular way, giving the artist additional control over the play of light in the painting. Second, it can add expressiveness to the painting, with the viewer being able to notice the strength and speed by which the artist applied the paint. Third, impasto can push a piece from a painting to a three-dimensional sculptural rendering. The first objective was originally sought by masters such as Rembrandt, Titian, and Vermeer, to represent folds in clothes or jewels: it was then juxtaposed with a more delicate painting style. Much later, the French Impressionists created pieces covering entire canvases with rich impasto textures. Vincent van Gogh used it frequently for aesthetics and expression. Abstract expressionists such as Hans Hofmann and Willem de Kooning also made extensive use of it, motivated in part by a desire to create paintings which dramatically record the action of painting itself. Still more recently, Frank Auerbach has used such heavy impasto that some of his paintings become nearly three-dimensional.

Impasto gives texture to the painting, meaning it can be opposed to more flat, smooth, or blended painting styles.


Many artists have used the impasto technique. Some of the more notable ones including: Rembrandt van Rijn, Diego Velázquez, Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning.

Selected examples of paintings which make use of the impasto technique
Crags and Crevices by Jane Frank (1960). As with many abstract expressionist works (and many so-called "action paintings" as well), impasto is a prominent feature. Jane Frank Crags And Crevices.jpg
Crags and Crevices by Jane Frank (1960). As with many abstract expressionist works (and many so-called "action paintings" as well), impasto is a prominent feature.
Taos Mountain, Trail Home by Cordelia Wilson (1920). A landscape entirely executed with a bold impasto technique. Cordelia Wilson - Taos Mountain Trail Home.jpg
Taos Mountain, Trail Home by Cordelia Wilson (1920). A landscape entirely executed with a bold impasto technique.
Starry Night by van Gogh (1889). The impasto technique and line structure gives his viewers the feeling that the sky is moving. Van Gogh - Starry Night - Google Art Project-x0-y0.jpg
Starry Night by van Gogh (1889). The impasto technique and line structure gives his viewers the feeling that the sky is moving.
Self Portrait by Rembrandt (1660). His use of impasto was surely inspired by Titian, and the addition of impasto showed a new method of illusion in the artist's work. Rembrandt - Self-portrait, 1660.JPG
Self Portrait by Rembrandt (1660). His use of impasto was surely inspired by Titian, and the addition of impasto showed a new method of illusion in the artist's work.

See also

Related Research Articles

Acrylic paint Water resistant paint type

Acrylic paint is a fast-drying paint made of pigment suspended in acrylic polymer emulsion and plasticizers, silicon oils, defoamers, stabilizers, or metal soaps. Most acrylic paints are water-based, but become water-resistant when dry. Depending on how much the paint is diluted with water, or modified with acrylic gels, mediums, or pastes, the finished acrylic painting can resemble a watercolor, a gouache, or an oil painting, or have its own unique characteristics not attainable with other media.

Oil painting Process of painting with pigments that are bound with a medium of drying oil

Oil painting is the process of painting with pigments with a medium of drying oil as the binder. Commonly used drying oils include linseed oil, poppy seed oil, walnut oil, and safflower oil. The choice of oil imparts a range of properties to the oil paint, such as the amount of yellowing or drying time. The paint could be thinned with Turpentine. Certain differences, depending on the oil, are also visible in the sheen of the paints. An artist might use several different oils in the same painting depending on specific pigments and effects desired. The paints themselves also develop a particular consistency depending on the medium. The oil may be boiled with a resin, such as pine resin or frankincense, to create a varnish prized for its body and gloss. The paint itself can be molded into different textures from the plasticity that it contains. Before oil painting was fully discovered egg tempera was commonly used. Tempera did not have the flexibility in pigment that oil paints provided.


Painterliness is a concept based on German: malerisch ('painterly'), a word popularized by Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin (1864–1945) to help focus, enrich and standardize the terms being used by art historians of his time to characterize works of art.


Scagliola is a type of fine plaster used in architecture and sculpture. The same term identifies the technique for producing columns, sculptures, and other architectural elements that resemble inlays in marble. The scagliola technique came into fashion in 17th-century Tuscany as an effective substitute for costly marble inlays, the pietra dura works created for the Medici family in Florence. The use of scagliola declined in the 20th century.

In art, an underpainting is an initial layer of paint applied to a ground, which serves as a base for subsequent layers of paint. Underpaintings are often monochromatic and help to define color values for later painting. There are several different types of underpainting, such as veneda, verdaccio, morellone and grisaille.


Sgraffito is a technique either of wall decor, produced by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colours to a moistened surface, or in pottery, by applying to an unfired ceramic body two successive layers of contrasting slip or glaze, and then in either case scratching so as to reveal parts of the underlying layer. The Italian past participle "sgraffiato" is also used, especially of pottery.


Fresco-secco is a wall painting technique where pigments mixed with an organic binder and/or lime are applied onto a dry plaster. The paints used can e.g. be casein paint, tempera, oil paint, silicate mineral paint. If the pigments are mixed with lime water or lime milk and applied to a dry plaster the technique is called lime secco painting. The secco technique contrasts with the fresco technique, where the painting is executed on a layer of wet plaster.


Roughcast or pebbledash is a coarse plaster surface used on outside walls that consists of lime and sometimes cement mixed with sand, small gravel and often pebbles or shells. The materials are mixed into a slurry and are then thrown at the working surface with a trowel or scoop. The idea is to maintain an even spread, free from lumps, ridges or runs and without missing any background. Roughcasting incorporates the stones in the mix, whereas pebbledashing adds them on top.

Sinopia Dark reddish-brown natural earth pigment

Sinopia is a dark reddish-brown natural earth pigment, whose reddish colour comes from hematite, a dehydrated form of iron oxide. It was widely used in Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages for painting, and during the Renaissance it was often used on the rough initial layer of plaster for the underdrawing for a fresco. The word came to be used both for the pigment and for the preparatory drawing itself, which may be revealed when a fresco is stripped from its wall for transfer.

Putlog hole

Putlog holes or putlock holes are small holes made in the walls of structures to receive the ends of poles or beams, called putlogs or putlocks, to support a scaffolding. Putlog holes may extend through a wall to provide staging on both sides of the wall.

A glaze is a thin transparent or semi-transparent layer on a painting which modifies the appearance of the underlying paint layer. Glazes can change the chroma, value, hue and texture of a surface. Glazes consist of a great amount of binding medium in relation to a very small amount of pigment. Drying time will depend on the amount and type of paint medium used in the glaze. The medium, base, or vehicle is the mixture to which the dry pigment is added. Different media can increase or decrease the rate at which oil paints dry.

Béton brut Raw (unfinished) concrete

Béton brut is a French term that translates in English to “raw concrete”. The term is used to describe concrete that is left unfinished after being cast, displaying the patterns and seams imprinted on it by the formwork. Béton brut is not a material itself, but rather an architectural expression of concrete.


Underdrawing is a preparatory drawing done on a painting ground before paint is applied, for example, an imprimatura or an underpainting. Underdrawing was used extensively by 15th century painters like Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. These artists "underdrew" with a brush, using hatching strokes for shading, using water-based black paint, before underpainting and overpainting with oils. Cennino D'Andrea Cennini describes a different type of underdrawing, made with graded tones rather than hatching, for egg tempera.

Distemper (paint)

Distemper is a decorative paint and a historical medium for painting pictures, and contrasted with tempera. The binder may be glues of vegetable or animal origin. Soft distemper is not abrasion resistant and may include binders such as chalk, ground pigments, and animal glue. Hard distemper is stronger and wear-resistant and can include casein or linseed oil as binders.

Mortar joint

In masonry, mortar joints are the spaces between bricks, concrete blocks, or glass blocks, that are filled with mortar or grout. If the surface of the masonry remains unplastered, the joints contribute significantly to the appearance of the masonry. Mortar joints can be made in a series of different fashions, but the most common ones are raked, grapevine, extruded, concave, V, struck, flush, weathered and beaded.

Hornemann Institute

The Hornemann Institute - Centre of the Preservation of World Cultural Heritage was founded in December 1998 and registered as official project for the German world exhibition EXPO 2000 "World Cultural Heritage - A Global Challenge". Since 2003 the Hornemann Institute is state-funded institute of the University of Applied Sciences und Arts Hildesheim/Holzminden/Göttingen (HAWK). The institute's primary field of activity focuses on worldwide knowledge transfer and further education in the field of conservation and restoration with new media.

The detachment of wall paintings involves the removal of a wall painting from the structure of which it formed part. Once a common practice, with the move towards preservation in situ, detachment is now largely restricted to cases where the only alternative is total loss. According to the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), "detachment and transfer are dangerous, drastic and irreversible operations that severely affect the physical composition, material structure and aesthetic characteristics of wall paintings. These operations are, therefore, only justifiable in extreme cases when all options of in situ treatment are not viable."

Royal Talens

Royal Talens is a Dutch company located in Apeldoorn that specializes in art materials. The company produces and markets its own products, apart of commercializing other licensed brands such as Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Bruynzeel. Products commercialised include acrylic paints, oil paints, watercolor paintings, brushes, markers, inks, pastels, pencils, pens, gouache, canvas, papers.

<i>Imperial Fritillaries in a Copper Vase</i>

Imperial Fritillaries in a Copper Vase is an oil painting on canvas created by the post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh in Paris, 1887. The painting is now part of the collection of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France. This work was made at a time of the life of Van Gogh when he first encountered influences from Impressionists and became aware of light and color, implementing it in his paintings. This painting presages some of his most famous subsequent works, and stands out from other still lifes because of the implementation of mixed techniques and complementary colors.

Erin Hanson is an Oregon-based artist, considered to be the originator of painting style called "Open Impressionism." Her landscape paintings have been shown internationally and at solo and group exhibitions and museums worldwide.


  1. Impasto. In: Weyer, Angela; Roig Picazo, Pilar; Pop, Daniel; Cassar, JoAnn; Özköse, Aysun; Jean-Marc, Vallet; Srša, Ivan (Ed.) (2015). Weyer, Angela; Roig Picazo, Pilar; Pop, Daniel; Cassar, JoAnn; Özköse, Aysun; Vallet, Jean-Marc; Srša, Ivan (eds.). EwaGlos. European Illustrated Glossary Of Conservation Terms For Wall Paintings And Architectural Surfaces. English Definitions with translations into Bulgarian, Croatian, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish and Turkish. Petersberg: Michael Imhof. p. 100. doi:10.5165/hawk-hhg/233.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. Webster's New World dictionary of the American language. Guralnik, David B. (David Bernard), 1920-2000. (New rev., expanded pocket-size ed.). New York, N.Y.: Warner Books. 1982. ISBN   0446311928. OCLC   10638582.CS1 maint: others (link)
  3. Naifeh, Steven, 1952- (2011). Van Gogh : the life. Smith, Gregory White. (1st ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN   9781588360472. OCLC   763401387.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. Walter Liedtke, Carolyn Logan, Nadine M. Orenstein, Stephanie S. Dickey, “Rubens and Rembrandt: A Comparison of Their Techniques,” Rembrandt/not Rembrandt in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995.