Limited stroke exercise - peacock
Multimedia paper - oil paint
I use a limited stroke technique in workshops that helps loosen up participant's painting and reduces the concentration on creating detail. Its a common thread with many painters, this urge to create detail long before the painting is ready for it. Putting details in too soon usually means that you end up painting them over and over and over as shapes and colours are adjusted in the painting. This technique of course can be used with a brush but the end result should be similar and the key is using sufficient paint with either tool.
The limited stroke technique takes a little pre-planning before painting. First, I create a sketch of the subject and draw a map of the colour and/or value changes within the subject. The piece should look like a puzzle with abstract shapes within in. Next, using the palette knife that I will paint with, but no paint, I work out approximately how many strokes it will take to complete the sketch by placing the knife strokes as if I were painting and counting how many strokes will be needed for each colour/value. I make a note of the number of strokes that I think it will take to complete the piece.
Limited stroke exercise - pear
Multimedia paper - oil paint
A stroke is defined as one movement of the knife and cannot be lifted from the support. There is no going back to adjust, dab, or change. The aim of the exercise is to see how few strokes it will take to complete the piece. The key is to use lots of paint and manipulate the knife to eke out the stroke capability so that you can cover as much area as possible. Make a mark on the page or on another sheet with the paint colour or with a pencil for each stroke that you apply. Add the total number of strokes at the end of the painting to find out if you used more or less strokes than you anticipated. Test yourself with more versions of the same subject to see how few strokes you can use to create it.
The resulting painting will be abstract blocks of colour or value. This is not a painting for your wall, this is an exercise to help improve your ability to see shapes and colours or values. You should have a representation of the subject, but no detail. If you have detail, the purpose of the exercise has not be achieved and should be tried again. To ensure that it doesn't become "precious", I use sketchbook or multimedia paper and oil paint which I know are not the best carriers for the medium, with oil seeping out and staining the paper. But it is an exercise for learning, not for keeping or selling.
In this exercise using the peacock, I predicted I would complete it in 35 strokes, but managed it in 33.
In the pear, I predicted 27 strokes and painted it in 21.
Try the exercise yourself and see what you come up with. You'll be surprised at how it will make you really observe your subject, values and loosen up your painting ability.