The Ultimate How to Do Impasto Painting Guide: Tips, Tricks and Tutorial

Impasto painting, also known as “heavy paint” or “drip painting,” is a technique where thickly applied paint is used to create texture and depth in the artwork. It was popularized by Italian artists of the Renaissance era who would apply drips of wet plaster onto their paintings, which created an effect that has been highly praised for centuries.

Nowadays it’s mostly done with oil paints on canvas but you can find other variations. If you are interested in learning how to do impasto oil painting, then this article will teach you the basics of how to paint impasto art! We’ll cover everything from materials and setup to tips for mastering the technique.

After reading this article, you will be ready to create your own beautiful paintings with an authentic impasto effect!

What Is Impasto Painting?

Impasto is a painting technique used to make an object appear raised from the surface of the canvas. Impasto can be applied with palette knives, rags, and brushes – for this reason, it’s often referred as “texture” or “textural”. That said, impasto should not be confused with texture: while both techniques are used to create texture, impasto is not the same as applying a textural layer over an artwork after it’s finished.

Impasto painting creates depth and volume by adding thick layers of paint on top of each other in just spots. The effect is very pronounced when you look at this type of art from far away or under dim light. The paint often makes visible brushstrokes that trick the eye into seeing a three-dimensional surface instead of flat, painted color.

Impasto is commonly used in oil painting and can be applied to other mediums like acrylic, watercolor, or gouache with excellent results as well.

History of Impasto Painting

Impasto is not a scene-specific artistic technique. You can find it in cave paintings, sculptures of ancient Greece and Rome, religious mosaics from the Byzantine Empire, medieval altars, and many other artworks throughout history.

It’s believed that impasto was first used by Giotto di Bondone during his work on Scrovegni Chapel in Padua (Italy) in the early 14th century. So, this painting technique is definitely not new nor it’s exclusive to modern artworks!

Impasto became more popular during the Renaissance when artists like Michelangelo started using impasto for their sculptures and paintings. It was used by painters like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Jackson Pollock, too.

Today impasto is not as widely used as it was in the past but you can still see this technique applied to many modern paintings, particularly abstract ones. It’s also really popular among street artists who use the impasto painting method to create stunning murals on walls around the world.

What Kind of Paint Do You Use for Impasto?

Impasto can be made using oil, acrylic, or watercolor paint – but oils are the most popular for this technique.

If you want to create impasto with oil paint, choose a heavy-bodied one like linseed (there are also synthetic varieties of heavy-body oil paints that work well). You will need fewer coats compared to using light-bodied oil since heavy-bodied oils are thicker.

If you want to use acrylics or watercolor, pick up an artist’s quality paint that is labeled as “heavy” but make sure it doesn’t have any additives (like matte medium) in the mix because those will mess with your impasto technique! You can use both water-based and oil paints to create impasto – but remember that you will need a lot of layers.

In any case, make sure your paint is semi-transparent because it’s better for layering colors on top of each other rather than mixing them together. If you’re using oils and acrylics (or acrylic and watercolor) make sure to use a medium for your paint – this can help you achieve the best results.

In general, it’s better to avoid using very thick paints (like poster colors or acrylics with matte medium added). You might need them if you want to create impasto on top of an under-paint that uses heavy-bodied paint – but be very careful with it because too much load can make your impasto crack.

If you’re using oils, remember that they will take a lot of time to dry (and sometimes you’ll need to wait even longer for oil paints). This means that if you want to use them for impasto paintings then choose a place with low humidity and avoid exposing your work to the sun.

Read more about the best oil paint and acrylics in our detailed reviews.

What to Paint in Impasto Painting Technique?

Impasto is particularly well-suited to create depth and volume in abstract paintings. It’s also great for adding texture to landscapes, portraits or animal artworks because it makes even simple shapes look more dynamic.

There are no hard rules about what you should paint with impasto – do whatever feels right! However, there are some painting subjects that are better for impasto than others – you can choose to create a certain effect rather than using impasto as the main painting style.

Impasto Landscape Painting

If you want your landscape painting to look like it’s been created by adding paint on top of an under-painting then try applying some textures and layering colors from light to dark.

Abstract Impasto Painting

In abstract painting, impasto can make even a simple geometric shape look more interesting and eye-catching – but you should avoid creating a shiny surface with your impasto in an abstract artwork because it’s going to ruin the effect.
Use matte or natural colors that will create depth within your work without making it look shiny and weightless. Apply colors from dark to light and add some textures on top of it! This will create a surprising effect because most people are used to seeing impasto paint applied only one way.

Impasto Portraits

You can apply the impasto painting technique to your portraits if you want them to look more realistic. It’s especially great for adding volume and shadow on the face – but remember that it will take a lot of time! If you’re using oil paints then give yourself enough time to work on this type of artwork.

There’s also a special type of impasto painting that you might want to try – it’s called “reverse impasto” or sometimes simply as “top-down impasto”. It means exactly what the name says: instead of adding paint from top to bottom (like most artists do), you’re going to add paint from the bottom of your canvas.

How to Do Impasto Painting?

When doing impasto painting with oil colors or acrylics there are several important things you need to keep in mind during the process of your work. First of all, impasto painting shall be done fast and without any hesitations. Therefore you may need to practice some techniques first before starting the actual work of art.

What You Need for Impasto Painting

  1. Paintbrushes. If you do not have any experience in this kind of art, it is recommended to use brushes with long handles because they give more freedom when moving around the canvas. You may also want to buy several sets of different sizes. Don’t forget to take care of your brushes after each step!
  2. Paints. For impasto oil painting you will need oil paints that you can load from tubes. You may prefer to use a palette knife instead of one or two brushes of different sizes. For impasto painting with acrylics, you will need acrylic paints and using a brush shall be inevitable as they don’t come in tubes.
  3. A palette for mixing paints.
  4. A piece of canvas (preferably stretched on a wooden frame).
  5. An old towel and several rags to clean brushes during the process of painting.
  6. Two or three clean containers to keep solvent and paint during the process of painting.
  7. Also, you may want to buy an easel if you do not have one already. It will help you hold the painting in place when you are working on it. Here is our guide to help you choose the best one.
  8. To create impasto painting with oil colors, an additional thing is needed – turpentine or linseed oil for thinning paint and cleaning your brush in between strokes of the painting process.
  9. Last but not least, the most important tool to use when doing impasto painting is – time. Remember to keep your working place clean and tidy because the messier it is, the more difficult it will be for you to paint properly.

How to Apply the Paint

There are several basic rules to remember when doing impasto painting for beginners.

  • First of all, the paint should be applied thickly and in heavy layers.
  • Be sure to load enough paint onto your brush before starting each stroke so that it does not leave any marks on the surface of the canvas after you remove it from the palette.
  • It is also important not to use long strokes as it can easily lead to a mess. Wipe off your brush on the sides of the container each time you want to change direction or alter the pressure when applying paint; this way you will be able to keep control over what’s happening and make sure that there are no streaks left behind.
  • Do not be afraid to work in a messy manner; this is exactly what impasto painting is about – the lack of perfection and disorganized application. If you do everything properly, it will look like an abstract pattern instead of something real.
  • If you want to add shadows or highlights, mix some paint with solvent (turpentine or linseed oil) so that it becomes thinner. This way you can create different textures and make the surface of your canvas shine to achieve a certain effect.
  • When doing impasto painting with acrylic colors, use paint straight out of its container because there is no need for thinning. However, remember to clean the brush after each time you apply paint to it because acrylics dry quite quickly and can easily stick to the bristles.
  • Keep in mind that impasto painting is a free style of art, which means that you do not need any specific color palette or set of brushes – let your imagination run wild!
The most important thing when doing impasto paint jobs is time. It is important to work slowly and patiently, otherwise, you will make mistakes that are difficult (or impossible) to correct.

How to Paint Flowers – Impasto Painting Tutorial

1. Put down a bright base color.

2. Add some darker colors for the shadowed areas of each flower petal and leaf.

3. Start painting with impasto brushes for bold textures that can be felt rather than seen.

4. Paint the lighter areas of each petal or leaf first, so you have something to build off from when adding shadows in darker colors along the edges and in the creases.

5. Work each area to build up layers, allowing drying time between coats for a vibrant impasto paint job that won’t turn out flat.

6. Paint with thicker lines where you want your shadows to be more prominent and thinner lines along the areas where the light will hit it directly, such as at the tips of each petal and leaf.

7. Work with your brush more to add finer details, such as some very thin lines for the edges or veins in a leaf’s surface. Or you can switch over to smaller brushes and use dark browns and blacks for shadows underneath flower heads like roses, marigolds, and sunflowers that are bigger and more prominent.

8. Add some texture here and there with the side of your brush to vary up how it looks, like on flower petals or leaves that are slightly shaded in darker colors.

9. Finish off by adding a matte varnish over everything if you want to protect it from wear and tear as well as dust and dirt.
10. Wait for the paint to dry completely before varnishing, which can take a few hours or even overnight depending on how much you’re using.

Impasto Painting Tips and Tricks

  • Always start with a sketch or an underpainting, this will serve as your guide while applying the oil paints.
  • When you are done with the underpainting (the stage where you create initial colors and shape), leave it to dry completely.
  • Work in sections, meaning that you should always focus on one area at a time.
  • Use a palette knife for impasto painting, this is by far the best tool when it comes to achieving texture and volume.
  • When applying paint with your brush don’t be afraid of adding too much because you can always remove some extra layers. This way you will achieve depth even if you are a beginner.
  • When painting rocks and tree trunks use short brush strokes that follow the contours of the object you are painting.
  • If necessary use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process.
  • When applying impasto to figures make sure your brush is loaded with paint and apply it thickly over areas like hands, arms, face, etc. Use long strokes for legs or torso.
  • To suggest volume in a particular area use short quick strokes following one another (this is the most common impasto trick).
  • For smooth surfaces like skin, apply several thin layers of paint instead of one thick layer.
  • When painting dark objects (a face or a figure for example), make sure you leave some unpainted areas to achieve depth. This way your colors won’t blend together and lose their brightness.
  • If possible avoid applying impasto over shadows and other painted areas that are already dry because the effect might be ruined.

Final Words

The benefits of impasto painting are numerous – but one is certainly the fact that this technique helps artists to create a three-dimensional effect. It allows artists to play with light and shadow on their artwork.
This type of effect is very dramatic but also incredibly eye-catching, so many modern painters use impasto because it can help them create a more interesting piece of art.

1 thought on “The Ultimate How to Do Impasto Painting Guide: Tips, Tricks and Tutorial”

  1. Hi Wayne,

    Thank you for your instructions on impasto.
    I was wandering if you have any idea how to make large paintings, lets say 200 x 300 meters.

    I saw some artists doing those huge thick paintings but have no idea how the thick material has been made.
    For example, Anselm Kiefer or Michael Barcelo.

    Hope you can help me further,

    Friendly regards,


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