Mastering Expressive Brushwork: 5 Practical Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Explore brush types and their effects
  2. Practice varied brush strokes
  3. Use brushwork to convey texture
  4. Experiment with brush pressure
  5. Apply different paint consistencies

Painting is a world where the brush is your magic wand, and expressive brushwork in painting is the spell you cast to bring your canvas to life. It's like the rhythm in music, the flourish in calligraphy, the emotion in a dance. Mastering expressive brushwork can elevate your artwork from a mere depiction to a pulsating, living entity. Let's talk about five practical tips to hone this skill.

Explore Brush Types and Their Effects

Getting to know your brushes is akin to making new friends. Each one has a unique personality and opens up a world of possibilities on your canvas. Let's meet some of these game-changers in the realm of expressive brushwork in painting.

The Round Brush

Round brushes are like those versatile friends who can fit into any situation. They are great for detailed work as well as for creating thin and thick lines, depending on how you maneuver them. When you want to add a soft touch or a round dot to your painting, your round brush is your go-to buddy.

The Flat Brush

When it comes to creating broad strokes or crisp edges, the flat brush steps into the spotlight. It's like the bold friend who makes a statement. You can use it for blocking in paint, spreading it evenly, and even for creating a variety of strokes with just the corners.

The Fan Brush

And then we have the fan brush, the entertainer of the group. It's perfect for creating textures, smoothing out brush strokes, or adding a whimsical touch to your artwork. Imagine painting a forest with a variety of leafy trees or a serene sky with feathery clouds - the fan brush brings an element of fun and expressiveness to your work.

Even though these brushes are quite popular, remember, there's a whole universe of brushes waiting for you to discover. From angle brushes and mop brushes to dagger brushes and rigger brushes, your exploration will lead to an enriching journey in expressive brushwork in painting.

Practice Varied Brush Strokes

Art, like life, is all about variety. Mastering different types of strokes can add a new dimension to your painting, turning it into a visual symphony of expressive brushwork. Here's a look at some strokes you should definitely add to your repertoire.

Long, Continuous Strokes

Long, continuous strokes are like the lengthy monologues in a play. They can be the backbone of your composition, providing structure and flow. These strokes are ideal for painting long horizons, the graceful curve of a river, or the elongated trunk of a tree. Remember, the secret is to maintain an even pressure and create a smooth line without breaks.

Short, Broken Strokes

Then we have the short, broken strokes, the punctuations in your visual story. They add texture and depth to your work — imagine the rough surface of a stone or the lush coat of a furry animal. While painting, try using the tip of your brush, and don't forget to leave some gaps to mimic the texture effectively.


Scumbling is like the whispering undertones in a conversation. It involves brushing a thin, semi-opaque layer of paint over a dried layer to create a diffused effect. It's perfect for evoking a sense of mystery, creating a foggy landscape, or adding a soft glow to a sunset. The trick is to use a dry brush and very little paint.

As you can see, practicing varied brush strokes can truly infuse life into your expressive brushwork in painting. So, roll up your sleeves, grab your brushes, and let the strokes tell your story.

Use Brushwork to Convey Texture

What's the difference between a flat image and a painting that seems to leap off the canvas? Texture. In the realm of expressive brushwork in painting, using brushwork to create different textures is like adding spices to a dish — it can transform something good into something unforgettable. Let's talk about a few strategies you might find handy.


Impasto is a technique where paint is laid on the canvas in thick layers, creating a textured surface that can capture and reflect light in unique ways. Think of the way butter looks when spread thickly on bread — that's impasto. It's a fantastic way to add a three-dimensional feel to your painting, giving it depth and intensity.


Ever wanted to paint the fine strands of a feather or the rough bark of a tree? The drybrush technique is your friend. By applying a small amount of paint to a dry brush and then lightly dragging it across the canvas, you can create a fine, scratchy texture that's perfect for capturing intricate details. It's like sketching with your paintbrush!


Sometimes, texture is not about what you add, but what you take away. Sgraffito involves scratching or scraping away layers of wet paint to reveal the dry layer beneath. It's a bold, dramatic way of creating texture and can be used to create striking contrasts in your work.

Remember, texture is more than just a visual element in painting. It's a tactile quality that invites viewers to 'feel' your work with their eyes. So, go ahead, experiment with these techniques and let your brushwork make a tactile statement!

Experiment with Brush Pressure

Ever noticed how the volume of a song can affect your mood? Brush pressure operates on a similar principle. The amount of pressure you apply to your brush while painting can dramatically alter the mood, tone, and overall impact of your artwork. Here are a few ways to play with brush pressure in your expressive brushwork in painting:

Subtlety is Key

Light brush pressure can be compared to a whisper — it's soft, delicate, and can convey a sense of calm or quiet. Using light pressure allows only a small amount of paint to be applied to the canvas, resulting in a thin and often semi-transparent stroke. It's ideal for suggesting the illusion of distance or creating a soft atmospheric effect.

Make a Statement

On the other hand, heavy brush pressure is like a shout — it's bold and direct. This technique allows more paint to be applied to the canvas, resulting in a thicker, more opaque stroke. You can use this to your advantage when you want to create a strong focal point or draw attention to specific elements in your painting.

Pressure and Texture

Did you know that altering brush pressure can also affect texture? Light pressure can produce a smooth finish, while heavy pressure can create a more textured, rough effect. Experiment with different pressure levels to create a variety of textures in your painting.

Ultimately, the key to mastering brush pressure lies in practice and experimentation. So, grab your brushes and start exploring the range of emotions you can evoke with just a change in pressure. Happy painting!

Apply Different Paint Consistencies

Just like adding spices to a dish, introducing different paint consistencies can really spice up your artwork. The thickness or thinness of your paint can make a world of difference in the final product. Let's look at how you can use this to your advantage in expressive brushwork in painting.

Thin Paints for a Dreamy Effect

Thinner paints have a fluid consistency and can spread easily across the canvas. They're perfect for creating dreamy, watercolor-like effects. Thin paints can also be used to layer colors, giving your painting a sense of depth and complexity.

Thick Paints for Bold Statements

Thick paints, on the other hand, make a bold statement. They can stand out on the canvas, creating texture and dimension. Thick paints are perfect when you want to create impasto effects, where the brush or knife strokes are visible on the painting.

Mix it Up

Who says you have to stick to one consistency? Mix thin and thick paints in your artwork to create interesting contrasts and keep the viewer engaged. For example, you could use thick paint for the foreground of your piece, and thin paint for the background, creating an interesting play of depth and perspective.

Remember, there's no right or wrong when it comes to paint consistency — it's all about what works for you and your artistic vision. So, don't be afraid to experiment and have fun with it!

If you enjoyed learning about expressive brushwork and are eager to further develop your artistic skills, don't miss the workshop 'Expressing Your Unique Artistic Vision' by Michael Ryan. This workshop will guide you through techniques for bringing your creative vision to life and enhancing your personal artistic style.