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Following in the Footsteps of the Impressionists

Impressionists are painters of light

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Impressionists have been called the “painters of light.” Anyone who has stood in front of a Monet water lily painting knows what this means. The waving lines of color look loose and abstract up close, but when you step back, the whole painting comes into focus, and you see where each ripple in the water changes color, reflecting the light from the sky or the rich colors of the surrounding trees.

When I was a young artist of ten, first trying my hand at oils, my father repeatedly drew my attention to the haystacks that Monet painted. I was intrigued at how many different variations of light and color could be inspired by a simple stack of hay.

Meules by Claude Monet, 1890

Going to art museums as a child led me to decide (like many others) that impressionism was my favorite style of painting. It amazed me that a painter could take so many different colors that seemed to have nothing to do with each other and place them side by side with little brushstrokes, making a shadow glow with unexpected and vibrant color. 

I never saw any blacks or grays in an impressionist painting.

I began my own exploration of capturing light with paint and brush. Like most artists, I was drawn to the golden hours–early dawn and just before sundown.

Erin Hanson painting Cherry in Bloom, 2023

I became more familiar with other pioneers of impressionism, pointillism, and post-impressionism: Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Signac, and the Group of Seven.

The impression I got from all these artists is that each one tried to capture the light and color of ordinary landscapes and make them extraordinary. They all experimented with the same paints and mediums, but they each developed their own unique and fearless method of capturing light.

I loved the way van Gogh seemed to see right to the heart of a natural object, to see its colors pure and wild, and put them down on the canvas as he saw them, not how tradition dictated they should be painted.

I loved the way each impressionist seemed to be  fearless in his own right, breaking the rules and painting in his own style.

When I discovered the colorful red rock cliffs of Nevada and Utah, and I decided to become a landscape painter, I followed in the footsteps of the original impressionists and put down the colors as I interpreted them, not how they appeared in a photograph or how other artists had painted them before me.

I eventually developed my own method of painting in oils, Open Impressionism, in which, ironically, I paint the light at the very last.

Anyone who has watched me paint sees a lot of dark paint where the shadows and mid-tones are, skirting around whatever underpainting color I am using. It is hard to tell what the final shape of the painting will be until I finally place the light in the painting at the end. Since I work wet-on-wet in oil paints, I do not blend or layer my paints. I place my brushstrokes side by side, like placing pieces of a mosaic.

This “reverse engineering” method of painting in oils means I have to keep all the light of the painting in my head while I paint.

When the painting is completed, the brushstrokes are clean and pure, and the naturally thick and buttery texture of the oil paint is evident in the textured ridges left by the brushes.

My painting style is influenced by the Impressionists who came before me, and I am drawn to the same subject matter they painted: water lilies, sunflowers, trees, moving water, and cultivated lands.

Water Lilies by Erin Hanson, 2016

Impressionism has survived the past hundred and fifty years, influencing artists through every mode and vagary of popular art style. I hope to spearhead a revival of contemporary impressionism and inspire thousands of new artists to push the boundaries of what beauty can be created with simple oil, pigment, and brush.

Article by Erin Hanson


Erin Hanson ArtistERIN HANSON has been painting in oils since she was 8 years old. As a young artist, she worked at a mural studio creating 40-foot-tall paintings on canvas, while selling art commissions on the side. After getting a degree in Bioengineering from UC Berkeley, Erin became a rock climber at Red Rock Canyon, Nevada. Inspired by the colorful scenery she was climbing, she decided to paint one painting every week for the rest of her life. She has stuck to that decision ever since, becoming one of the most prolific artists in history. Erin Hanson's style is known as "Open Impressionism" and is now taught in art schools worldwide. With thousands of collectors eagerly anticipating her work and millions of followers online, Hanson has become an iconic, driving force in the rebirth of contemporary impressionism.

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