How to paint like William Turner

Written by tracey chandler Google
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How to paint like William Turner
Painting like Turner can be a real challenge. (Public domain)

Joseph Mallord William Turner, sometimes referred to as JMW Turner or William Turner (1775 to 1851), was a British born romantic painter, with a tendency towards both oil and watercolour paintings. Many of his paintings focus on the immense power of nature by contrasting it directly with the meek and small stature of man. His works depict the violent nature of stormy seas and ruthless winds. As was the way with most of the romantic painters across Europe, Turner was more interested in capturing the emotions he felt in his painting than fixate in achieving a perfect replica of every single detail of real life on canvas.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Oil paints and watercolours
  • Paint brushes of varying widths
  • White spirit
  • 4 jars
  • Old rags
  • High density paper
  • Large photocopies of William Turner’s works
  • Photos of landscapes you are interested in painting
  • Water

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    Capturing style is not about copying

  1. 1

    Set-up your painting area before you begin to paint. Have everything you need to hand so that you don’t have to stop yourself to go and get something when in the middle of an amazing, creative moment. Make sure you are seated comfortably and that your painting surface is slightly angled. Painting on a flat surface can affect your ability to paint perspective effectively.

  2. 2

    Choose a real life landscape or a photograph which places nature in the limelight. Human figures appear in Turner’s work, but they are secondary to the powerful presence of nature. Scenes which depict huge expanses of water, or dominating skies, are perfect for a Turner-inspired painting.

  3. 3

    Paint with emotion. Turner was a romantic painter, which means that he respected the colours that he saw in real life, but only to a certain extent. Unlike the post-impressionists (such as Vincent Van Gogh), Turner didn’t stray too far away from reality when selecting colour for his works, but he did recognise the importance of using colour to evoke emotion rather than to replicate reality. Try adding hint of orange to your ferocious waves if it helps to fire up their violent and dominant nature.

  4. 4

    Don’t paint every single detail. Suggest the outline of a figure in your painting with a few quick brush strokes. The suggestion of figures, boats, hills and buildings, amongst the terror of the nature being depicted in your painting is more in keeping with the painting style of William Turner.

  5. 5

    Embrace the carefree nature of Turner’s notorious brush stroke. Use swirling brush strokes to capture movement in the sky or in water. Use sweeping brush strokes when hoping to generate the idea of fast winds in your painting. It’s not important to paint the outlines of each figure in a Turner-inspired painting either. The outline of figures and buildings in Turner’s works was invariably incomplete, breathing life and movement into his paintings.

  6. 6

    Create sections of dramatic contrast in your painting by illuminating particular points of interest and making the shadowy areas of your painting as dark and gloomy as possible. Turner was famous for creating dramatic portrayals of nature in his paintings and this is best achieved through a strong contrast of light and shade.

Tips and warnings

  • Think less and paint more. A Turner-inspired painting should be more about emotional response to a scene where nature is the focus, rather than an exact replica of what the scene looks like in real life. If the waves of the sea are frantic and frightening, concentrate on capturing the essence of that movement in your brush strokes rather than trying to make sure that what you paint is an exact copy, in terms of size and dimension, of what you see in real life or in the photograph you are using as inspiration.
  • Practice as much as possible and don’t worry. Painting takes years to perfect. Even professional artists feel frustrated by their capabilities at times and the only way to really paint with success is to relax and enjoy the experience.
  • Don't get oil paint on your clothes. It will never wash out.

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