We hear a lot about happy little accidents in art, and today I want to share what I call a fortuitous accident. Happy accidents happen when we’re painting; fortuitous accidents happen when we’re away from the easel.
Yesterday I was browsing through Facebook and saw what I thought to be a Facebook page. It came up as one of the suggestions Facebook so often likes to make. I liked what I saw, so I clicked on it, expecting to “LIKE” an art page.
Oops! It wasn’t a page, at all. It was a Facebook group, and if I wanted to join I needed to answer several questions. Would I follow the rules? Had I read the group rules? Well, yes I would gladly follow them, but no, I hadn’t read them because I couldn’t find them at that point. So, never mind. I exited. I really had no idea what the group was all about — other than art — so maybe I didn’t need to be a member.
The next time I logged in to Facebook, I found a message that my membership request had been approved. I am now a member of this awesome Facebook Group — Tonalism. The group has over 7,000 members, including fellow blogger, Margaret Parker Brown from Yuba Gold.
As I browsed through the posts, I realized at once that tonalism is an art style I love, one which — without really knowing what it was — I’ve incorporated into much of my own art. This painting, which I completed over the summer, shows how I’ve begun leaning more toward tonalism.
I’m not sure this painting is full-on tonalism, but art definitions can be tricky at times. It’s often hard to pin down precise styles. After a bit of browsing, I learned that generally, the term tonalism describes a style of painting…”in which color range is limited so that subtle gradations of the middle values constitute the primary aesthetic and means of expression.” That definition comes from artist Christopher Volpe. From that definition, I question again whether my “December Sky” painting would fit neatly within the confines of tonalism or not. I use a broader range of colors. My painting perhaps has more contrast than true tonal paintings.
Yet still, I do see myself leaning in this direction, developing a personal style that is somewhere between impressionist and tonal. I see this in my oil paintings, and I see it, as well, in my watercolors.
A better definition — one that’s a bit more to my liking — is this one which emphasizes the history of the movement:
Tonalism was an artistic style that emerged in the 1880s when American artists began to paint landscape forms with an overall tone of colored atmosphere or mist. Between 1880 and 1915, dark, neutral hues such as gray, brown or blue, often dominated compositions by artists associated with the style. During the late 1890s, American art critics began to use the term “tonal” to describe these works. Two of the leading associated painters were George Inness and James McNeill Whistler.
Tonalism is sometimes used to describe American landscapes derived from the French Barbizon style, which emphasized mood and shadow.
Mood. Shadow. Atmosphere. Emotion. Reflection.
These are words I like to attach to my art, words — and concepts — that I’m striving to make part of my art. I want to create almost dream-like, misty scenes. I want to paint places that appear almost mystical and magical. I want to be an artist whose works draw people into some real but almost ethereal place.
In a way, what I want to create is an imagined reality, landscapes that show the beauty of the earth but which show it in imaginative ways that speak to viewers through the colors and shapes.
For me, this fortuitous accident of joining a Facebook group has set me off on a wild spree of inspiration! I want to learn all about tonal art and the famous artists who have created it. I want to move toward bringing more tonal elements into my landscape art.
It’s fun when we find ourselves — wherever we are. I’ve wandered along a lot of artistic roads and veered off on a lot of fascinating pathways. But little by little, I’m moving closer to who I truly am as an artist, discovering my personal voice, and knowing what I want to say about the world around me.
How nice it is to feel that I’m finding myself and my own style of art.