I’m getting back to my studio now, spending a little time here each morning, and I’m looking forward to creating art once again. Being away from the studio for a few days has helped me see even more than before how much art has become part of my life. It is part of who I am now.
I mentioned in a previous post that even while I was in the hospital, I still found ways to be creative, both with graphite drawing and with reading about art. One article in particular caught my interest. It was written by artist Michelle Wooderson and detailed her 31-day landscape painting project. Over the course of a month, she studied works by several of her favorite artists, then sought to create works of her own — on index cards.
It sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? Oil painting on index cards? Actually, I don’t think her paintings were done on index cards. From the illustrations she provided in the article, it appears that what she used were actually “index card dividers” — each with a numbered tab. She refers to them as “vintage index cards”, but frankly, I think she’s a bit confused on that point. Dividers are a bit sturdier, made from manila, and that’s what I’ll be using for my version of the project.
My current interest in tonalism remains strong, and as autumn slowly slips into winter, what more perfect time to explore lights and shadows in landscape painting? Accordingly, I have chosen three tonalist artists whose work I want to study and emulate. Those artists are:
- George Inness
- Charles Warren Eaton
- Dwight Tryon
In order to succeed with a project like this, it’s important, I think, to be clear in intention and objective. What am I hoping to accomplish? How do I plan to do this?
At the most basic level, of course, the purpose behind this project is to improve my abilities as a landscape artist. I’m excited at the thought of producing 31 small paintings. We all know that painting every day is a sure way to improve our skills.
Along with improvement in my abilities, I want to learn more about tonalism and how to use it as part of my personal art style. And while we’ve all heard that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, I don’t plan to copy the paintings I’ve chosen to study. Instead, I want to examine them closely, gain an understanding of the artist’s techniques, look at the colors, and study the lights and shadows. I want to learn more, as well, about creating mood and atmosphere in my landscape paintings.
So, exactly what is tonalism? This is the first question I’ve had to answer as I get ready to begin this fun month-long project. Here’s a good definition I found from The Principle Gallery:
‘Tonalism’ is the name that was eventually given to the art movement popularized in the late 1800’s by American landscape painters. Essentially, Tonalism is a way of painting landscapes that is characterized by soft, blurred lines, gentle use of colors in the mid-range of tones and values, and an elegantly simple composition. For many Tonalist painters, the use of this style was inspired by the philosophers and Transcendentalist ideas popular in America at the time Tonalism began. By painting a landscape in this certain way, artists sought to transform the portrayal of a landscape into something that might elicit a spirit of contemplation and introspection from the viewer, turning it into a tranquil and meditative device. An early member of the Tonalist movement, Birge Harrison, once described the objective to his students as that of striving for the ‘big vision-the power to see and to render the whole of a given scene, rather than to paint a still-life picture of its component parts; the power to paint the atmosphere that surrounds the objects rather than the objects themselves; the power, in one word, to give the mood of a motive rather than the scientific statement of the trees and rocks and fields and mountains that make up the elements.’
I’m currently reading more about tonalism and the different artists who embraced the style, and I’m reading about specific ideas and techniques these artists used. I’m excited to begin taking all that I’m learning and applying it to my own little landscape paintings.
Each day I’ll begin, as Michelle Wooderson did, by reading and studying specific art works. I’ll then use an index card to make a value sketch, a quick drawing that’s similar to the painting I’m studying. I’ll make notes of different features and characteristics, and I’ll give thought to the moods the painting evokes. Then, I’ll go to work on my own landscape, using oil paints on a gessoed manila card.
My first day’s project involves a painting by George Inness. It’s titled Autumn, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this work. In some ways it’s a bit different from most tonalist paintings, in that it’s filled with rich, warm, vibrant colors. Most tonalists worked with dark neutral colors, specifically blues and grays.
What emotions does this painting hold for you?
So, wish me luck as I set out to borrow a few ideas from George and his friends. I want to have fun playing with splotches of light, creating different moods, working with different color schemes, and learning about the techniques of tonalism.
Now it’s time for me to do a bit more reading before I settle down at my easel and begin to paint.