Here is another — Day 4 — of my index card paintings for the month. I’m calling this one “Awareness” because that’s what I learned from doing this little 3 x 5 oil painting.

Like the previous paintings I’ve shared from this project, this scene was inspired by a George Inness work. His, of course, has much more detail. I’m simplifying the compositions, trying to put in the most essential elements, studying the colors of the paintings, and looking for the light.

If you want to make a quick comparison for a better understanding of how I’m approaching this project, here is Peace and Plenty by Inness.

My colors are much, much different from those of the original painting. This is intentional. Tonalist artists like Inness used a lot of glazing techniques in their landscapes. These glazes give their works a glowing, almost mystical quality. They add richess and depth to the colors. They unify the colors as well.

With my little index card project, I’m not doing any glazing. Instead, I’m working with a fairly limited palette to keep my colors somewhat unified, and I’m putting my attention on two things: composition and light.

Tonalist composition tends to be simple. For each of my small paintings, I’m focusing on the primary elements in the works I’m using as inspiration. I’m attempting to describe the lay of the land, and to create a sense of background, midground, and foreground.

And I’m looking for light.

Surprisingly, finding — and understanding — the light in the various pictures I’m studying isn’t quite so easy as it might seem. In Peace and Plenty, the light appears to be coming from behind, casting shadows toward the front of the painting.

My efforts to put in places of light are admittedly clunky and chunky. I’m all right with that, because at least I was giving thought to light and shadow. I deliberately made my lights much lighter. I wanted to see them. I wanted them to stand out. I wanted to look at this painting and say, “Yes, see, I added light here.”

I didn’t get it right. But at least I gave it some thought. That’s the first step, you see. Maybe in tomorrow’s painting, I’ll get closer to putting the lights — and the shadows — in all the right places. Or maybe not. Maybe it will take a lot more of these little paintings, and a lot more time studying before I can really use the concepts of lights and darks to add mood and atmosphere to my art. That’s all right, too.

Sometimes we focus too much on achieving specific results when instead we should be giving ourselves credit for awareness. That’s where improvement begins, and I know I’m making progress simply by developing greater awareness.




    1. Thanks. Yes, learning is a process… and the first step is becoming aware of what we need to learn! I’m loving this little 31-day index card project. It’s teaching me so many things. 🙂

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  1. I agree whole heartedly that we need to give ourselves credit for the subtlety of awareness. I think that you did what you started out to do and therefore are successful. I like the painting you made and actually comparing the two paintings without having read your article yet, I liked your painting better! I still like it better after reading what you wrote and knowing who painted the second one. Thanks for your insights.

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    1. Thank you! This project is really helping me become more “individualized” as an artist, giving me a chance to make choices for myself, not just trying to follow what someone else has done. That’s an important aspect of art, I’m now realizing.


    1. Coloring books …. love ’em! That’s what got me started on this art journey. The little 3 x 5 paintings are so much fun to do. I’m glad you like them. 🙂


  2. You made the attempt, you learned along the way. I think you got it right just from those perspectives. And I loved your version just because it was filled with light, not muted like in the inspiration. 🙂

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    1. Thank you. I love the tonalist paintings, but then when I paint, I do want to use more light. This little project is really helping me pinpoint what I like and what I don’t like, and I am learning a lot from it.

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      1. Yes, I’ll admit that I thought the “index card” project seemed a little silly when I first started it, but now I’m loving it. I think it’s mostly because it does encourage me t paint every day. It’s so easy to take 5 or 10 minutes to paint a little landscape, there’s really no good excuse not to do it! And therein lies the learning. Painting every day — or drawing every day — really does bring benefits. Practice, we all know, leads to progress, especially when we practice with a purpose. 🙂

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