When I first met and fell in love — artistically speaking — with tonalist George Inness, it was his painting Home of the Heron that captured my heart. Although it’s a simple painting — most tonalist paintings are simple compositions — and although the color palette was minimal — another element of tonalism — Home of the Heron spoke to me in a gentle, quiet, captivating voice.
As I put together the paintings I’d be using as inspiration for my 31-day “index card” study of tonalist art, I hesitated over Home of the Heron. I could never do it justice, of course, so why include it? On the other hand, since this one painting in particular is what drew me to George Inness and tonalism, why not include it and give it a go?
As you can see, I did include it, and while I didn’t do it justice, I did enjoy painting my own version of the scene.
As I’ve pointed out before, I’m not doing any glazing with these little 3 x 5 paintings, all done on a set of manila index card dividers. This means that I won’t get the rich, luminous colors that are so much a part of the tonalist art style. Instead my focus is on what I see as an elegant simplicity in composition, and on learning how to create different effects with light and shadow.
In the Inness painting, it is the heron — a small, almost indistinct creature alone in the woods — that forms the focal point. My heron is perhaps a bit too indistinct to be called a focal point of any kind, and, in fact, you might not even see the heron. Maybe the heron is only there in my imagination.
I enjoyed mixing my colors for this painting, and I enjoyed playing with different brush strokes to create slight color variations. I’d like to think that George might be pleased with my efforts, not because of how successful they are, because they’re not beautiful reproductions of his magnificent works, but because of the lessons I’m learning from them, because of my willingness to take on different challenges, because my love of his art inspires me to become a better artist in my own right.
I am learning. I am growing. I’m practicing new techniques, using new materials, trying new methods. This is what a successful art project is all about. Painting little landscapes on 3 x 5 cards might seem like a lot of bother, but it’s not. I’ve learned so much already — this painting is the 8th in a series of 31 — and again, I will highly recommend the project.
Working with these simple, small paintings isn’t time-consuming. It’s challenging in some ways, but not difficult, really. It’s a chance to explore many different aspects of art without making significant investments in time or materials. And when it’s done, I’m going to have a glorious little collection of landscape paintings to look at and enjoy here in my studio.