Wandering – My Tribute to George Inness

This little 3 x 5 painting is the 10th in my series of 31 “tonalist-inspired” landscapes. While it was inspired by George Inness — my new “artistic soulmate” — my version, as usual, was much, much different than his. The original Inness painting used lots of warm oranges and yellows. I guess I just wasn’t in an autumnal mood when I painted mine, and I focused more on summery greens and yellows.

Once again, I have to apologize for the poor quality photograph. I’m finding it especially challenging to get accurate colors and values when I take photos of these little index card paintings.

I should perhaps explain a bit about how I am doing these landscapes. Each day I view one tonalist painting — I have 31 paintings set aside in a file — and I grab an index card and a 2B pencil. I look at the painting for a moment, asking questions, such as:

  • What do I like best about this?
  • Are there elements I don’t like?
  • What techniques did the artist use to create these effects?
  • Are the colors warm or cool?
  • Where is the focal point?
  • Where do I see lights?
  • Where do I see shadows?
  • What memories does this painting bring to mind?
  • What emotions am I feeling?
  • What story might this painting tell?

Yes, lots of questions. You might think it’s a bit of a bother for putting together a little 3 x 5 index card painting, but this is a learning experience for me. It’s not just about technique and effects. It’s about understanding tonalism, and how artists have expressed their personal thoughts through their landscape paintings.

Once I have a fairly good understanding of my own thoughts and feelings about the painting, I quickly sketch out the basic composition on an index card — not the manila divider I’ll be using for the painting, simply a blank white 3 x 5 index card.

I lay in the horizon. I scribble in areas of hills or trees. I might mark specific features such as rocks or water. I look at the sky and write notes about colors and clouds. I darken a few shadow areas and maybe make notes like “Strong Highlight Here” — creating a sort of roadmap to follow when I go to my easel.

I don’t take the “inspiration” painting with me. I work only from my little index card outline. Following it as a guide, I compose the scene, choose my color palette, and create my own version of the inspirational painting.

So, yes, my compositions sometimes differ. My colors almost always differ. In some instances — such as the “Winter Memories” landscape — my entire thought process and emotional approach differs. This is what makes each landscape mine — not a copy of a work by another artist, but my own expression of what I see in their paintings.

I’ve previously mentioned that I’m working from landscapes by three different artists, with George Inness being only the first. So, this — my 10th in the series — marks the end of my “Inness-inspired” paintings. Fittingly, I decided it might be appropriate to create a landscape completely on my own, drawing upon inspirations and influences of George Inness.

I grabbed a canvas panel — an 8 x 10 — and without giving it much thought, I began painting. Oh, I suppose I was thinking about it a bit, asking myself a few questions. What had I learned from the first ten landscapes I had studied? What new techniques was I employing? What did I enoy most in tonalism?

Here’s the painting I came up with:

Wandering in the Woods — A Tribute to George Inness

I like the colors. I love the effects I created with different “layers” of trees in the background. I like the snow. My sky could use a bit more blending, but for the most part I was happy with it. At first, it was nothing more than sky, distant trees, and a snowy foreground. Something was definitely missing, I knew, so I added in the bare tree and a bit of shadow.

The tree definitely improved the composition, but even then, the painting lacks any real interest. It is just a simple landscape. Doing this tribute painting, however, taught me a good lesson. I titled this “Wandering in the Woods” because, in an artistic sense, that’s all I was doing. Just wandering around with vague ideas of tonalism and how to apply them, just wandering through a few thoughts about lines and colors, and not figuring out where to go or how to get there.

I arrived at a destination of sorts, and while it’s one that does show that I’m gaining some knowledge about the tonalist school of art, it also reflects a weakness to how I’m approaching landscape painting.

I found it rather ironic that while I thoughtfully plan and prepare each day for my simple 3 x 5 paintings, I had no real plan at all for the larger 8 x 10. I suppose you might call it simply an intuitive painting with me picking up a paintbrush and doing whatever felt right, but in looking back, I wish I’d done more.

George Inness deserves a better tribute. I’ve learned a lot from studying his paintings, and I’m coming away from this first part of my project with a much greater awareness of art and of my role as an artist. Among those lessons learned is one about taking a little time before I begin a landscape. Having a roadmap is helpful. Sure, it’s fun to sometimes jump in the car and head out for parts unknown with no thought about where we’re really going. But for art — at least for me — I’m learning that it’s better to have a destination in mind and a good understanding of what roads I need to follow to get there.

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