What Am I Learning?

Whereas with yesterday’s 3 x 5 landscape — Pine Trees — I had a lot of mixed emotions, with today’s painting, I’m all in. I love this painting, and I doubt that my feelings will ever change. For me, this little landscape was one where I stepped back, smiled, and felt a genuine sense of awe in knowing that I had brought this scene to life on this little manila card.

I wish there were some trick I could learn or use to get better photos of these little paintings, but hopefully even in this not-so-good image you can get an idea of how lovely the painting is. Yes, I say that proudly. I love the painting. It’s a good landscape painting, and the fact that I painted it on a 3 x 5 card makes it all the more beautiful to me.

Each time I post one of these landscapes from my December “tonalist” project, I remark that I’m learning a lot. To this point, though, my comments have been generic. Today I want to get down to a few specifics about exactly what I’ve learned in the — almost — first two weeks of this art project.

One of the most important things I’ve learned is that while I love tonalism, I don’t see myself embracing that style fully. Tonalism will always remain a strong influence on my landscape paintings, and I will always remain devoted to George Inness, but I’m still open to other styles in my own work.

I have learned a lot about color — specifically about chroma or saturation as it’s often called. I’m doing a lot more color mixing on my palette now, muting colors to make them weaker and more subtle. For what it’s worth, this is one factor that will make working with those hot bubble gum pink cards very interesting!

Speaking of palette, I’ve also reached a point where I can comfortably say, “These are my colors.” It’s a fairly simple palette, but the colors I now keep on my palette are:

  • Transparent Oxide Red
  • Lemon Yellow
  • Cadmium Yellow Hue
  • Olive Green
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Raw Umber
  • Titanium White
  • Ivory Black

Of course, I have other colors in my paint bin. Should I need a violet, I can grab it from my tubes and not have to mix it for myself.

Other colors I use from time to time include:

  • Cream
  • Sap Green
  • Prussian Blue

With these colors, I find I’m able to create the various hues I want in my work. I can create lighter tints with a touch of white or cream; I can mix darker shades with a slight bit of black.

Of course, there are a lot of art instructors and art sites that insist an artist should NEVER use pure black, especially when doing landscape painting. Most impressionist painters steered clear of black, but not all. While there are numerous “mixing recipes” for creating black — and which I use from time to time — I’m not adverse to having black on my palette, if only for helping me mute my colors a bit. Having a tube of Ivory Black is much more convenient than creating my own black from other pigments.

Another thing I’ve learned is that I love cold wax medium. I’d first read about this several years ago, but it was only in recent weeks that I bought some and gave it a try. Oh, my goodness! It is perfect for me. For so long I’ve struggled with artist medium and various oils. The cold wax — which can be mixed with a medium or a bit of oil if you wish — gives me a good consistency with my paints. I wish I had tried it sooner!

The surprising thing is that using the cold wax medium doesn’t create thicker, more impasto brushstrokes. Instead, it actually helps me create smoother painting areas. I’m very pleased with the results I’m getting.

I’ve learned, too, that while I’m still working on creating thin, fine lines, I have greater success with round brushes than with others. I had several “detail brushes” I tried using, but I wasn’t getting good results. I began trying other brush styles and decided that the round brushes were the easiest for me to work with. I ordered a set in various sizes. Normally in my oil painting, I’ve worked mostly with filbert brushes. Having a nice set of round brushes provides me with more ways to achieve specific effects.

Another thing I’ve learned is to let the light shine. Creating a wide range of values is something I will always be working on, of course. Through this tonalism projectI’ve seen time and again how even a small brushstroke of light can dramatically change the mood and atmosphere of a scene.

Painting on a small scale has also taught me other tricks — ways to hold my brush, ways to steady my hand, ways to approach each brush stroke. Overall, the process has made me a much more aware painter. With these little cards, I think more about the hues I’ll be using. I think more about the warmth or coolness of the palette. I think about the depth of the painting and the effects I want to create. I think about light. I think about shadow.

When I began this project at the first of the month, I truly thought the whole idea was crazy. Oil painting on 3 x 5 cards? Seriously? I no longer think it’s such a crazy idea. I think it’s been one of the best art projects I’ve ever undertaken. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m only half way through. I’m looking forward to all I’ll learn as I finish up the rest of the series.


    1. Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve tried that a few times, but then when I crop the photo gets very fuzzy. Right now I’m experimenting with different backgrounds. I might also brave the cold a bit and try taking photos outside in natural light.


    1. It’s surprising to think that doing these little 3 x 5 cards could have such a big impact on my art and how I approach it. I have learned a lot! Working at such a small scale means, first of all, that every single brush stroke matters. That, in turn, means that I really have to think about what I’m doing before I begin. With larger paintings I can play around a little to see “what develops”. With these little paintings, I need to have the idea better developed from the start. Yes, there have been times when I’ve changed things up a bit while painting, but that was mostly with the earliest cards in the series, where I was still finding my way. I’m going to be sad to see this project end. LOL. I even thought about doing it again, possibly using 4 x 6 or 5 x 7 canvas panels, but I think it’s served its purpose for now, and it’s probably time for me to move on. I can’t wait to take all of my little paintings, put them together as a whole, and see the accomplishments I’ve made.

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