Shades of Gray

First, no, I’ve never read that book, and you probaably know which one I’m talking about. Now, with that said, let’s move on to art. As you’re well aware, I took on a challenge to paint a small 3 x 5 landscape each day in December, drawing inspiration from three tonalist artists. It was definitely a good project for me — probably the most rewarding art challenge I’ve ever done.

Because I’m painting on manila cards, I felt it necessary to prepare the cards with a coat of gesso.  For the first five cards, I used white gesso, then did a set of five cards with a golden yellow tone, completed five with a pale blue hue, and then — yep — let ‘er rip with five hot bubble gum pink gessoed cards. After the fantasy of hot pink, I returned to the real world with a toning of light gray. These are the five index card paintings I’m sharing today.

So far, you’ve seen the 10 paintings inspired by works of George Inness, and you’ve also seen the 10 paintings inspired by Charles Warren Eaton. From December 21 through December 31, I drew my inspiration from the landscapes of Dwight William Tryon. Before I began studying tonalism, I knew nothing of this artist, so the project has not only helped me improve my painting skills, but has also given me an opportunity to learn more about art history and the landscape painters who were part of this movement.

I’ve found Tryon’s compositions to be lovely in their simplicity, and I’ve enjoyed working with his paintings. I’ve also found his work to be extremely varied. Some paintings are almost starkly black and white. Others are filled with many different colors.

Here are the first five of my landscape paintings based — quite loosely — on Tryon’s paintings. Please think of these not as copies or imitations of his work, but as my personal interpretations of the scenes he painted.

As always, here’s my disclaimer. The photographs are not good. I’ve found it extremely difficult to get good photos of these little landscapes.

December 21

This was my first Tryon-inspired painting, and I liked the simplicity of his composition. To me, this painting shows what I see in tonalism — simple landscapes, natural settings, muted colors, subtle variations, the presence of light.


December 22

Painting this scene was interesting. Tryon’s painting is all black and white and, yes, shades of gray. It worked well on the gray-toned card, yet it was a bit challenging to paint. You’ll notice that there’s a house there. You know I don’t do man-made structures very well, and doing it essentially in silhouette made it all the more of a challenge. The most interesting aspect of painting this for me was using all those shades of gray to create a sense of distance and depth.

December 23

I enjoyed painting this landscape. After the harsh black-and-white landscape from the previous day, I was surprised and excited to see Tryon using many different colors. I added more brightness and boldness to my painting than he used in the original. Again, after the previous day’s monochromatic scheme, I was ready to break out colors, even ones I don’t normally use in my landscape palette.

December 24

On Christmas Eve, my “inspiration” painting was another dull, monochromatic landscape. The composition was lovely, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up on color. My re-interpretation of Tryon’s landscape remained monochromatic, but painted in shades and tones of a silvery-green.


December 25

And then came Christmas Day. Although I was taking a holiday from art, I did hurry down to the studio early on Christmas morning to complete my painting for the project. Again, I found a colorful scene awaiting me. Tryon’s painting included lots of very subtle — but very real — color changes. I played a bit with pinks and blues in the sky, but choose to focus instead on the moonlight. So I kept my skies mostly blue with bits of gray and white, and tried to create a visible moon shining through the branches of the trees.

Although this photo looks a bit unfocused, I think this might be one of my favorites from the 31-day project.

Were you to search out and look at any of Dwight William Tryon’s paintings, you might here and there be able to guess at which ones served as my inspiration, but for the most part you would not see any strong resemblance between his works and mine. And I like that. I’m very happy that I’m able to be who I am as an artist, to draw inspiration from different sources, to learn from famous works, and yet still be able to make my own choices in creating art that is personal and meaningful to me.

So here you have five little landscapes, inspired by one artist, all painted on gray-toned index cards, and all showing bits of pieces of the artist I am becoming.



  1. Thanks for sharing this tonalism journey of yours. I think that the approach you’ve taken is very well suited to the winter landscape on a gray day, or in the light of a landscape at dusk or moonrise. I love bright colors but as I look at some of my paintings, I feel like they don’t ring true. There is much more subtlety than I can ever capture.

    In watercolor, I have read that many artists tone their paper with a light wash of what they call “dirty palette” and maybe this helps tone down the bright primaries and secondary colors.

    So much to learn, and I got such a late start in my retirement. I will continue to hobble along joyfully.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. December 23 & 25th are my favourites, There’s just something cheerful about them, but I have to say, they are all very good. I can understand why you have enjoyed the project.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. i must ask, although i realize it is going to sound absurd..index cards? like the small flimsy type one uses in a desktop file? i have never thought to use such a medium. If this is my error, i apologize. Perhaps i am just ignorant to the terminology as i am self taught. But if these are those type of cards i am super impressed…i could never paint such a small painting on such a flimsy type of medium …le sigh! p.s. feel free to ignore my stupidity…that would be understandable..:(


    1. The original article I read about an artist doing this project refers to “index card”, but the photos that accompanied the article showed what looked to be the numbered dividers that you use with index cards. That’s what I ordered. They are made from manila, the same weight as a “manila folder” you might use in an office. Yes, it sounded a bit crazy to me, too, but I’m glad I tried it. I loved the project. It was all for fun, a chance to experiment with different brushes, a chance to make a lot of landscapes very quickly. It was a great learning experience.


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