One Brush, One Color, One Morning

Following my not-so-successful attempts at painting the November scene from the calendar hanging near my easel, I was both eager and hesitant to turn the page. What would await me for December, I wondered. With a deep breath and a feeling of hope, I said farewell to November and welcomed the new month of December.

I smiled when I saw the scene on the calendar page. It was, shall we say “do-able”. Of course, I’d thought the same thing about November, but let’s just move on from that, all right?

Most of my recent oil paintings have been quick studies. I’m still reading a lot about color theory, about chroma, and other color-related elements, such as temperature and “key”.  To paint my December scene — a row of snow-covered pines — I chose a single color (Cobalt blue), picked up a single brush, and spent the morning completing this small scene.

December – Quick Oil Study 8 x 10

You can see that I did use titanium white on my palette along with the single blue hue. I considered also adding a bit of Payne’s gray to achieve darker values, but since this was intended to be a “high key” painting using only the lighter values, I decided not to go with any gray.

For the most part, I was pleased with this quick study. It was fun to paint a simple scene. One brush. One color. One morning. I liked the ease of this! And so little clean-up afterward. Another “artistic choice” I made was to keep my paint thick, using a lot of impasto brushstrokes. For me, this seemed to create an “icy” feel to the painting by giving the scene more texture.

I’m thinking, too, that this small canvas might be considered an example of camaieu painting. I learned that term a couple months ago as part of the “Art Quiz” feature. Essentially a camaieu painting is a monochromatic work that uses a color that’s not natural for the subject. So, whether or not my quick study is camaieu is open for discussion. I think it could fit that description because pine trees are not really blue, and neither is snow. We often see winter scenes as blue because of the light, but that — like art itself — is illusion.

To me, one tricky aspect of working with “high key” paintings is creating a real focal point. I’ve learned to think of a painting’s focal point as being the area of greatest contrast in a painting. With a limited value range, there’s also limited contrast. I’m hoping that the very light sky in the upper right corner might serve as a suitable focal point. I then used diagonal streaks to (a) lead the viewer’s eye toward the darker pines, and (b) to mirror the diagonal streaks of light in the snowy ground.

Alla prima painting is still not my favorite way to approach a landscape, but sometimes it’s useful, especially for quick studies and for those mornings when I just want to create something, when I want to come into the studio, spend a little time, and walk away with the feeling of having accomplished something.

Not everything we draw or paint has to be a masterful work of art. Very few of my pieces could be described that way, but every drawing I do and every painting I make teaches me more about art, and every mark provides me the opportunity to express myself in my own, unique way.

It was a good morning. I have something to show for it. I’m happy.



    1. As a “quick study” I think it came together nicely. I was especially proud of myself for using those “diagonals” to tie the sky and the ground together. It made me feel that maybe I have learned a few things about painting. 🙂

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