First of Five all Day Workshops with David Chen
Subjects for this Session: Still Life from Arrangement in Studio
or Landscape/Seascape from Photo Reference
Second Semester Workshops with David are covering how to get that unified look in our paintings so that all the colours are “talking” or “relating” to each other. This method of tonalism was mastered by Monet and many of the Impressionists and if you look through their work you will see that their use of colour is what holds the paintings together and makes everything look “right”.
Copying nature colour by colour and detail by detail may be OK for a photo or a realist painter in some cases, but as artists we have the opportunity to make something work better by looking and then with the understanding of what colour can do, changing what we see to what we want.
Monet spent many years perfecting his skills in colour. That is why we see the same subject painted again and again in cool colours, warm colours, with a wide tonal range or a narrow one, in lighter tones and mid to darker tones. With the use of colour we can take any subject and get a huge range of outcomes. Suddenly what started as a rather ordinary scene can come alive and vibrate with colour and contrast or atmosphere.
For this workshop we were asked to work in tones of blue. this doesn’t mean painting everything blue by the way, what it does mean is that every colour is toward the blue, so yellows will be cooler, reds will be cool reds, purples will be blue purples and not reddish purples, the blue is the “mother” colour.
This is very challenging and as I was painting from a still-life set up in the room, the light tonal study and the dark one attempted later were an exercise in thinking about the colour I was looking at and mixing a colour that worked with the blue tonal theme. In the limitation of the palette comes the freedom to create something unique of your own. No longer restricted to painting exactly what is in front of you, you can soften, lighten, cool off, replace colour, find and lose edges and create shadow and highlights. During this you decide what the focal point is, and how the composition is going to look.
For the light tonal work the contrasts are kept minimal, with minimal contrast. In the dark tonal work the tonal range is much higher with highlights creating more drama. Whilst doing both of these methods, remember the value of using grey. In this case cooler blue grey. Grey is a much under-used shade which can be used to hold a painting together, in between on e colour and another, it can be the binder that helps create tone and shape.
Whilst working we were also reminded to remember the planes of objects so that we get the form. Bold broad strokes, keeping the work simple and not overworked, with clean colour and a clear idea of our light source.
The objects were the focus of the exercise and not the folds of the material on the table and in the background. As David said, when you paint people, the structure of the human is most important, not the folds of the clothing on top, if the are is wrong, the material will be as well. Folds and creases will change with every little movement, but the structure of the human body down not, we have so many bones in an arm for example, and they only bend in certain ways. Getting that right is more important, as is getting the basic structure of your subject (a vase for example), once the main objects are working then you can indicate what is around them.
To finish off, we were encouraged to experiment with our pigments and discover all the variations we can achieve with our paints. Only by doing this will we find a palette that works for us.
I hope this helps others to start finding their way with colour and tone. Next month we will look at tones of red-purple. Meanwhile here are the paintings that I did for this exercise.