Posts Tagged ‘#paintingstyle’

Impressionist, Tonalist or…?

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020

‘Most everyone’s probably heard of Impressionistic painting.  You know: Monet, Renoir, Seurat,…  In their efforts to create the impression of vibrant light and atmosphere around their subjects, these artists focused on ways to manipulate their colors to create a sense of energy and light in the viewer’s mind.  They were noted for experimenting with various ways to blend hues optically by placing often contrasting or startling combinations of color adjacent to one another directly on the canvas, rather than mixing them entirely on the palette.

But we don’t hear as much about Tonalism, which emphasized control of values—lights, darks, and a range of grayed colors.  The Tonalists tried to maintain subtlety in their chromatic blends to suggest a mood instead of depending on bright colors to create excitement and a sense of atmosphere or story.

Tonalists were generally more concerned about establishing mood, evoking the viewer’s more ethereal emotions, than in depicting specific subjects and details. “Facts” are limited. Details may disappear in soft edges and deep shadows. Suggestion often displaces detail. The viewer’s imagination is free to fill in the blanks regarding the specifics of time, place, and narrative.

I thought my work might be fitting more into the Tonalist camp, so decided to consciously try out a “classic” Tonalist methodology, applying cooler, transparent oils (the favored medium of the great Tonalist masters) over a thin, warm underpainting.

But my efforts were an utter flop. I wiped off my canvas and returned to watercolor for my next painting.  It displayed more Tonalist characteristics, without my even trying, than the previous, conscious effort had.

"Twilight Flight," by Charlotte Mertz (8"x10" watercolor, #200703w)

“Twilight Flight,” by Charlotte Mertz
(8″x10″ watercolor, #200703w)

Frankly, I don’t really care, though, about what stylistic genre my work fits into. It is what it is, continually modified to suit the purposes and characteristics of each individual composition.

The point is to not worry about where my work fits into the stylistic continuum, but to focus on technique to create a painting that says what I want it to express, in a way that fits well with my working methods.  The composition should flow naturally without feeling or appearing forced.

Trying new techniques is always somewhat uncomfortable, since we’re pushing the envelope of our experience and confidence. But experimenting with technique is how we develop strategies to overcome artistic challenges. And every creative artwork, by its very definition, presents its own challenges and “problems” to solve. So every new piece is a bit (or a lot) intimidating to undertake.

The way each artist decides to address those issues, however, is what ultimately determines and establishes his or her unique painting style.  That individual style might or might not fall somewhere on the continuum within some acknowledged stylistic category or genre.  Who knows? Like Monet’s “Impression Sunrise,” its variances from the “norm” might be panned by critics yet prove to be trendsetting, leading the way into an entirely new mode of artistic expression.