Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tonalists, Valueists, Impressionists, Imagineers

Things are transitioning quickly here with the rain.  So lets look at more colour concepts.

There seems to be two broad approaches to painting when it comes to colour.  Classically there are those who focus on tone and value.  Our visual world is traditionally based on a belief that we know the colour of things (such as trees - green, sky - blue etc.).  In fact these accepted colours are so set in our mind that we do not "see' anything else.  We have all experienced the phenomenon.  For example, we glance at a shape we recognize as a door, open it and walk right in.  When asked for the colour or the kind of door knob we are often unaware - because our set filter for the known object is all we consciously "see".  It is the same for most of us painting something familiar.  Many artists approach painting from drawing and value.  Rembrandt, Titian, Valazquez, and others had such highly developed tonal sense that most observers are unaware of their limited colour range (and their materials also limited colour choices).  The second approach is total colour which focuses on the effect of the prevailing light on the object/mass.  Monet and his "what an eye" developed this approach.

Here are two examples of a tonal approach to painting.

A start of a still life - in umbers - David Leffel

Notice the drawing and the shading.  The image is in earth tones and the shadow darks are used to give the feeling of form.  In times past artists did not have modern pigments at their disposal.  Today, glazers and traditionalists favour this approach.  

A House in Local Colour - Susan Sarback

This image is executed as a camera would see it.  The shadows are a tone of the colour of the object in the light - the tall tree for example.  The object and drawing are important in this process.

Here is the same image done by "seeing" the total colour - the effect of light on the object.

A House in Total Colour - Susan Sarback

This image was done by looking for and seeing the effect of the prevailing (sunlight in this case) light on the object.  The important thing here is the light effect, not the object, not the drawing or rendering.  The painting process is more aligned to sculpture.  Monet evolved along this path and Hawthorne and Hensche taught in his tradition.  Painting from life in sunlight is central to developing the eye to see the colours for this approach.  Notice the colours in the shadows.  This training takes time and execise.

Today painters use these approaches and everything in between, such as expressive colour, imagined colour, planned colour, emotional colour, accidental colour.....

Each approach is valid for the concept the artist is exploring.  All approaches can be used with the tools and materials available to us.  Now, if we could just discipline ourselves to make a concept statement and stick with it.

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