I had typed up several paragraphs of my complaints about how I'm struggling (more than usual) with these tonalist studies lately, but then who wants to hear me whine? It's helpful for me to regurgitate my artist's block so that I can make sense out of it – it somehow allows me to see my thought process afresh when it's verbally expressed right there in front of my eyes– but I doubt that it would make sense to anyone else reading my rambling. (It is totally disorganized!)
So I just deleted all that crap, and decided instead to talk about what I do know and understand. And it is what I call atmospheric tonalism. The color structure is built around a single color, and it is used often when depicting moody, atmospheric landscapes. (or cityscapes. or anything else for that matter, but I only have landscape examples here)
The top painting is built around Yellow, obviously. The farther we go back in space, the yellower it gets. As we come closer, we gradually see a wider range of value, and colors. Still, if I were to plot all the colors used on a color circle, none of it would deviate far from the yellow I used in the background.
The second painting looks like it has more color variations, and it does. How do I explain it? It's built around a neutral gray. (I know, I know, no such thing as neutral gray. You know what I mean) All the colors are very close to the center of the color circle. The cleaner shades of yellow, pink, and violet all happen at a very high value. At this range, the middle gray is pretty darn close to white, so the colors remain clean (relatively) and close in proximity, even though they occupy complementary slices of the color circle pie.
Here's another Yellow painting. We see violets and greens and reds, but they're very closely related to one another. Check this out; I've used the eye dropper tool in Photoshop to isolate different colors on the painting. In this context, b looks violet, but really, it's only violet because it's in context.
Taken out of context, these swatches don't necessarily look like the corresponding colors in the painting. But they are!
Another yellow painting. The key is to think of everything as a variation of the dominant color. If you want to paint something green, mix the yellow at the value you want, and bend it slightly toward green. Red? same thing. mix the yellow, at the right value, and bend it slightly toward red.
In this kind of painting, you may or may not see hue shifts between light and shadow (of a common surface). I think it adds another level of sophistication if you have some hue shifts, but it really only happens in the foreground, and the hue shifts must be subtle enough that it doesn't interfere with the yellow (in this case) theme. Once you start introducing too much of the other colors (because you LOVE Monet) you destroy the fundamental structure of atmospheric tonalism.
Can we do it in other colors? Sure, here's a green painting. Same structure.We see reddish brown peeking through, but only in the foreground. Same with the more saturated notes of green. Notice the systematic decrease in value range as we move back in space. Everything becomes closer and closer to the background sky color.
This is another example of a painting centered around middle gray. No color is anywhere near the edge of the color circle. That is, there's nothing really saturated, nothing remotely near pure tube colors, even though I am using them to mix these muted colors. (Ultramarine, Cad Lemon, Permanent Red, Transparent Oxide Red, and White)
If we go even closer to the middle gray and deviate even less, we might have something like this. A foggy day on the delta feels damp and drab. What better way to depict such a view?
I have been asked by several people to do a workshop that focuses on this stuff. I'm thinking it might be a good idea for people who want to explore ways to introduce more atmosphere and mood into their work. What do you think?