When I was in California last summer doing an artist residency I was called a tonalist painter for the first time. My work had never been referred to that way before and I recognized what association was being made.
I very frequently will tone down my colors with grays or sometimes with a color’s complement. For example, I don’t like phthalo blue by itself, but I do like it with some value of gray. Here is an example of a painting that I just finished.
Traditionally, tonalism (1880-1915) involved creating a painting permeated by a dominant tone and in a limited color scheme. Often, at least historically, painters worked mostly in earth colors so black would have been a common color on their palettes.
In tonalism, the palette is minimal, characterized by warm hues of brown, soft greens, gauzy yellows and muted grays.
Here is an example of a painting by the tonalist artist James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903.)
According to Stapleton Kearns, “Usually the goal of tonalist painting is the production of a mood in a painting rather than the representation of any actual place. The color, design and the mood were the subject rather than a unique and spectacular location.”
Many of my paintings are similar in color to a traditional tonal style.
• I eliminate details for broader brushstrokes and subtle transitions of tone.
• Frequently I use a neutral palette-mainly cool colors: green, blue, mauve, violent, grays, to produce similar tones.
• I also sometimes like high horizons to bring focus to the foreground.
• I like to use glazing techniques, layering thin layers of color over underlying colors
• I like to paint wet on wet.
• I like to start with a warm undertone even if I use black gesso and then layer cool overtones to achieve some tension of color.
• I like the idea of the “lost edge” technique which results in flow of color and atmospheric quality.
• I don’t like to paint specific, recognizable locations, but rather my impressions of a place or scene.
Will I continue to paint in this style? It appears that for my Ireland series I will. After that who knows.