Tonalism Painting

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.

Tonalism painting by Ann Hart Marquis

A Song of Wandering, acrylic and ink on canvas, 24x30x1.5-inches. Ann Hart Marquis

Tonalism

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.)

James McNeill Whistler-Nocturn Sun

Nocturn Sun-James Mc Neill Whistler

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.

Artist Residency Completed

Ann Hart Marquis-Chalk Hill Russian River-artist residency

Chalk Hill Russian River, acrylic on birch panel, 20 x 20 inches, 2015. ©Ann Hart Marquis

I spent the last three weeks at an artist residency in Healdsburg, CA. The Chalk Hill Artist Residency is located in the rolling hills of Sonoma County on 250 acres of vineyard. It was a beautiful location and what made it especially lovely for me was that it is about 12 miles from where I grew up.

I stayed in an old 5-bedroom farm house complete with a covered front porch with spectacular views. I also had a large studio that looked out over a nearby pond. Since I was there alone, I had nothing to do but create, walk along the Russian River, read art books look for wildlife and meditate.

My only responsibility was to paint whatever I wanted. I choose to paint the landscape that surrounded me. I had never painted grape vines before or California Oaks. It was enjoyable for me to try to capture them both.

Ann Hart Marquis-Chalk Hill Oak-artist residency

Chalk Hill Oak, acrylic on birch panel, 20 x 20 inches, 2015. ©Ann Hart Marquis

There are many artist residency programs available both nationally and internationally. If you ever decide to pursue one, I hope that yours is as meaningful as mine.