Tag Archives: landscape

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


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.

Irish Color

We just got back from Ireland. I am full of images of Irish color, cliffs, water, trees and too many other sights to name. I just soaked it all in. Although I didn’t take my paints, one of the things on which I concentrated was color. It was indeed so green. They were vivid, intense greens.

photo describing Irish Green

Irish Green

I have a tendency to paint with a more muted palette, so I am not sure yet how I will translate these images onto the canvas. I plan to start trying this week.

picture of Irish Green

Irish Green

If I was still at a place where I wanted to paint landscape, Ireland was the place to see. But I am an abstract landscape painter, so it is all a mystery to me at this time because I haven’t started to think about mixing paint. There is still a part of me that is processing all that I experienced there.

photo showing Irish Yellow Green

Irish Yellow Green

Ireland was magical and spiritual for me. Part of the reason that I found it so compelling was the beauty, but since we visited many megalithic sites, I was captivated by the mysteries of how and where people lived and expressed their creativity 5-6 thousand years ago.

photo showing Irish Red color.

Irish Red

Ireland is also being overwhelmed with invasive rhododendrons. Since they are so lovely, people don’t seem to mind these invaders.

photo of Irish Rhododendrons

Irish Rhododendrons

So you may be able to tell that I have no idea what I will paint when I am completely back from Ireland.

The Metaphor of Ladders

I have a thing for ladders. I am not as intrigued by ladders as much as I am by trees, but I do find it somehow fulfilling to paint a ladder. I have done it many times, and have found myself thinking about painting another ladder or perhaps incorporating it into a painting.

painting depicting a ladders at night.

Red Ladder at Night, acrylic on canvas, 16×20 inches, 2006.

So being a curious person and liking to do research, I set out to investigate their symbolic meaning.

The first article I read suggested the ladder is rich in symbolism and metaphor. The horizontal rungs represent progressively higher levels of consciousness and the two vertical uprights, represent the symbol for duality.

painting showing how a ladders are used.

Waiting for the Lion—Viewpoint, acrylic on canvas, 16×20 inches, 2010.

According to Josepk Panek, since the ladder has no moving parts, it symbolizes ascension by way of personal desire and effort. “The Ladder also reminds us that reaching the highest realms of consciousness is not a short, swift journey. Each rung represents a gradual ascent whereby wisdom, knowledge, enlightenment and perfection are earned by us one step at a time.”

a painting showing a ladders leaning on a tree.

Precarious, acrylic on canvas, 20×24 inches, 2011.

Well, I have to say that my journey upward has been long and slow. Before I started painting I read about Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I think it influenced my journey to becoming a more aware, perceptive and perhaps even a more creative person. When I first learned about the theory, I was probably struggling to get to the third level. I spent a great deal of time in the second rung. Today I like to think that I am integrating the top level, but i suspect that is a life-long project.

chart showing ladders of needs

Maslow’s Hierarchyof Needs

Painting Wild Horses

Guest Post by Karen McLain

The summer of 2013 I took my fourth solo trip to paint wild horses. My travels took me to the Upper and Lower Little Book Cliffs, the Sand Wash Basin in Colorado, and McCullough Peaks and the Pryor Mountain herd areas in Wyoming. My schedule fell into a routine of being up before dawn, locating horses, hiking out to them, (sometimes that was further than other times), painting and photographing during the daylight hours and heading back to my campsite in the evening. This process focused my attention and thoughts in the present and resulted in a wonderful time of learning in addition to adding to an already large body of work.

Karen McLain-Sunset Ridge

Sunset Ridge, ©Karen McLain

Spending time with wild horses changed me. I felt like I was a voyeur to something sacred, almost forgotten. I want to express the beauty, power and bonds that I see manifest in wild horses. The freedom, risk and challenge that are inherent in living wild in nature is reflected in my process of painting from life. My work is not solely a painting of a horse, but a reflected communication of their experience and our journey.

Karen McLain-Run with the Moon

Run with the Moon, ©Karen McLain

In addition to the experience of painting the landscape from life, I find painting horses from life to be not only challenging but vital to the life that I put into studio paintings. When painting a landscape from life, we don’t need to worry about the landscape moving (only the sun moving), when painting a human from life, we can pose the model, when painting a domestic horse from life, we can tie them to a hitching post, but painting a wild horse from life has none of those constraints.

Somehow, the lack of those constraints symbolizes the freedom of wild horses. That energy, freedom and life is part of what I put into those studies.

Karen McLain-Sound of Freedom

Sound of Freedom, ©Karen McLain

Freedom is the essence of wild horses. There is something fundamentally pure and powerful in that. The feeling of being renewed, the sense of adventure and peaceful unity is what I want to pass on.

Karen McLain-Moonlight Drink

Moonlight Drink, ©Karen McLain

Karen McLain is an Arizona native whose paintings are collected across the U.S. Her oil paintings evoke the essence and beauty of the horse and landscape. The special magic of Karen’s work is communicated through the connection between horsemanship and painting. Expressing elements of harmony, balance, timing and feel as they relate not only to painting but to the heart of the horse is a goal she brings to every painting.

Karen McLain-Love and Light

Love and Light, ©Karen McLain

For more information contact Karen or call 480-720-2582.

Putting Paint on Canvas

Cyprus, day 1,  underpainting

Cyprus, day 1, underpainting

My painting process is usually one of layering paint on the canvas in a darker hue than is going to be seen in the finished painting. Parts of this original paint may be seen in very small areas of color on the finished painting or the color may influence the color layered on top of it, but that is what I am going for. The composition is only partial at this time. Here is an example of a painting after the original colors were put on the canvas.

The second putting paint on canvas process is to complete the composition and to start adding lighter and less intense tints, tones, and shades of color. Here is how the second layering process continued.

Cyprus, 2nd layer

Cyprus, 2nd layer

Notice that I added texture to the paint and changed the color and intensity of the sky for the second layer.





The final layer included extending the trunks, adding even more texture, adding highlights and generally adding tints to pop the color more.


Here is the last layer and perhaps the finished painting. I generally need to live with piece for a week or longer before I sign it and call it good.

Cyprus, complete

Cyprus, complete






I don’t have a title yet for this painting of French Cyprus trees. Any suggestions?

What’s in a Name?

I am a nature lover, a meadow wanderer, an adorer of trees. I like to think that I am an environmentalist. I primarily paint nature because I am inspired by its beauty and because I want to remind my audience how lovely, fragile and vital it is. It has become a mission to me. In my loftier fantasies, I like to think that I am a defender of the natural world. I want to help light a spark in the minds of people who see nature as something to be cherished and protected. My hope is that my art will touch some small ember of proactive responsibility in others to help spread the idea of how crucial the environment is to our existence.

I like to think of myself as an expressionist painter. I am not interested in painting a realistic nature scene. Most of my paintings revolve around a metaphor. Sometimes I like to give an inanimate object the qualities of humans (anthropomorphism). An example is the paintingRed Ladder at Night, below.

16x20, acrylic on canvas, ©2109, Ann hart Marquis

Red Ladder at Night, 16×20, acrylic on canvas, ©2009, Ann Hart Marquis, SOLD

Some of my work has been considered surreal, such as Waiting for the Lion, below.

Waiting for the Lion, 20x24, acrylic on canvas, ©2010, Ann Hart Matquis, SOLD

Waiting for the Lion, 20×24, acrylic on canvas, ©2010, Ann Hart Matquis, SOLD

I am not as interested in what my style is called as I am in what kind of impact my art makes. I want people to recognize the value of the natural world as much as I do.

Given the above description of my painting interests, it has been difficult to come up with a description of myself for my artist statement, my SEOs, my precise, quick spiel about “What kind of art do you do”? I am still revising my response to that question. It is all about what’s in a name.
Anyone else ever have that problem?