Ever a story... waiting to be told

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Tuning Up the Tonality

"Color... thinks by itself, independently of the object it clothes." (Charles Baudelaire)

For the past year or so, I've been trying to create more atmosphere in my artwork... to create an awareness of time and place.  But it's easier said than done... to unify one's palette and achieve a strong sense of tonality. I've been trying to let go of my need to make every object it's own individual local color. I want to render each object according to the colors that are reflected in the surroundings. Sometimes I manage to do this, but many times I surrender my will to that little voice that insists grass is always green, sky is always blue, and wood is always brown. 
However, this Duet project has helped me make huge steps toward dispelling that nagging little voice and replacing it with a truer, more experienced voice that encourages me to look at the overall atmosphere that I want to portray, and let a particular few colors permeate every object in the piece. 
This is a commissioned piece, and the colors of the artwork will match the client's bedroom. That  limits my palette to mostly olive-greens and golds, with some blues and blue-greens, and a very little bit of brown (also some dark complements for the shadows). 
If I were working with a brush and paints, I could mix a splop of this color into that color on a palette until it looks right. But with colored pencil, I have to layer the colors over and over to get the exact hue that I'm after. 
It's exciting, though, using these same few colors to render all the different objects, and to keep an interesting flow through the two separate pieces, balancing one another, to appear as a matched pair. So far, I'm liking the effects that I'm seeing, and I think there is a definite tonality emerging, a sense of atmosphere, and an awareness of time and space. That might be wishful thinking, but at least it's showing promising signs at this point... 
Now we'll see if I can continue to create enough variation to delineate between the objects, and keep the colors flowing gracefully around the piece. I'm optimistically thinking I'm about halfway there?

*Good News/Bad News*  
My piece "Neath the Elms" did not make it into the Poe show, BUT my piece "Over The Rhine" is currently hanging in the mayor's conference room at City Hall in Cincinnati. So that's something. Small steps... right?


  1. I admire your skill very much, but even more the patience you must have to achieve just the right colors. Your work is awesome - totally awesome.

  2. Hi Katherine, you changed your blog. I liked it!
    Every change we make in the outside world means that something inside us has changed too.
    Your commission is becoming fantastic, the colors are amazingly beautiful…
    I loved Baudelaire’s quote. So true!

  3. OMGosh, Katherine...the Mayor's Conference room in City Hall?? that sounds like a giant step.. Congratulations! This painting is coming along so beautifully.. the colors are absolutely perfect.

  4. Congrats, Katherine and I admire your hard work. BTW, my Q, did a poet Charles Baudelaire really paint lots?
    Cheers, Sadami

    1. I think Baudelaire was mostly a poet and philosopher. I found the quote by doing a search for color quotes. :)

  5. This piece, though not yet completed, promises to be beautiful. The colors are fantastic and so harmonious. kisses.

  6. Your work is ALWAYS exquisite, Katherine. This commissioned piece is beautiful already. So surprised that 'Neath the Elms didn't make it into the Poe show as it was perfectly matched to the poem. But no accounting for taste, I suppose. Sometimes people are blind.

  7. This one is coming along very nicely-so fine and delicate. I think this medium of colored pencils is difficult for the reasons you mentioned-namely how to get a little of a dominant color everywhere since you are working with pencils and not paint. It's interesting to watch and to read your thoughts on it so thank you. Maybe it's a reminder about the judicious use of your chosen medium.

    And congratulations on the Mayor's conference room showing. That is something very pleasing!:)

  8. Qué maravilla, estoy deseando verlo acabado.

  9. I can only echo other commenters and say that I admire your art and also the thoughtful way you go about examining and developing your skills: you are always growing.
    Congratulations on Over the Rhine; I'm sure Neath the Elms will find its place!

  10. Dear Katherine - your thoughts on tonality and color are very insightful. I realize when I stick with three to six colors in a painting there is a cohesiveness that keeps things less busy and does give a certain atmosphere as well. Congratulations on your good news. Isn't it wonderful when you know someone is enjoying your art!! Thanks for sharing. Have a great day creating.

  11. There is much thought and hard work in these two pieces, they look stunning already!

  12. Congrats on the Mayor's show; just remember that shows are very subjective, so if you piece didn't get into the other show, it probably will get into the next. This one has come along beautifully; guess there is something to be said for limited palettes. My hat is off to anyone who can work in colored pencil!

  13. You are doing a huge job with these two!

  14. Colors are so pleasing and at the same time so much variety with cohesiveness -- it shows your insight, hard work and and innate sense of color and design! Exciting to see how it is coming along! and Congratulations -- wow - hanging in Mayor's conference room !

  15. I think you are making a great job of the two drawings. I like the movement of all the leaves and the glossy green of the fern leaf. I understand what you mean about how much layering it takes to achieve the right hue.
    I used to use them a lot drawing feathers, the finished results are worth it. I can appreciate the time that has gone into these pictures, lovely work.

  16. ...and you use colours as a great master. Lovely job.

  17. Hi Katherine, I loved your comment at my blog and agree 100%!

  18. Hey K!

    Oh, my, the Duet is so lovely! Right and Lefty do not know how lucky they are to have such a talented and caring creator!

    I'm definitely going to borrow "splop;" I love words like that.

    Who judged the Poe show anyway? It is hard to believe that Neath the Elms did not make the cut. It is an outrage!

    Did the Mayor (or someone from his office) purchase Over the Rhine? Or is it an exhibit or a special honor? That piece is so interesting with the delicate hat on the ledge overlooking the details of the city.

    You go, Girl!

  19. Wow, I am surprised to hear the Poe news. That is one of your best for sure, BTW it has a strong tonal atmosphere to it. Well, we never know with juries, I have had my share not make it into shows. It is part of our lives as artists.

    This piece(s) is looking good and I can see the difference in your steps/approach. It takes more than one to get there and you are on the way, patience.

    A suggestion might be to try a toned or even subtley (barely) toned surface instead of white. Colored pencils are a different medium than paint but will still show an undertone, warm or cool.

    You could try a toned surface, much like pastelists do or, depending on the surface you currently work on, you might try pale watercolor washes to tone the surface first. Everything is an experiment.

    Keep painting (drawing)...

  20. I always enjoy seeing your work. Your meticulous details is admirable.