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I did a couple of workshops a few years back with Californian artist, Susan Sarback, (www.lightandcolor.com). Susan studied for many years with Provincetown-based artist Henry Hensche and was one of the people originally involved in the Hensche Foundation (http://www.thehenschefoundation.org/index.html), a website dedicated to his legacy and teaching approaches.

 

In many ways Hensche is still a controversial figure, arousing equal extremes of passion in both his students and detractors. By all accounts he was a much better painter than teacher, who put his students through possibly unnecessary gruelling, repetitive exercises, which, in turn, perhaps coloured the judgement of some of them because of the sheer time invested over the years.

 

Without getting into it too much, Hensche's core painting philosophy involved a new way of seeing rather than a painting methodology. This required his students to "forget" everything they had learnt in art college and begin to trust their own vision. The resulting paintings, which may appear a little "garish" in his early years are undoubtedly, to my eyes anyway, imbued with a light quality reminiscent of the work of Claude Monet in the 1880's and early 90's. I do however feel than many of them, other than the very latest works, lack subtlety in both colour variation and the treatment of edges. 

 

Hensche would be labled today as a colourist, but he never labelled himself as anything other than someone responding honestly to what he saw within the limit of his painting skills. When it comes to colourist vs tonalist, I like to think of them as different painting "languages", neither one being right or wrong. But then again some languages sound more poetic than others, so perhaps depending on the subject matter one or other approaches is most appropriate!

 

Have a look at the Hensche Foundation site (there are some really good large images there - Sarback's images are very small and don't really do her justice) and let me know what you think.

 

If anyone else has some interesting links on colourist/tonalist approaches to plein air painting, please share them here.

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Hi Kathryn,
Chromatic range refers to the quality of brightness inherent in pigments or hues, and the mixtures we make of them...eg. a cadmium lemon pigment has a brighter value than an ultramarine blue, which appears less bright and darker in value compared to the cad lemon...the quality of value is incorporated into the chromatic quality of the hue and mixtures...

Simple enough...now here is an interesting part...when we see a hue/pigment/or mixture of pigment...we are seeing light....that is to say...the pigment itself has no color to it....it only absorbs some rays of the light source and reflects others back to our eye and visual cortex....
the rays that are reflected back by the chemical mixture are what we see as a hue...iow...we are seeing a part of the visible spectrum of light as filtered through the surrounding atmosphere....

So chromatic range refers also to the range of brightness in the key that we are seeing...
In daylight...the human eye does not see in monochromatic value...it sees a range of chromatic values...ie. light as colors being reflected back to the eye and visual cortex...

The color painter is trying to juggle the relative brightnesses of the pigment mixtures that are seen as the visual sensation....color outdoors rarely becomes a dead neutral ie. devoid of any hue characteristic...even on an atmospheric day the visual cortex will assign specific hue mixtures to differentiate spatial plane relationships....



Re. Study of light keys...Hensche felt the purpose of doing the color modeling study was for the student to become familiar with the visual qualities of different light keys.... and I agree with him that it does work out that way....one has to study several different light keys using the same still life set up, or same landscape composition, in order to begin to recognize these differences of color between keys....this assumes the painter is not relying on local color and values of local color to form masses....

There are harmonic characteristics visible in each key which do not occur in other similar keys...and there is also the chromatic range within any key....these things can be observed and learned so they are more easily recognized....still the painter has to work out specific problems of forms and spatial recession for compositions....

Kathryn Townsend said:
Ken--thanks for going into detail about these concepts. I am curious about something--after doing these types of studies for a long time, as you have obviously done, have you become familiar or attuned to different light keys so that you more or less know the color variations within that key? Or is it that each time you sit down to paint you have to construct visually the variations of color for the key? I'm not suggesting that you would learn a formula for these things, but I'm wondering if there is a rationale for a particular color key--a logic to it and if so, what to you the general principles of that logic are.

Also, what I think you are saying is that the term "chromatic range" refers to different values of the hue, but in a color sense, rather than a value (black to white) sense. Is that how you are using that term or is it something else? Maybe you could post a painting of yours to illustrate some of the things you are talking about. It gets pretty esoteric without that.

Thanks--interesting discussion.

ken massey said:
Right...try to work quickly, changing coloring quickly, but within the key that is being studied...if you change to another key...well, that is a different problem...
The reality of learning is that many painters are not aware of any changes in the light and atmosphere (the key) unless the changes are so dramatic that everyone notes them....so...if you realize you are working in a different key than when the study was begun, change the entire massing to describe the new key....and start a different study for the original or earlier key....

What I have found to be most direct, is to think first in terms of hue...ie. ask yourself what hue do i see (in the context of the surrounding coloring)... All the terminology, such as intensity, temperature, purity, value, and so on, is secondary....any analysis based first on the secondary characteristics of coloring will only serve to keep you preoccupied with IT...

All visual sensations are sensations of hues, then hues in a particular chromatic range...when you see the hue, quickly note it, then begin to study its shape and proportion to the surrounding coloring...that will further clarify the chromatic range...in color painting all value is chromatic value....it is a different ballpark than monochromatic value....hue, shape, and proportions lead to resolving all color relationships in any visual sensation....

Ofcourse, the student has to be able to correctly analyze the geometric relationships in vision...you have to be able to triangulate all the compositional elements together to resolve the visual problem....

Hi Kathryn,
I have attempted to attach 4 examples of paintings that show one landscape composition (motif) painted in 4 different light key conditions....I have not used this tool on this site so do not know if it was used correctly....but hopefully it worked....just cannot see the preview of the post to know....
Image 1 and image 3 are morning sunlight, but the key in 1 had different color harmonies than 3. Image 2 is a hazy afternoon sunlight. Image 4 is afternoon sunlight but in a strange spotlight effect..ie. the sky and surrounding background was in deep shadow, while the mid and foreground was in bright sunlight...typical of monsoon weather in this region....(two keys in one painting...fun)...


The images show, I hope, that harmonic qualities differ from one light key to the next, as does the chromatic range or brightness....this particular motif I painted perhaps with 10 more key versions....it is a good way to learn how keys vary....






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ken massey said:
Hi Kathryn,
Chromatic range refers to the quality of brightness inherent in pigments or hues, and the mixtures we make of them...eg. a cadmium lemon pigment has a brighter value than an ultramarine blue, which appears less bright and darker in value compared to the cad lemon...the quality of value is incorporated into the chromatic quality of the hue and mixtures... Simple enough...now here is an interesting part...when we see a hue/pigment/or mixture of pigment...we are seeing light....that is to say...the pigment itself has no color to it....it only absorbs some rays of the light source and reflects others back to our eye and visual cortex....
the rays that are reflected back by the chemical mixture are what we see as a hue...iow...we are seeing a part of the visible spectrum of light as filtered through the surrounding atmosphere....

So chromatic range refers also to the range of brightness in the key that we are seeing...
In daylight...the human eye does not see in monochromatic value...it sees a range of chromatic values...ie. light as colors being reflected back to the eye and visual cortex...

The color painter is trying to juggle the relative brightnesses of the pigment mixtures that are seen as the visual sensation....color outdoors rarely becomes a dead neutral ie. devoid of any hue characteristic...even on an atmospheric day the visual cortex will assign specific hue mixtures to differentiate spatial plane relationships....



Re. Study of light keys...Hensche felt the purpose of doing the color modeling study was for the student to become familiar with the visual qualities of different light keys.... and I agree with him that it does work out that way....one has to study several different light keys using the same still life set up, or same landscape composition, in order to begin to recognize these differences of color between keys....this assumes the painter is not relying on local color and values of local color to form masses....

There are harmonic characteristics visible in each key which do not occur in other similar keys...and there is also the chromatic range within any key....these things can be observed and learned so they are more easily recognized....still the painter has to work out specific problems of forms and spatial recession for compositions....

Kathryn Townsend said:
Ken--thanks for going into detail about these concepts. I am curious about something--after doing these types of studies for a long time, as you have obviously done, have you become familiar or attuned to different light keys so that you more or less know the color variations within that key? Or is it that each time you sit down to paint you have to construct visually the variations of color for the key? I'm not suggesting that you would learn a formula for these things, but I'm wondering if there is a rationale for a particular color key--a logic to it and if so, what to you the general principles of that logic are.

Also, what I think you are saying is that the term "chromatic range" refers to different values of the hue, but in a color sense, rather than a value (black to white) sense. Is that how you are using that term or is it something else? Maybe you could post a painting of yours to illustrate some of the things you are talking about. It gets pretty esoteric without that. Thanks--interesting discussion.

ken massey said:
Right...try to work quickly, changing coloring quickly, but within the key that is being studied...if you change to another key...well, that is a different problem...
The reality of learning is that many painters are not aware of any changes in the light and atmosphere (the key) unless the changes are so dramatic that everyone notes them....so...if you realize you are working in a different key than when the study was begun, change the entire massing to describe the new key....and start a different study for the original or earlier key....

What I have found to be most direct, is to think first in terms of hue...ie. ask yourself what hue do i see (in the context of the surrounding coloring)... All the terminology, such as intensity, temperature, purity, value, and so on, is secondary....any analysis based first on the secondary characteristics of coloring will only serve to keep you preoccupied with IT... All visual sensations are sensations of hues, then hues in a particular chromatic range...when you see the hue, quickly note it, then begin to study its shape and proportion to the surrounding coloring...that will further clarify the chromatic range...in color painting all value is chromatic value....it is a different ballpark than monochromatic value....hue, shape, and proportions lead to resolving all color relationships in any visual sensation....

Ofcourse, the student has to be able to correctly analyze the geometric relationships in vision...you have to be able to triangulate all the compositional elements together to resolve the visual problem....

Thank you--wonderful examples--that helps a lot. I'm going to have to study these and then try it out. I did one this morning about 10 am looking out at the Cove. The far shore was really pale--suffused in shadow light and super high key. That lasted for about 1/2 hour so I quit.


I'm going to have to do a lot more experimenting.
PS That #4 of yours is incredible--but I love all of them. Interesting difference between #1 and #3. #1 looks cooler--like there is dew on the desert or more moisture in the air.

ken massey said:
Hi Kathryn,
I have attempted to attach 4 examples of paintings that show one landscape composition (motif) painted in 4 different light key conditions....I have not used this tool on this site so do not know if it was used correctly....but hopefully it worked....just cannot see the preview of the post to know.... Image 1 and image 3 are morning sunlight, but the key in 1 had different color harmonies than 3. Image 2 is a hazy afternoon sunlight. Image 4 is afternoon sunlight but in a strange spotlight effect..ie. the sky and surrounding background was in deep shadow, while the mid and foreground was in bright sunlight...typical of monsoon weather in this region....(two keys in one painting...fun)... The images show, I hope, that harmonic qualities differ from one light key to the next, as does the chromatic range or brightness....this particular motif I painted perhaps with 10 more key versions....it is a good way to learn how keys vary....
What you say is essentially correct, but I'm not convinced that the intense sunlight in more Southern latitudes leads to as much of an increase in observed colour as many paintings done in such latitudes suggest. My personal theory is that intense sunlight tends to amplify the optical effects of simultaneous and successive contrast (the former being the optical illusion of a colour appearing more chromatic because of an adjacent compliment and the latter where viewing an intensely bright image leads to a complimentary-coloured ghost image when looking at a neutral colour immediately afterwards). Based on personal experience, there is a tendency to overstate these "illusions" when first painting plein air, but having said that, capturing them to some extent is absolutely essential, if "visual reality" is your painting goal. The more you paint plein air, the more you begin to read the subtle hue variations, especially in shadows and learn to dampen down the more "garish" initial colour statements. Having laboured in the studio for thirty years or so, I'm absolutely convinced that artists of any age or experience will benefit immensely from working plein air, so do give it a try!

This site is for plein air artists, so we do not want to cause confusion by allowing studio images to appear on the core area (there are several other sites such as "Wetcanvas" which cater for all other genres and media). However, you are more than welcome to post your studio work on the "Blog" section here, and I for one would certainly love to see it.

Keith William Thompson said:
Hi Michael,
I am a newbie, still tip-toeing around here but delighted to find this fascinatng thread which I intend to digest more fully later.
My *aha* moment came many years ago, with the realisation that if you wish to be faithful to nature and capture an impression of the scene before you, then you have to adopt from a "two-source" light painting approach. Outdoors we have Sunlight and Skylight, warm and cool lights producing cool and warm shadows respectively and present in various proportions depending upon climatic conditions.
I solely reserve the white paper in my watercolours for the warm lights. My painting, Giant`s Causeway is an example of this.
It is the combination and way these two light sources affect and counteract each other which produce the more muted colours in our Irish landscape compared to the more dominant Sunlight present in more southern latitudes. This explains for instance in the mediterranean how we see and paint strong sunlight dominating a scene; this creates strong cool shadows in which warm local reflected lights can be contrasted, thus producing a colourful painting.
For professional time related reasons, most of my paintings thus far have been studio based, although I did keep the window open, but I am wondering whether these such paintings are allowed to be uploaded here?

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