Inspired by The California Impressionists

I’ve been thinking a lot about landscapes lately since we are traveling to Washington and Canada soon. I’m going to bring my paints, even though I haven’t painted plein air in quite a while, I’ll give it a try and see what happens.

For many years the California Impressionists have been among my favorite artists, William Wendt, Hanson Putuff, Edgar Payne and Daniel Garber to name a few.

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Their paintings were fresh with spontaneous color, using color harmonies in close value ranges. They were also full of wonderful greens, and it’s those wonderful greens that usually trip me up.

Researching on-line I came across the blog of noted landscape artist and instructor Phil Starke, who has a great assortment of free videos about landscape painting. Any artist could benefit from seeing the boldness with which he approaches his subject. There’s also an informative video download on his website called Masters Study, where he talks about how a group of special artists inspired his work.

Many times when I’m painting I’d like to have a visual reminder of how much variety I can get out of my limited palette, so I decided to make some color charts. Usually color charts are a mind numbing experience to me, and I think that’s because the ones I’ve done in the past were too general, it was hard to see how one color from 200 on a chart would pull my painting out of a troubled place.


This time the charts are going to be focused just on specifically what I need to see, what assortment of greens can I mix from Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow Light, Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Sienna. I used a small 8″ x 4″ grey palette pad (a smaller version of what I normally paint on), so that I can take it along with me. Since Ultramarine Blue is the common denominator in all the green mixtures, I made a the chart above with different amount of Cad. Yellow Light, Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Sienna with no white.

The top of each column shows the blue mixed with different amounts of each color, with more amounts of the additional colors as the columns go downward. This gives me an idea of what greens I can get out of four colors without any added white. In the photo it’s hard to read the darks, but there are some rich and varied greens in there.



This chart is identical except I started with Ultramarine mixed with white in every column. This is where those striking subtle colors live.

Sometimes in the middle of a painting there are so many things going on at once, keeping the values in check, the drawing accurate, the composition… yes, this will be a handy tool giving me some basic ideas, a spring-board to get me going.