Student Post: Melissa Henry

27, November 2008 § Leave a comment


In Jun’s painting class we have moved beyond the Earth palette and onto the “prismatic palette,” which consists of cadmium yellow, a true red, ultramarine blue, and white. We found that the range of colors we were able to mix with these was a lot wider than what we can achieve with the Earth palette, but we now have to consider the boldness and intensity of the hues more, since they can be very vibrant if they come directly out of the tube.

Most of us painted from still life setups again, which I find are the most conducive to learning about painting technique. They are consistent in terms of form and position, and we can control the lighting (assuming you work quicker than the speed of ripening and soon to be rotting vegetables).

We began our paintings with a blue monochromatic underpainting which was different from the warm burnt sienna underpainting I normally use because it gives everything an underlying cool temperature. It is hard to eliminate or alter this cool tone if it is underneath, say, a warm layer of paint, so I tried to plan out my tonal values and temperatures fairly well and stayed on the lighter, warmer side of the spectrum since I figured I could always darken things, but it is difficult to get the luminosity back once it is lost.

I decided to go bright and bold with my paint as a change of pace from the neutrality of the Earth palette, so I chose my subject accordingly: vivid, vibrant, vivacious vegetables! I also wanted to create a ‘fun’ dynamic composition for this piece, so I ‘zoomed’ in to crop my view. I tried to incorporate diagonal axes to add interest and draw the eye around.

I found depicting the eggplant particularly tricky because of the subtle change in color and tone. At a quick glance it looked to be a flat plane of deep purple, but I found I needed to exaggerate the gradation to suggest its form and position in space. I also tried to minimize my use of white to preserve the luminosity, intensity, and warmth of the vegetables since white has a ‘cooling’ effect and can give a chalky, opaque appearance. Incorporating the glazing techniques I used in my older paintings was very helpful in giving the peppers their rounded form.


Image 1 Detail

In continuing with the prismatic palette, we dove into Impressionism, led by Jun, always the enthusiast. This was a fun break from the more careful, step-by-step approach that I have taken thus far. Impressionism, as we learned, is about capturing the essence of the subject with attention to the varying plays of light and color. Paintings are expressive and often involve visible brushstrokes and bright hues. The process I used involved wet-on-wet application of paint more or less all at once, without re-working or going back into it. This helped me capture the spirit of impressionism – to give the viewer the feeling or sense (hence “impression-ism”). Like Matisse said when he was criticized for his skewed form, “This is not a woman. This is a painting.”


For my subject, a pitcher with flowers and a bowl with oranges, I tried to use my brushstrokes and the tonal values of the paint to suggest the objects’ forms since I was not going to go back in with scumbling or glazes. The inside of the rounded bowl or the spherical fruit, for example, show how I attempted to capture where the light hit, and I used direction of brushstroke to imply the curvature of form.

Because complementary colors (especially when used side by side) intensify each other and make both colors appear more vibrant, impressionists used them frequently. I used complementary colors particularly in shadows. Instead of using a dull green or neutral blue for the shadows in the green bowl, I used the complement of green: red (and varying hues of red).

I find thick paint quite satisfying, and I found myself gravitating toward my Brown painting education as I ‘chunked’ thick globs of vibrant color onto my canvas. Part of the beauty of impressionism is the attitude, or maybe just the attitude I took on of “Anything goes! My impression of my subject is just as good as any, so all I need to do is express that.” This was liberation from my usual intentions of creating a disciplined, carefully considered rendering of my subject. I find that I like to find a happy medium, to paint realistically with glazing and scumbling techniques, but at the same time incorporate passages with thick, visible brushstroke and bright paint. It makes a painting more enjoyable to both look at and to paint – it keeps things interesting.

Read Melissa Henry’s first post here.

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