Ralph Blakelock

Posted on October 11, 2013

Description of the Tonalist Painting Style and Technique


Ralph Blakelock

 American Tonalism is rooted in the French Barbizon movement, which emphasized atmosphere and shadow. The Tonalist style employs a distinctive technique by the use of color’s middle values as opposed to stronger contrast and high chroma. Resulting in a understated and compelling overall effect. The tonalist subject matter is never entirely apparent; their is no effort to communicate a message or narrate a story.  Instead of relating a story, each sensitively chosen color, composition, and line is arranged to create an intriguing visual poem.

The interiors of tonalist paintings are generally elegant and sparsely decorated, tonally uniform, simplified and indistinct; the figures are usually presented alone in silent contemplation.  Landscapes are typically luscious and luminous with evocative atmospheric effects featuring misty backgrounds illuminated by moonlight. Tonalists painters were drawn to both the natural and spiritual realms. They sought to awaken the viewers consciousness by shrouding the subject in a misty indistinct veil of emotionalism. The palette is minimal, characterized by warm hues of brown, soft greens, gauzy yellows and muted grays. Preferred themes were evocative moonlight nights and poetic, vaporous landscapes. Tonalist painters seemed to favored unconscious states and psychological experiences over reality.




-Taken from historyofpainters.com

Entering into the Known, Unknown.

Posted on October 10, 2013

Working on a new body of oil paintings – embracing my lineage as a realist painter, throwing myself once again into a rich, deep tradition which hit great heights. Long live the Barbizon and Hudson Valley painters school of thought – enriching my life as a monkey and sentient being! Values of mixed orange and tertiary greens – ethers, ground, vapor, warm greys and cool hues- have shown me the light.


There is a feeling I get when in front of an Impressionist painting – a feeling of honesty and love. I know they were striving for ‘realism’ and Degas or one of them, possibly Gauguin wanted to call it a realist movement – but the subjugation of light and life filtered in tot the work done daily, and the build up of underpainting stopped. It became a direct approach to paint, in which I am totally engaged in. I now build up an under drawing, with little care to line quality, or tonality – just to fit the work on the page, to see if it is with my weeks time. Yesterday I found myself in front of a horse and buggy, a decent picture, with some perspective, people, trees,a  horse or two actually, and  rider. I challenged myself to put this down in under an hour, on a 18/24 canvas – but found after an hour or so – it was not worth doing. It is a trite picture, and I am overly concerned with drawing it ‘right’, which is taking me out of the spirit of painting.

In turn I will embark on a less traditional, more bucolic scene. I am excited to put it down the way Inness did, the way Church saw the world – with less of a church bend.

Painting over Painting

Posted on October 9, 2013

I sometimes stop at a certain point within the process of composing a new work, and judge the theme, the intent and scheme I am pushing – only to know I do not want to pursue this – I want to focus on what brought me to choose the motif, and go the opposite route. By wiping down a days work, it is cathartic, and nothing is really lost. ALl the composing, paint  and energy is still there, and will guide the next, hopefully better work of art. I need to create new things, and arrive at levels within the composition in which it needs to be left – or the original intention gets over sighted by trying to ‘finish’, or ‘wow!’ yourself. I am learning to know when to stop, to rely on my visions. When I am clear I see what needs to be done, and some days are for wiping down the canvas, a whole days work. Tomorrow is a new day, and if the elements are balanced, the work will most definitely  – be sublime.




George InnessThe_Storm_George_Inness_1885

George Bellows – Painter

Posted on October 8, 2013

 Painter of the day: GEORGE BELLOWS



Blue Snow, The Battery by George Bellows (1910), Oil on Canvas

Died age 42. Enjoyed summering in Woodstock.

This painting is a rare view of Battery Park NYC.

Unlike his social realism, this one dives into a more traditional approach, a nod to the Impressionists. His work moves me in many ways.

Drawing with intention.

Posted on October 4, 2013

I paint, but know how to draw.  To have given it up for color, composition and paint technique – I use it only to indicate where dark darks and lights are,where the composition should live. I draw in my sketchbook,for assignments and story boards, but rarely to finish. Today in class I lectured about perception and maintaining a clear mindset to overcome the materials. Not let the school dictate your course, and to use the resources available through the past masters (museums, books, peers). We drew from the model, first doing 1 minute poses, then up to 5. All in charcoal on drawing paper – I circle the room and call out ideas on how the background dictates what is happening in the figure. The model had a very bad attitude, and I later found out it was due to the kids sitting on the stand. She was also rolling her eyes at kids, and had a generally uneasy way about her. The kids, regardless of the models shitty attitude, made the best of it. I am starting to see real progress, and the marks are beginning to take on a more random, interesting pattern. The background is so important in drawing the figure, as it is in painting. Beauty is in the eye of the artist. It is up to us to see the beauty and capture what it is, not let it move away. Something that appears beautiful can seem ugly a moment later – and to recall and memorize what it is that attracted you in the first place is quintessential to a strong outcome. 1209379_10151660167592102_1737226620_n

This painting is what I’m working on this week. I also have a small landscape going. I have been studying faces,animals and skulls – neglecting my landscape lineage. I am coming back to the pleine air experience!

I can’t wait to get absorbed in nature –  in the mixture of green and umber. In breathing air and working without stopping.

To the Met with my class….

Posted on September 20, 2013

I always love revealing the art  of Corot, Degas, Picasso, Sisley, Monet, Manet, etc. to my students!  It is thrilling to see how the styles influence each other, and make for a nice morning.



‘Horse Head’, 18/36, Oil on Canvas, ©2013 by Gavin Spielman


Painting of Nick Vivid

Posted on May 4, 2013


Painting in progress of Luke — vamping on BLUE.

Posted on May 4, 2013

New Painting in progress of Luke.

also check out my video tutorial on how to mix flesh tone


Interview discussing the creative process of teaching

Posted on April 27, 2013

Just found this interview I did for the New School last year.

How does your drawing practice inform your thinking?

Creating art comes from thought – which is directed by the intention or desire to create. I try to be thoughtless when I execute a work of art. When I do think – I meditate on paradigms of value, mark making and direction (perspective) as well as composition through intense observation – to help inform the work. This filters into my day-to-day life, even when I am not painting or drawing. I feel the balance and organization of creating a drawing has become infused with my very existence. The search for beauty, excitement, or a certain recognition that all the elements relate in what we see – has become my life’s pursuit.

What do you see as the value of drawing in a larger sense?

Drawing and painting is an invaluable tool for navigating through the world. I feel I am privy to communication with everyone, at all levels of life, not just a few – through my art. My very being is rooted in the fundamental virtues of being an artist, which helps clarify my plight as a creative person. For me it is knowing that the unknown exists, debunking the myth of light and creation, which never ends!

What is the greatest struggle that you see your students work through in your drawing classes and how do you facilitate their learning to grapple with things that come up for them?

The greatest struggle is with being human. The inherent distrust that they have in being the age they are, being away from home, peers, drugs, diet, attitude, etc. I try to inform the students how important it is to purge yourself of these base desires before coming to the easel, to master your thoughts and come prepared –as a fighter or a chef would. I encourage everyone to keep a journal and write out all thoughts before creating, so as not to put your self in the way of being a clear channel.

More technically, tonality (value) and composition are the first two things that rear its ugly head. I tell the students to adopt a prolific master painter, and keep a scrapbook on them. My approach is to pull from what they are doing already, and enhance that through either cropping the image, approaching the marks/graphics differently and/or seeing value mass and relating it to another easier to read value mass. They also have to keep a sketchbook and to use it daily for sketching.

My students have no problem with expression, most can pull an exciting array of line and mark from their brains, once directed to do so. I demonstrate the gamut of creative approaches in demonstration, so as to reveal a multi prong attack on executing something unique and original. I also bring up the aspect of intention and love/passion in my teaching. To have the intention to create something out of inspired energy is tantamount to creative expression and masterful outcome.

It is important for students to be reminded of this, that creativity and life is rooted in love and inspiration.

How does the teaching aspect of your practice affect your professional practice and your own projects?

Teaching for me builds compassion. I am eternally grateful to my students for giving me this lesson. I find the creative means of describing situations or goals/outcomes are far easier when compassion is applied. Teaching is about building inspiration, trust and hope. These are all virtues I try to put back into my work, and in dealings with my business people and partners.

For me painting and drawing are intrinsically connected to my Self and center of being. Through this journey of seeing things by breaking down tone, mass, weight, line, composition, perspective, color, value and expression – I in turn live my life this way – with passion.

I see how detachment from outcome (of art) is most important. To see that the creation has its own life, that we just guide and make it better – is key. I enjoy acknowledging this and giving it meaning through teaching. It is rooted in the journey being the most important aspect to the trip, the outcome will reveal itself in time – we just have to be prepared on our way.

-Gavin Spielman April 25, 2012

Posted on April 22, 2013



New painting – ‘Garth’, 18″/24″, Oil on Canvas