Limited Palette

On November 14 I attended another online art session sponsored by the National Gallery of Art. The theme was working with a limited color palette and was led by artist Maud Taber-Thomas. The artwork used as our inspiration was from a current exhibit Sargent and Spain.

The National Gallery of Art offers Virtual Studio every 2 weeks or so, and there are multiple sessions on each topic (which are free!) to fit your schedule, and you can attend multiple iterations. Sign up at – just send them an email asking to be put on the list for the newsletter.

Our focus was to copy aspects of several artworks by Sargent. After reviewing tonal gradients we got to work. I did two of the three artworks (the third was of gourds hanging in a lot of leaves and I just could not muster up enthusiasm for it, it seemed cluttered and visually too noisy for me).

I used India ink and acrylic inks.

The first artwork was Venetian Interior. (the link showing the actual work as it appears in the NGA exhibition – you might enjoy taking a look to compare it to what I did).

Here is my version in black and white tones.

The next artwork was Camprodon, Spain. I used the complementary colors of blue and orange (with some black and white).

I’m not a big fan of Sargent, and I really hate copying someone else’s work. I know that it’s a time-honored method of learning art principles, but that’s not where I am these days. However, I decided to put pen to paper and see what emerged. Every bit of drawing practice helps me get better at expressing things the way I want to.

Plus, I did enjoy learning more about Sargent’s body of work and imagining what it must have been like to tour Spain and its environs 130 years ago or so. I reminded myself that all the people he depicted are long dead, and yet here they are, looking out at me as if they would speak. I found that quite moving and a testament to the artist’s vision.

Moral of the story: there is always something to be learned even when your mind is made up not to, so.. lighten up and listen a bit. Art, like life, can surprise you.

23 thoughts on “Limited Palette

  1. Chris

    I enjoyed this Claudia. I’ve not been paying attention to any blog for ages but pleased I have found my way back here. Thanks for reminding me that we need to look beyond our prejudices!

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. I have had it as my strictest rule in my art that it should come from my own experiences, so as I said, I don’t like the idea of working from someone else’s composition, but…I also did not like working in group sessions at all before the pandemic. Maybe I am more confident now that I feel much stronger who I am, for various reasons, and I won’t get mixed up or lost or feel I’ve had to take on someone else’s vision or plans, and lose my own. In this exercise I took what I wanted (which included the pleasant experience of other people’s perspective) and did things with it, my way. I feel I learned more than one lesson here. Plus, every time I draw, I improve, and that makes me happy to think about that.

  2. Laura (PA Pict)

    I find it really fascinating that I can see a surprising amount of Sargent in your versions yet both pieces are very much Claudia art works with your distinctive style. I really like the looseness of the inky mark-making in the Venetian scene. There’s a sense of movement in your take on the scene that I don’t think is there in the original.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. You know, I always thought I couldn’t draw, or capture a likeness, but I do feel I can do that, in my own way (which I am pleased with, very much to my surprise!). I also like the one with the women. I think to me I saw the scene as mysterious and that they were on a somewhat furtive mission, maybe hiding their actions, and I found that that was how I illustrated it. Funny how that worked, it was not simply copying, as it turned out.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. SInce we were trying to use limited colors, the blue and orange ink were what I had to work with, and mixing them made such good colors, as well as how they worked on their own. I was surprised at the results and I felt like it was something I had not really explored before – I tend to use colors right out of the tube or bottle. But recently, including this session, I have been doing more mixing. I wonder why that didn’t interest me before and now it does.

  3. Michele

    Those drawings in inks are awesome; love your lines and those clouds! I also didn’t like the gourds because they just seemed disorganized, but I did them anyway. I’m inspired and motivated when post your work and thoughts and happy that you do so frequently! — Michele

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. I really like the NGA events and I always find something in them to spark some ideas, even when we are doing a theme or activity I am not so sure of, starting out.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you for reading. I really enjoy the NGA’s events because they seem to come at things from a direction that I would not choose for myself, but…I try it out as I feel I can and I have learned a lot. This session in particular was one I wasn’t sure I would finish, but, once I got started, I relaxed into the drawing, and that was such a good feeling. And I enjoyed thinking about Spain; I visited several cities there about 40 years ago and I have such good memories of the trip.

        1. Claudia McGill Post author

          You are welcome. I think you’d love Spain (and/or Portugal, I have been there too). There are so many patterns and visually beautiful scenes, both nature, and in the manmade environments.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      I visited Barcelona in 1983. I loved it. A highlight, the Iglesia Sagrada Familia. It is completed now, I think, but back then construction had just restarted (there were only the towers, pretty much, and the building was roofless) and a highlight of my trip was taking a construction elevator ride to the top. The city is just wonderful and you would enjoy it.

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