The best way to learn a new language is to immerse in it – go to the country where it’s spoken and do not speak your native tongue.

Art is like that too.

I’m just wrapping up three solid days of immersion in art. The vocabulary is starting to come into my fingers.

In the Virtual Art Academy, I did my reading for the first lesson, and I posted my first assignment. It was on values, and we had to choose 12 paintings, convert them to greyscale, and then analyze the value structure of the painting based on the black and white version.

It was instructive, for sure. For example, look at the values in Edgar Degas’ “Woman Ironing” – completed in 1887:


Quite a range, even though the colors in the original are muted pastels:


I have trouble seeing values in color, so this was a good exercise for me. I also reviewed some of my own photos by converting them to greyscale, an old trick I’d forgotten, and it helped me see why some of them worked or didn’t work.

It even works for glass. Look at the featured image above, and decide which designs you think are effective.  (These pieces have not been fired in the kiln yet.)

Now look at the greyscale version:


The designs I liked the best in color are the ones that I think look good in black and white, too.

Also this weekend, I restarted an art study habit that I began last year and really loved. I choose a painting by a master each day and analyze the use of color and shape.

It’s not anything very complicated. I look at the use of circles, ovals, triangles, rectangles, squares, vertical and horizontal lines, and how the shapes and spaces relate to one another. I look at the use of warm and cool colors, and what effect they have. I speculate why the artist chose those colors and shapes for that particular composition.

I write about it as I look, because writing is a way for me to find out what I’m thinking. Sometimes I draw a sketch of the painting’s composition in colored markers.

I had only done this study for two weeks last fall when I began to have insights into how to portray volume. Alas, then the aneurysm ruptured …

I picked up the morning painting study again in January, and then the house fell apart

I won’t let it drop again. Studying a painting is a great way to start the day. My head is immersed in visual meaning and beauty, and the whole world opens up.

When I go to sleep, it’s easier to let shapes and colors roll around in my mind instead of worry and to-do lists.

I dream again in paintings, in the wordless universe where everyone can speak the language.

Today’s penny is a 2015, the year I started my morning painting study.


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