A review of a book recommended by Robert Henri in his book “The Art Spirit”

Denman Ross’ book “The Painter’s Palette” is subtitled “A Theory of Tone Relations: An Instrument of Expression.” Ross’ primary purpose for writing the book is

Thinking of musical instruments and the laws of Counterpoint and of Harmony,
the question comes up whether it may not be possible for the
painter to convert his palette into an instrument of precision
and to make the production of effects of light and color a well
ordered procedure, a procedure which everyone can understand
and follow.
“After more than twenty
years given to the consideration of this question and to experiments
in the use of set-palettes, I am fully persuaded that it
is perfectly possible to make of the painter’s palette an instrument
of precision, an instrument which will serve him both
as a mode of thought and means of expression. He will then
use his palette very much as the musician uses his voice or the
violin or the piano.

Ross’ book is only sixty-four pages long and its main portion discusses the several palette systems or layouts possible for creating Ross’ desired “instrument of precision.” It is a technical discussion of the effects created by the artist’s pigments. The fundamental effect derived from the pigments is tone; a term including in its meaning both value and color: value being the quantity of light of a tone; color being the quality of the light of a tone.

Ross discusses in part one of his book the scales of values; in this case, he divides the scale between white and black into nine divisions: black, low dark, dark, high dark, middle, low light, light, high light, and black.

[ There are several sites on line where one can create his own scale of values; but
I prefer the RGB Gradient Maker.]

In my case,I have found that the scale of values used determines the focal distance of a painting; therefore, I use a twelve step scale; this gives me a four to five
foot focal distance for my paintings. I keep at my easel a printout of values
in relationships of one step, two steps, and three and four; really, it is five
as there is a white background. When painting, I will fit an observed value
into one of these relationships. My eventual goal is to be able to feel the desired
value step and not keep doing the mechanical comparisons: when painting or
drawing there is a perceived space from front to back of the overall scene and
between the object’s parts, between objects, and within the totality of the painting.

In part two, Ross breaks the color scale into the well known twelve step color wheel; he lays out two parallel lines of the twelve colors: one row is violet to yellow and below it is a row of yellow to violet. He does this in order to more easily to discuss values, warm and cool, and mixing pigments. Of the colors, violet is the darkest and yellow is the lightest; red-orange is the warmest and blue-green is the coolest; violet is neutral on the warm/cool scale as is yellow; the warm scale runs from violet through orange to yellow; the cool scale runs from violet to yellow through green.

Ross’ layouts of colors in its ultimate configuration, in my opinion, would
require a door size sheet of glass in order for there to be space not only for the
layout of pigments, the creation of the pure colors, and then the creation of
the needed tones; fortunately, Ross does provide progressively smaller palettes.

Personally, being a person of limited means, I prefer to layout my palette
according the areas being painted in the work session and the colors I anticipate
being used. Before reading The Painter’s Palette, in response to a video about Manet, I started laying warm and cool versions of each color I plan to use; I had begun a study of a figure in a painting using this system; but, upon reading Denman’s book, I changed my palette to a layout of two lines of pigments: on one side is the row of the warm pigments I want to use and on the other side is the row of cool colors. Hansa Yellow Medium is my warm yellow and Nickel Azo Yellow is my cool yellow.

Even though the study is not yet finished, the portions wherein I have used the dual row palette demonstrate a major leap forward in my understanding.


I am using Denman’s system on the legs.

One of the biggest problems I have encountered is that the color I am mixing changes color as I look at it. Also, I am taking Henri’s advice to focus on the dominant tone when determining the nature of the minor tones.


Recently, I was given Robert Henri’s book “The Art Spirit” by a member of an oddball group of elderly conversationalists: we meet every Sunday on the Tate St.
sidewalk at the flower pot for coffee and donuts. (The donuts are free as they
frequently are delivered by an employee of the Salvation Army who is tasked with
distributing to spots throughout Greensboro extra donuts that are left over from
feeding the homeless.) We are all retired or almost retired who have time to
blather on Sunday mornings./

Henri’s book is, as the title page declares, a series of “Notes, articles,
fragments of letters, and talks to students.” It is a book that belongs in every
artist’s permanent library – between the times of having to sell down one’s library to make ends meet. The book stands among those few books that are able to fundamentally alter an artist’s understanding of painting. As it is nearly impossible to immediately implement in one’s art work every new idea one reads, one out of necessity returns to the books to gather more understanding.

For over twenty years I have managed to keep in my permanent library two key books: John Sloan’s “The Gist of Art” and William Morris Hunt’s “On Painting and Drawing;” each of these books have numerous underlinings and margin notes which increase in number with each reading. My copy of Henri’s book already has several underlines and margin notes even though I have only sat down and read of it a couple of times.

The reader can read Henri’s book cover to cover or browse by sections that interest him or focus on sections and paragraphs that pertain to the artist reader’s painting difficulties despite having a laughable art degree from today’s post-modernist institutions. (I swear one can get a better art education by attending classes at his local artists’ guild.)

Henri is generous to other artists of his era by mentioning two books on painting which he himself thinks are vital for an artist’s understanding: “The Painter’s Palette” by Denman Waldo Ross and ” A Theory of Pure Design: harmony Balance Rhythm,” also by Ross, Both books are downloadable as PDFs with a Google search. The latter book written in 1907 and the former in 1919. These books are in the lineage of Kandinsky’s”Concerning the Spiritual in Art” and Joseph Albers’ “Interaction of Color.”

I will cover the two Ross books in later book reviews. The books are available in PDF format:
“The Painter’s Palette”
” A Theory of Pure Design: harmony Balance Rhyth,”

I have been remiss is posting; so, here is an update on what has happened since I posted in January.

I finished two paintings in that time in preparation for a one man exhibit at the Artery Gallery in November for a total of fifteen works. The show contained works from 1997 to 2017; the exhibit contained two sample pieces from my digital paintings. I sold one piece in the show: Boardwalk Jitney sold to a prominent Greensboro collector with twenty minutes of the beginning of the opening reception.

Seaside Heights Boardwalk Jitney

Another piece that was in the show was sold to an overseas collector; however, the collector saw it on my website  and not the show; and it was sold after the exhibit closed. He purchased the oil painting On the Pier. The collector Tighe O’Connor and I share an artist mentor Dr. George Weber jr.; Tighe studied with him in Ireland in the 1980s and I at Rutgers Newark in the late 60s and early 70s.


I shipped out on Black Friday via USPS after shopping around between FedEx and the USPS. Shipping via FedEx would have cost an arm and a leg; did this while schlepping around a thirty-six inch mailing tube attached to the rack on my bicycle in the rain: gave up on my rusted, New Jersey, GMC car.

Mention that you have to wait ten minutes to attempt to restart your GMC car and those who had one or have friends who had one burst out laughing.

Circling back to my opening statement, the two new oil painting completed since January:

Pier Fishing on the Toms River



I am somewhat of an outside artist in this town despite having been here from 1972 to 1997 and then 2014 to current; so, my opening was sparsely attended; however, I was able to have an extended conversation with fellow artist Bruce Shores. He and I were both T.A.s and studio assistants to Peter Agostini  at UNC at Greensboro in the 1970s and are very fond of our memories of studying under him.

When I picked up my works at the end of the show, I obtained a date for another one man exhibit in 2019; but I don’t know the month yet. The next two years will be consumed by doing at least twenty small oil paintings and studies.




New painting just finished titled On the Pier; this is the one I have been working on for over two years; the main dilemma was how to recreate the energy of the water without copying the photo or being realistic. I finally settled on the solution by the difference between value changes and using the palette knife.

As with the painting of the boardwalk cart pusher, this painting is meant to show movement across the picture plane. The needs of the painting outweigh the need for proportion and description. This means putting composition first. one of the consequences of putting composition first is that the standing are compressed vertically; but the fellow in the beach chair is elongated in comparison


The main lines were set out first: the pier floor is established on the bottom line tripartite canvas division (line #1) making the pier a stage but not as strong as lines created using the bipartite power lines; the distant shore and woods are established using the upper quarter-line of the bipartite canvas division (line #2); the three figures play off of this upper line.

The seated figure slumps into the half-third line (#3) on the right which is reinforced by the piling; his knees anchor to the line of the first third (#4); This line is reinforced by the second pier piling and the empty chair. The piling on the left sits directly on the one-third line and is the main anchor for the pier(line #5). The female figure’s ankle is secured to the center vertical (line #6) as she steps away from it moving to the left. the male figure’s back right foot is anchored on the left side’s one-fourth vertical (line # 7) as he steps to the left of the picture plan; his forward left foot steps onto the half-fourth vertical (line #8); his head is moving between these two verticals.

Woman in a Red Dress

Woman in a Red Shirt: Oil on 300# wc paper

I just finished this painting a few days ago.

I started this painting as a response to Picasso’s Woman in a Blue Veil the version of a young girl: I understood his painting to be the Annunciation to Mary: the blue veil alludes to the blue commonly associated to Mary in European art history, the image is a young girl not fully developed, and the light falling upon the face from her left and her concentration on it.

I wanted to make an image that would allude to the quality of Eros: in European painting she is the Lady in Red juxtaposed to Love in the painting by Titian: Sacred and Profane Love. The idea was to keep the painting simple in the manner of Picasso’s painting; but I got more and more deeply involved with appearances and detail as the painting progressed: so, under the original terms the painting is a failure.

The distortions are an effect of compositional decisions. The skin color is  variations on the color copper. The background colors are the fifths to the clothing and the skin colors.

I have been stumped over the past three weeks as to how to portray choppy water of a river. I finally decided to base the sign on shallow scrolls and bringing any brush strokes out in the rhythm those scrolls: I did capture the energy of the water; but the result was so far out of my normal painting that I questioned its “truth” or even whether it worked: in my view, it looked too much as though it was made for comics. I had a trusted friend – who is an artist and a theater set builder – come over to look at it yesterday: the glyph did capture the energy; but it was like a comic book rendering; and it failed in terms of regression into space.

This morning, with my failed attempt in the back of my mind, I came across on Facebook a link to the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection of Vincent Van Gogh. I followed the link to the collection’s online catalog and selected Van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Cypresses.

What am I looking at? Van Gogh’s successful attempt at capturing energy in his brushstrokes and painting. He understood that the brushstroke carries the intent of the focused artist: One can perceive the wind blowing through over the wheat field, not just because he bent the image of the wheat, but because he held the form of the wind energy and the resistance of the wheat stalks in his mind as he put down the strokes. The same can be said of the tree in middle of the field. The strokes of cypresses convey their living energy. One can go through the entire painting perceiving his recording of the energy or vitality he perceived.

One has to stay on focus to be able to do this sort of painting: this is proof that he did not paint in a frenzy; rather, he painted slowly, as his pigment laden stroke reveals; and he painted each stroke meticulously as he conscientiously recreated the energy in each stroke.

I apologize for the delay in posting. The past few months have been consumed by clearing and moving out of the family home and moving to Greensboro, North Carolina. The studio – what there is – is still coming into shape; but the apartment is small and it is a humid August and poor air conditioning. That being said, the painting below was completed in May.

Seaside Heights Boardwalk Jitney

I originally meant this painting to be only a sketch; to be a quick study of creating the sense of movement across the rectangular field; at the time, I was bouncing off of Gerome’s “Duel after the Ball” wherein the artist used the grid of the rectangular force lines to create a stage and dramatic movement. Gerome played the tripartite canvas division against the bipartite: the former was the stage and the latter contained the action and interaction of the characters. Similarly in my painting, the background is placed within the context of the tripartite system and the characters and the jitney are laced within the bipartite system. The painting was to be done with think strokes of paint; but, I soon became concerned about the quality of the piece; and I also became more interested in how areas of color melded into related adjacent areas. Finally, I began to experiment is glazing in order to more intense colors.

As to the piece’s structure, the cart pusher initiates the movement. His back foot is planted on the vertical force line of the left (the bipartite system has three major lines dividing the rectangle into four sections). His forward foot crossed the leftward major dividing line of the tripartite system; and his head is just on the line. The pusher has set up the rightward movement. The back cart edge is released from the tripartite force line and comes under the influence of the center force line; the strength of this center line is increased as the back cart wheel is directly on the line as the head and torso of the female passenger. The forward struts of the cart’s cab come under the influence of the right side tripartite division line and, combined with the legs, increase the sensation of rightward movement. Because the eye seeks like relationships, the viewer’s eye is also cast back to the head and forward foot of the pusher. The forward section of the cart is elongated in order to increase the pull and release from the right hand force line on the quarter mark.

Overall, I think the painting achieved the initial goal of creating a sense of movement across the canvas.

In terms of glazing, I was able to increase my ability to predict how a color will change when overlaid by another. I was able to accurately predict the changes using the color mixing triangle.

The shadow under the cart was reworked four times in order to get a smooth transition from one color to the next. My initial thought was to use diagonal brush strokes as I applied the paint in order to recreate the planking of the boardwalk; but the result proved to be clumsy and distracting.

I also made extensive use of color fifths.