Pam Ingalls-Cox: Building On the Basics

Eggs, Howie’s Way (oil, 11×14)

Like most artists, I take my inspiration where I find it. And most of the time, I find it in simple, everyday objects. Most of my paintings are inspired by simple everyday objects. Sometimes these scenes look quite complicated and perhaps even a bit intimidating. When that?s the case, I’ve learned to simplify. I concentrate on the values and color temperatures of the big shapes first. Then I finish with the dark accents and highlights.

Yellow Pitcher (oil, 14×11)

Vibrant color depends on strong contrasts in values and temperature. I concentrate on separating the lights and darks into a few large simple shapes. Within these big areas I use broken color?varying the color temperature within the original color shape?and subtle value differences.

Cherries (oil, 8×10)

When a warm color is next to a cooler color it makes a vibration. I look for that vibration in every aspect of the painting. The basic shapes should vibrate. The broken color inside them should vibrate. Even the dark accents and the highlights themselves can have a vibration.

Nannette’s Kitchen II (oil, 24×20)

I look for subjects that already feel like a painting. By that I mean that I look good, natural compositions and strong light and shadow patterns. Once I find a subject I like, I tone my panel with Venetian red gesso. I put a quick, simple drawing down on the board with my brush?just to get an idea of the composition. Then I cover the canvas with paint?beginning with the big shadow shapes in thinner paint, and moving toward the large, light shapes in thicker paint. I keep in mind the color temperature of the big shapes as I go. The challenge is to forget the actual object I’m painting and just paint what I see when I squint my eyes. To that end, I try to paint areas of color, not objects.

Tera Leigh is a writer and artist living near San Francisco. She writes columns for several magazines, including Decorative Artist’s Workbook and Artist’s Sketchbook (from the editors of The Artist’s Magazine). Look for her new book, The Complete Guide to Decorative Painting (North Light Books) in October. Her Web site is

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