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Still Learning to See Color: Block Study (after Hensche)

Color study painted under halogen light, 9x12 in
Color study of blocks under halogen light, 9x12 in, oil on panel
Photo of setup (I painted from for blocks, not photo)
I painted from this setup (not from this bad photo)

This study was done to practice seeing, mixing and and painting the relationships of color and light on different planes. Theoretically these colored block studies should be done outdoors with natural light, but it was a cold windy day and I wasn’t feeling well (and still don’t—first it was stomach flu and now a cold) and so worked indoors. When I compare this indoor painting to those I did outdoors and posted here, I can see why it’s better to work outdoors.

This practice is based on the work of Henry Hensche. As Professor Sammy Britt says about Hensche on the Hensche Foundation website:

Charles Hawthorne was the first painter…to put the “Impressionist concept of seeing” into a teaching principle. Hawthorne spent the last fifteen years of his life trying to understand what Monet looked for and how he painted.

Henry Hensche, an assistant to Hawthorne, perfected the concept of seeing and teaching color after Hawthorne’s death in 1930. Mr. Hensche taught and practiced this visual language of color from that first Summer in 1930 until his death in 1992.” [emphasis added]

I’ve studied on and off the past year with Camille Przewodek, a fantastic plein air colorist and former student of Hensche and I think I’m beginning to comprehend the concepts at a basic level (although the study above is a poor representation of that). Another painter who studied with Hensche, John Ebersberger, has created a Hensche Facebook group that is open to the public, for former Hensche students and others who are interested in Hensche’s approach to seeing and painting color relationships.  There are wonderful photos posted there of Hensche paintings and paintings by the artists who have carried on his approach to color, and to my mind, have  advanced it even further. Their discussions and critiques on the groups discussion board are also quite illuminating.

Painting colored blocks under different light is one of the techniques Hensche used to teach students to see that in every plane change there is also a hue or color change (not just a tone or value change), and how these colors change according to the light key (foggy grey light, bright sunlight,  early morning light, afternoon light).

This is not an easy approach and takes years of practice and study, best done with an experienced teacher like Camille Przewodek, John Ebersberger, Carole Gray-Weihman, Dale Axelrod (great links and examples on his website), and others at Atelier aux Couleurs Art Academy who offer workshops locally and internationally. I have found one book, Painting the Impressionist Landscape, that does explains the concepts (although I don’t think that author’s paintings provide stellar examples, especially compared to those listed above).

Even if I never learn to see and paint like they do, I’m sure the concepts I am learning will enrich my painting and it has already changed the way I think about light and color and form.