Winslow Homer Speaks!

by Kathleen Huebener in Art Inspires Art


On April 29, 2008 Winslow Homer spoke to my soul! This shocking phenomenon occurred while I was attending the Winslow Homer Exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Never had my soul been so moved by any other master’s artwork!

What made me stop and take notice was the fact that I had been previously experimenting with subtraction techniques in my paintings. During Homer’s exhibition, I discovered that Winslow Homer was an expert in such techniques. As I toured Homer’s exhibition, it was as if Winslow Homer himself was walking me through the process. I was enthralled!

Some of the subtraction techniques that Homer used were blotting, scraping, sponging, and using sandpaper. He also used resist to protect the white areas. Often he would rewet the painting and scrape over again and again. He used a knife blade to scratch a glint in the fisherman’s eye in “Adirondacks Guide.”

 A good example of his subtraction techniques is in his painting Breezing Up. Homer painted the ocean with mixed green and blue washes, mixed with red and then let the paint dry. He then dipped brush in clear water and made swirls in the waves. He let this dry and then added opaque watercolor for foam.

Once Winslow Homer had my stolid attention, I was open to more of his discoveries. I learned that he studied Michel – Eugene Chevreul’s book The Laws of Contrast of Color.  

Homer said, “You can‘t get along without a knowledge of the principles, rules governing the influence of one color upon another. A mechanic might as well try to get along without tools.”

 Some important facts he learned from Chevreul:

Ø      The Triad (yellow, red, blue) is exciting a dynamic visual – if very little color mixing.

Ø      Perceived color can be altered by 2 factors: the color of the light that illuminates an object and the reflected color of objects near-by.

Ø      Chevreul’s principle of simultaneous contrast = when any 2 objects or colors are placed side by side, eye and brain work together to MAXIMIZE the contrast between them.

 My visit with Winslow Homer passed too quickly and I left with a few of Homer’s quotes:

 “It is wonderful how much depends upon the relationship of black and white.
Why, do you know, a black and white, if properly balanced, suggests color.”
“If a man wants to be a painter, he should never look at pictures.”

 “You must not paint everything you see.
You must wait and wait patiently, until the exceptional, the wonderful effect or aspect comes.” 

 Oft-quoted conviction: “A horizon is horrible – that straight line!”

 Until the Winslow Homer exhibition, I had never truly appreciated the wisdom of the old art masters.

It took Winslow Homer speaking to my soul to make me realize that for Homer, and indeed, for all the old art masters,

it took years of painting, experimenting, practice, practice, and more practice to achieve their greatness.

Yet, the basic truth is they had to start at the beginning where all artists have to start.

But, oh, the treasures we artists will find sooner, if we do study the old art masters.

Winslow Homer said so.