In the early years, my heart belonged to the Impressionists with all the swirling colors and textural brush work. They inspired the broken color pastel landscapes I experimented with through my Freshman to Senior years of high school.

Four Trees – pastel – 1983 – my junior year of high school by Bill Inman

Color – I worked at getting every bit of color I could contrive to weave and mingle among shimmering trees and cascading skies.

Rocks, Water Trees – Pastel – 1984 – Senior year of high school by Bill Inman

Hills – Pastel – 1983 – Sophomore year of high school by Bill Inman

Trees & Lake – Pastel – around 1982 – Sophomore year of high school by Bill Inman

Color theory was not part of the curricula – I simply followed my instincts and played – a lot! I wanted to see how one color placed next to another would affect those individual colors – would they clash or become best friends – maybe both.  How would that same combination of pigments change the feeling in the painting? How far could I stretch the color boundaries before the limits of my fascination failed?



High School art classes with Norma Sharma introduced me to charcoal, clay, block prints, watercolor – a multitude of media. Watercolor came in a close second to pastel, but the large set of Rembrandt pastels my parents gave me for Christmas was tough competition.

Until I started taking advanced watercolor classes in college – that led me to experiment with both separately and then in combination.

I played with softer edges.

Soft Edges – Watercolor – around 1989 – by Bill Inman

And with harder edges.

Hard Edges – Watercolor – around 1989 – by Bill Inman

And I combined the hard and soft edges. The bright colors and sharper edges I could achieve with watercolor led me to experiment with pastel over the washes and stiff bristle brushes, salt, scrapers, gauche and a host of other tools and ideas to see how far I could push watercolor’s possibilities.

Combination Edges – Watercolor – 1989 – by Bill Inman

Summer Retreat – scraper tool experiments – watercolor – 1989 – by Bill Inman

Pastel over Watercolor – 1989 – by Bill Inman (yeah, I know, crazy color – it was sure fun to do though)

Swans – gauche over watercolor – 1989 – by Bill Inman (water spots are courtesy of an overflowing washing machine that damaged much of my stored college work)

Even when realism reigned, throwing in a fanciful fish sandwich was fun for some intrigue in Maalox Moment. Experimenting with media, tools and ideas insures that our art never gets stale.

Maalox Moment – watercolor – 1989 – by Bill Inman

My professors also taught the importance of shapes and line and movement.

Shapes – Conte Crayon – 1986 – by Bill Inman

Escher Inspired – Conte – 1986 – by Bill Inman

Swan Shape – Ink – 1989 – by Bill Inman

Negative and positive shape relationships were emphasized – not focusing on objects, but the spaces around and within objects. We were taught to make each shape interesting irrespective of perceived reality – to see more with our imagination than with our eyes.

Child’s Play – Spray Paint and Oil Paint – 1989 – by Bill Inman

That’s how Child’s Play came to be – a class assignment. We sprayed several colors of paint on top of water in a 50-gallon trash can, swirled it around a bit like witches’ brew and dipped illustration board quickly, straight down into the mix and back out again. Repelled by the water, the paint stuck to the board in a beautiful spiraling display. We were told to use magazine clippings to fashion a story from the medley. Oil paint proved much more compelling and useful to finish off this dream of castles and boats and childlike wonder.



The illustration and color theory classes I attended granted greater experiences and potential paths through examples such as Night Out, 1 Red, Yellow & Blue Marker and The Savior’s Life.

Night Out – Oil on Primed Paper – 1989 – by Bill Inman

I Red, Yellow & Blue Marker were used to create Pointillism inspired optical blending – 1985 – by Bill Inman

The Savior’s Life Cycle – Collage – 1989 – by Bill Inman

And that’s how our oil paintings can continue to evolve and transform – by keeping ourselves open to the small drops of insight and inspiration that trickle into our thoughts while we work or perhaps while studying the work of others in fields seemingly unrelated to our own.

My first full oil landscape attempt was motivated by the small dabs of color that I saw in the work of the impressionists I so admired.

My first full oil painting – 1985 – by Bill Inman

A dozen of Sergei Bongart’s paintings, on view in a room of our school’s art department, electrified my passion for oil painting. The brush strokes were much more pronounced and broad than the French Impressionists and the vigorous approach appealed to me more than anything I had yet experienced.

Back Porch – Oil Painting by Sergei Bongart –

The early 90’s for me were full of plein air painting with a Russian Impressionist influence.

Garden – 12×16 – 1992 – oil painting by Bill Inman

River – 20×30 – 1991 – oil painting by Bill Inman

Logan Canyon Fall – 20×24 – 1991 – oil painting by Bill Inman

Bigfork Montana Dock – 20×30 – 1992 – oil painting by Bill Inman

Then something began to change – not all at once, but occasionally Van Gogh slipped into my system with some thicker paint and evolving colors.

Lilly Pond – 24×30 – 1993 – oil painting by Bill Inman

Sangre De Christos – 40×30 – 1995 – oil painting by Bill Inman

Van Gogh Lillies – 20×30 – 1996 oil painting by Bill Inman

Ascending – 30×24 – 1996 – oil painting by Bill Inman

Thick Blue Flowers – 1997 – oil painting by Bill Inman

Funny thing is, a desire for emotive realism also engaged my brush and produced paintings with a touch of the thick paint and much different color harmonies.

Reflections – 30×40 – 1996 – oil painting by Bill Inman

Sunset Pond – 24×30 – 1996 – oil painting by Bill Inman

A looser realism and a fanciful approach to color emerged as well – I was in search of something and kept pushing new directions.

Vibrance – Greenhorn Valley, Colorado – 40×40 – 1998 – oil painting by Bill Inman

Plein Air Valley – 1994 – oil painting by Bill Inman

Red Flowers – 1996 – oil painting by Bill Inman

Looking back, I can clearly see the influence of each of my early experiments and choices guiding my art with a healthy helping of increased knowledge and skill adding richness and dimension. Sometimes I wonder if I get too caught up in the present and forget lessons of the past or become timid from the pressures of life’s demands.

My work has gone through many evolutions – some were more like distortions while others have gracefully contributed to my ongoing quest.

I continue to experiment, just not at the pace I kept the first two decades.

This last Fall, while pondering the start of a fall mountain forest piece, I wondered if I could approach it differently. What could I do that I had not tried before?

I’m not sure what put the thought into my mind, but I decided to load up the top half of the 20×24 panel with straight white paint. I then worked right into that paint with all the vibrant colors of fall and the twisting twining twigs and branches and life of the forest. I think I just felt the need for some texture. Mountain Mists was the result.

Misty Mountain – 20×24 – 2016 – oil painting by Bill Inman

The experience was so fun and invigorating I thought the Master Oil Painting community would enjoy it as well, so last month I completed United We Stand for the monthly membership site.

United We Stand – 12×9 – 2017 – oil painting by Bill Inman from monthly video

Next week I will share the step-by-step process I used to create this painting.

Feel free to share with the community some of your evolutions. What experiments or happy accidents have given you some ‘ah hah’ moments?