Painting with emotion

Earlier this year in my pastel class we focussed on sharing our emotional reaction to the seasons in our paintings. How do we do that? What does it even mean?

Put simply, painting should be more than faithfully reproducing a subject — we should be trying to
share our feelings about the subject so we can connect with other people as they react to our feelings,
identifying with them and engaging on a deeper level with the art.

Let’s have a look at this idea in relation to SUMMER

What does summer mean to you, what do you love most about summer? Is it blissful beach days, a refreshing walk in cool rainforests, golden bleached grass under a hot sun, fading beauty in your garden, cold icecream on a hot day, eating al fresco with friends, the weekend BBQ – this is your emotional connection to the subject of Summer. Explore how these favourite summer scenes or activities make you feel.
Next think about how you can translate this feeling into a painting. Notice I said feeling not subject. We should start thinking more about the feeling we want to communicate as the subject of our painting rather than a physical object or scene. For example if you love the feeling of eating a cold icecream on the beach with the hot sand under your feet you could take several approaches eg
Close up of a hand holding an ice cream cone piled high starting to melt in
the hot sun emphasising the feeling is personal delight in eating the ice cream– it’s focus is your hand and your icecream.
Larger view with children eating icecreams while paddling in the shallows.– a feeling of childhood freedom , friendships and summer treats.
Two friends standing on the beach chatting and eating ice creams— a feeling of companionship and shared pleasures.
…you get the idea!

Summer sun beating down and a riot of wildflowers . I wanted that feeling of heat so I played up the warm yellows and created strong contrast with the dark shadows. I also tried to convey my excitement at the explosion of life and colour all around me by keeping the marks varied. Sharp and jagged for the branches , thicker for the massed flowers.

Take into account your personal style and preferences.

Use your personal artistic preferences as a springboard for ideas on translating feelings into art. If you love colour then start thinking about feelings in terms of colour. What colour is joy?
It you love movement using energetic lines and marks you might ask yourself what marks would best capture the excitement of pounding surf on a stormy day on the coast?

Deviate from your reference sketch, memory or photo.

Using your ideas about your feelings and your personal artistic style and preferences you can then inject emotional content into your subject by:

  • Changing the format eg tightly cropping or expanding the view Omitting/adding objects
  • Changing the colours– hot colours for excitement, monotone for
  • more subdued feelings
  • Adding movement
  • Creating quiet passages to make for a more contemplative mood.

This painting was all about the contrast of sunlit cliffs against the shadows so I cropped right into that area. There was a sense of mystery in the shadows but the reference photo had little detail or colour in those shadowed areas so I chose to really jazz up the darker areas with purples, teals, blues and some dark oranges. Now it really sings to me. I kept the essence and used my artistic sense to create a more emotional response to the subject.

This is the original reference photo which really divides the viewer between the cliffs and the water.

My painted version leaves us in no doubt that the subject is the cliffs. Cropping in has emphasied their majesty and the weight of the rocks. It sets us wondering about the forces of nature that created them.

Next time you see something you want to paint take a moment to pinpoint the emotions you feel and ask yourself how you can convey those feelings through your chosen medium.

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