Exercise: Creating Mood and Atmosphere
For this exercise you can choose to paint a full figure portrait, a head and shoulders portrait or a self-portrait… should be unusual or expressive in some way. It can be true to life or not, depending on the effects you wish to achieve… Decide what you’re trying to achieve at the outset and make some notes in your learning log. Come back to this when you’ve finished your painting and assess the extent to which you’ve achieved your objectives.
Instead of working this through in my learning log initially, I decided to use my sketchbook and then photograph both notes and scribblings/sketches so that the thought process can be followed in both.
Below are attempts (using another life class drawing) to produce a 70s psychedelia mood and atmosphere drawing on the thumbnails in sketch book notes 1.
Rethinking using life figures only are not really portraits, imagined or realistic.
Reference material for inspiration that I looked at and notes in sketchbook notes 4 above.
Media and colour swatches, objectives and decisions in sketchbook notes 5.
1970s make-up reference photo, colourful, big eyelashes.
Sketchbook notes showing decisions made, draft image, review and amendments.
Although, I appear to have gone to nth degree to plan out my painting, I still allowed myself some experimentation with the final image. Positions were lightly marked in with an HB pencil so that the flowers may be outlined with masking fluid. I usually avoid using this as it is too rigid, however, in this case, the whole idea was to use the flat, opacity of the gouache for the intended pop art feel of the flowers. I then washed in clean water in the area around the petals so that I could drop in the purple acrylic ink. This, in effect, obliterated the pencil marks which caused mild panic, until I realised that I had drawn the figures several times already so knew where I wanted what, so just painted them in with orange ink. This, into the still damp purple, fused and merge nicely, which alleviated the perceived problem of how to treat the figures with less importance. The face was painted with a mixture of acrylic inks (purple and orange) and some gouache for the nose shape and mouth. Tones were built up wet in wet. The irises of the eyes, which I wanted to be “startling” in colour were painted with the only blue used – Process Cyan acrylic ink and enhanced with gouache using its opacity. The flowers painted last, with care taken over which colours went where.
Mood and atmosphere planned – flower power/psychedelia/pop art/happiness/mysticism: Achieved? Absolutely not! I had created an interesting but in-cohesive image that didn’t really say anything. It’s not unattractive but looking back, my objectives were not really moods, they were an era. I had initially been drawn to a darker subject and should have stayed with that, I had tried to force a feeling and mood onto myself that wasn’t really there. I seem to be drawn to sadness in people’s eyes and even the face in the finished painting can’t be called happy, she actually looks afraid.
Feeling deflated, I went to have lunch and ponder my next move.
On my return, I picked up my black ink and stick again, looking at Marlene Dumas’ portraits that I was looking to for reference before. In fact all the reference material I was trying to use, should have told me what I really wanted to paint!
I started to draw with the stick and black ink, roughly following the head position of my previous self-portrait, then sprayed the ink with clean water. I worked like this for several minutes, drawing and spraying. There was definitely a mood there, even if the drawing was crude. I decided to let the paper dry completely and then work into the face with pastel and charcoal. Working spontaneously I reformed the features and let it happen, the runs on the left eye (as happened with my own self-portrait) gave a haunted look to the face. I decided to leave this and worked around it.
Glancing down at Dumas’ portrait Julie – the Woman, where only the eyes and mouth are naturalised and the rest of the face is blocked in red, I picked up a dark red pastel and rubbed it all over the face. Leaving the left eye, nose and mouth, I started to see fear and distrust in the expression. Enhancing both eyes slightly and darkening around the head, the hair could have been a head scarf. I decided to leave the ambiguity and let the viewer decide.
I now feel I have fulfilled the brief.
Just as feelings can not be truly explained in words, mood and atmosphere can not be planned – they have to be felt. It is not just in the imagination, it is in the soul.