Research Point: Portraits Conveying Mood and Atmosphere

Research Point: Portraits Conveying Mood and Atmosphere

Go onto the internet and find some portraits that convey a distinctive mood or atmosphere rather than simply a physical likeness.

(NB All images are reproduced for editorial purposes only and not for commercial gain)

Rembrandt’s Mother by Rembrandt

portrait of rembrandt mother - Google Search:

Portrait of Rembrandt’s Mother

Rembrandt’s portraits are always more than just paintings of people’s faces. He seemed to look deep within their souls and put what he found down on the canvas. This portrait of his mother shows a certain weariness but also a life lived. The illumination of her face is mesmerising with the warmth in the shadow that gives a translucency. It makes you wonder what she was thinking at the time.

Head of a Peasant Woman with Greenish Lace Cap by Vincent van Gogh

Head of a Peasant Woman with Greenish Lace Cap - Vincent van Gogh:

Head of a Peasant Woman with Greenish Lace Cap – Vincent van Gogh

 

This portrait by van Gogh tells the viewer so much just by the way it has been painted. The brush-strokes are thick, angular and convey the pressures and worries of this woman’s every day existence. To me, he hasn’t made her old in years but has etched every struggle to feed her family with meagre means. I like the way it appears van Gogh has painted all the canvas dark and put in the mid tones and lights over the top, sometimes allowing the dark to show through. This gives an overall depth and mood to the painting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother and Child by Picasso

paintings of picassos blue period - Google Search:

Mother and Child by Picasso (painting from his blue period)

Picasso’s blue period, by its definition, is one of melancholy and sadness following the suicide of his close friend. He has taken this tragedy and sought out subjects in which to pour his grief. This painting is so simple yet heartbreakingly moving. The mother is turned away and the baby is clutched to her with a gentle fierceness.  There is nothing around them apart from what looks like a basket of clothes or maybe it’s where the baby sleeps.  Apparently, during this time, Picasso used to visit a women’s prison to draw some of the inmates, many of which had young children incarcerated with them. Could this be one of these women?

 

 

Party in Paris by Max Beckmann

Party in Paris - Max Beckmann:

Party in Paris – Max Beckmann

What a mixture of assumed moods and characters in this picture! Overall, I don’t really pick up much of a party atmosphere in this snap shot of a social gathering. There only seems to be three or four people enjoying themselves and one of those is the singer lost in his own world. Having said that, Beckmann has picked up on common characteristics of party goers. There are those actually enjoying themselves on the left. However, the boredom of the woman rear right having to listen to her assumed partner and his friend’s lengthy conversation – about politics probably, has noticed she has caught the eye of the single man on the left. The way Beckmann has put these two figures at the same eye level connects them. The couple in the middle are ignoring each other’s existence as they ran out of things to say to each other 10 years ago! The eagle-eyed social climber is keeping watch for potential useful contacts and the gentleman who really doesn’t want to be there in the bottom right (or maybe it’s the volume over melody of the awful singing?). What triumph in observing and then depicting the scene so cleverly, and, in a way that colours, positioning of the figures etc are balanced so perfectly. The more I look at this the more I see and like it.

Summary

There are so many portraits out there that are more than just paintings of faces – it makes me realise how much more has to go into the work.  It is also apparent that, although the observational and drawing skills that allow you to produce an image of a person are very important, it is not just these things and sometimes not even, that renders a likeness of the character or occasion. It is a conversation between painter and sitter that occurs, and, some remnants of that conversation should be visible in the painting that is produced as a result.

Exercise: Creating Mood and Atmosphere

03-09/09/15

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.

Creating Mood & Atmosphere Sketchbook notes and sketches 1

Creating Mood & Atmosphere
Sketchbook notes and sketches 1

Creating Mood & Atmosphere Own mono print from life model used as reference noted in sketchbook

Creating Mood & Atmosphere
Own mono print from life model used as reference noted in sketchbook

Creating Mood & Atmosphere Ink drawings with stick from mono print reference Sketchbook notes 2

Creating Mood & Atmosphere
Ink drawings with stick from mono print reference
Sketchbook notes 2

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.

Wet in wet acrylic inks, figures and motifs building on previous thumbnails. Sketchbook notes 3

Wet in wet acrylic inks, figures and motifs building on previous thumbnails.
Sketchbook notes 3

Rethinking using life figures only are not really portraits, imagined or realistic.

Rethinking composition notes, sketches and thumbnail. Sketchbook notes 4

Rethinking composition notes, sketches and thumbnail.
Sketchbook notes 4

Reference material for inspiration that I looked at and notes in sketchbook notes 4 above.

Reference material mentioned in sketchbook notes 4.

Reference material mentioned in sketchbook notes 4.

Media and colour swatches, objectives and decisions in sketchbook notes 5.

Media and colour swatches, objectives and decisions in sketchbook notes 5

Media and colour swatches, objectives and decisions in sketchbook notes 5

1970s make-up reference photo, colourful, big eyelashes.

1970s make-up reference photo

1970s make-up reference photo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sketchbook notes showing decisions made, draft image, review and amendments.

Sketchbook notes and draft image sketchbook 6

Sketchbook notes and draft image sketchbook 6

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.

Results:

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.

Creating Mood & Atmosphere Painting 2 Black & sepia ink, pastel and charcoal on paper.

Creating Mood & Atmosphere
Painting 2
Black & sepia ink, pastel and charcoal on paper.

I now feel I have fulfilled the brief.

Lesson learnt

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.

 

Practice of Painting – Assignment 2

28-30/07/15

Assignment 2

Your painting for this assignment should demonstrate your understanding of colour, tone, composition and the development of your technique in your chosen medium.

Set up a still life in the corner of a room or table – somewhere that gives a surrounding context. Alternatively, you may want to develop further one of the sketches or exercises that you’ve done in this part of the course.

I decided I wanted to use the interior of the cottage with its character and homely feel.  I had to remember that the focus of the painting was the still life, and that the surroundings were the context and atmosphere I wanted to give the image, and not to make the interior itself overly strong.

Assignment 2 - Preliminary tonal  & compositional drawings. Pencil in A4 sketchbook.

Assignment 2 – Preliminary tonal & compositional drawings.
Pencil in A4 sketchbook.

I began by taking a few photographs using the “square” option on my iPad to find the view. I am drawn to the square format and made a tonal drawing in my sketchbook in that orientation. It seemed to work well, however, I also tried a more oblong/portrait format with the same focus and felt it did not give me any better a composition.

Using a mix of ultramarine, burnt sienna and a touch of white to increase opacity, I painted my stretched paper with a warm but neutral ground, leaning more to the sienna than the blue.  The paper used was portrait format as I was still a little uncertain about the cropping of the background. I made the decision to draw as much as would be contained in that format and then look at how I would crop the image to achieve the composition I wanted.  I used masking tape to mark out the edges and found I still returned to my original composition of just off-square.

Assignment 2 - Work in progress showing the masked cropping of the larger drawing

Assignment 2 – Work in progress showing the masked cropping of the larger drawing

The drawings and painting were done over two afternoons to try to maintain similar light conditions. The light sources were from two windows opposite to each other in the room, although the sun, (when it appeared at intervals), came from the south window ie offset and behind the chair.  The sun cast the main shadows from the south window and the opposite light gave some further highlights on the crockery and metal tray. I wanted to capture, however fleeting, the feel of a sunny afternoon tea and chat break as opposed to a cold, winter’s afternoon with a roaring fire.

I was also keen to replicate the various textures and surfaces in the scene: The matt leather armchair, the medium pile rug with its swirling pattern in the weave, the slightly different glazes between the teapot/mug set and the not quite matching cup and saucer and the reflections and shine of the metal tray.

On the whole I think I have achieved most of my goals:

  • the background is muted and plays a supporting role to the focal point still life
  • the perspective from a slightly elevated view point, although still seated
  • the textures of the rug, table runner with creases, and shine and reflections of the tray
  • the scale of the small teapot, and supporting crockery is accurate

Things I could have done better:

  • the teapot spout may be a little enlarged
  • the cushion on the chair may be a little too dominant
  • the hand painted patterns on the crockery was quite tricky surprisingly, I needed it to look hand painted yet it was still quite uniform in life, I think my efforts are a little too varied
  • is the sunlight cast on the carpet too strong and distracting?
  • ellipses!!!
Assignment 2 - final work before physical cropping

Assignment 2 – final work before physical cropping

The photograph (left) shows the extended drawing in the portrait format and the cropped painting within it.  This worked well to help me achieve perspective and pin point the composition, although I was 90% sure I wanted a near square format. This brings me to the subject of preliminary drawing and planning. Throughout the drawing and painting courses so far, I have evolved to plan extensively and experiment with different media, views and compositions ad infinitum it seems.  I have therefore, taken a long time to come to the second assignment and now feel that maybe I overdo this stage. With this painting, I made a tonal drawing (which I find invaluable), another sketch and many notes and also experimented a little with the final work. In retrospect, this is probably all that was needed. I must learn to be less regimented, I feel, and be more spontaneous. Prior to these courses, I rarely planned my work and it was a matter of luck as to whether I produced a successful piece. Fail to plan, then plan to fail! However, I am coming to the conclusion that this is a crucial step in creating a process that works for me, and, as I progress, my instincts are becoming more acute in that I don’t need to physically put everything down on paper. My critical process includes the tonal drawing, composition plan and maybe some colour mixes, and not the pages of repeat “try-outs” as in the Still Life with Flowers. This may have the effect of killing off any happy accidents that give the final work its life.

Assignment 2 - Final Work Acrylic on paper 37 x 41cm

Assignment 2 – Final Work
Acrylic on paper
37 x 41cm