Sunday, February 12, 2012

Getting the Feeling: Creating Mood

Canyon, Near Sunset I - 9x12, oil

Sometimes, we're more interested in putting down our feelings than in dealing with painting technique.  If, like me, you're heavily left-brained and love the technology of painting, it might be hard to let go and "just express yourself."  We're busy trying to remember whether burnt umber is fat or lean.  But I'd say that even "expressing yourself" requires technical skill.

Without it, it's like not knowing the rules of grammar and trying to write a novel.  Communicating your story - and all the feelings that fuel a novel - will fail if you don't know the rules.

So, how does one put down one's feelings?  To me as as plein air painter, my feelings come about as a response to the landscape's mood.  Mood is a synthesis of subject, light and shadow, and color.

Canyon, Near Sunset II - 9x12, oil

"Putting down your feelings" involves three steps.  First is discerning exactly what your response is.   Are you awed by the grandeur and majesty?  Calmed by the peacefulness?  Second is analyzing the landscape's mood and determining what features provoke your response.  If you are awed, perhaps it's the sense of atmospheric depth and the scale of the subject.  If calmed, perhaps it's the dominant horizontals in the scene and the dulled color.  Finally, it's taking these features and rendering them effectively on paper or canvas.  If it's grandeur and majesty you're after, you might start with a larger canvas and rich color; if a sense of calm, you might go with a 1:2 or even a 1:3 format and a subdued palette.  Every decision you make needs to work in concert with the mood you wish to convey.

It's worth playing with this concept, especially in the studio where you have more time.  On a few scrap sheets, play with format and design, and with value choices and palettes.  Which combination is most effective at recreating your feeling about the landscape?

The two sketches illustrating this blog are ones that I painted out in the field while thinking purposefully of mood.


David Carroll said...

Thought provoking post.

Michele Traum said...

Yes, this is great. Thanks.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, David!

teresa johnson said...

Thanks Michael , I really like the 3 steps you outlined. I need to concentrate more on "Discerning what my response is"before I start, then determining what features provoke my response. I have a tendency just to start painting without thinking about that response thus immediately get into trouble with composition, too busy thinking about the technical , warm comes forward , cool goes back , ect. Thanks for the great post.

Tony Donovan said...

This was very helpful for me too. I'm like Teresa and sometimes forget what drew me to the scene in the first place. I'll have to keep all of this in mind. (something else to clutter my head??)

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Glad it's helpful, Tony and Teresa. Mood is probably the single most important thing we're trying to capture - and it's a shame to lose sight of that.