Exercise: Creating mood and atmosphere


Purple sky over Foligno, Umbria, 40 x 30cm acrylics

Either create a completely new painting that evokes a powerful atmosphere of some kind or rework one of your earlier paintings…

The expressive landscape research was good preparation for this exercise… it introduced me to some painters that I did not know, made me appreciate and helped me to ‘get’ the work of some of the painters I did know and left me with lots of thoughts and ideas for my own practice. For example:

  • Use of texture (prompted by Max Ernst)
  • Placing objects in the landscape e.g. Dali’s telephones and cleft sticks, de Chirico’s statues, balls, bananas etc. It made me think about the objects I have painted already and whether some of these could be transposed into a landscape. Perhaps my cow creamers could be put out to pasture! This concept is a strong contender for my landscape assignment piece. Or perhaps I could take inspiration from my last assignment  and paint a mantelpiece with mirror over reflecting a landscape scene.
  • Use of strong simple, lines and shapes to convey a scene, particularly, a townscape with a slight abstract or surreal character, such as de Chirico’s paintings of plazas and archways.

Foligno rooftops

foligno-rooftop3I decided to focus again on Umbria in order to further develop the Foligno rooftop sketches I did while on holiday. I used a dusty yellow ground and a palette of earth colours, typical of the region, and set out to paint rooftops, walls and windows without the detail – taking de Chirico’s style as my inspiration (see my Surrealist Pinterest board).

foligno-roof-cloud-smallWhile I was sketching on the rooftop the sky suddenly went dark  purple with brilliant light seeping under a thick, ominous layer of cloud. It gave a dramatic sense of an impending storm, with the weather about to break (see photograph). The weather did break – it rained in torrents for the next 24 hours.

What works?

  • The colour palette is pleasing and cohesive
  • A little bit of texture gives interest and allows some of the yellow ground to break through creating additional interest. I’ve tried to keep this subtle.I like the sweep of yellow at the top.
  • I’ve successfully simplified the scene (that is an achievement for me) and it is, to my eye, a pleasing composition. There is a hint of de Chirico here – the lines and shapes and strong and bold.

What doesn’t work so well?

  • My painting doesn’t look in the least bit brooding or ominous… quite the opposite really. It makes me think of a Christmas card – perhaps that is because of the ‘stars’ in the sky. I can’t help but think that three Kings or a few shepherds are on their way. A bigger sky – as per the photograph – would have reinforced the intended message. I had intended this but I drew with paint and the canvas filled up and I did not want to lose spontaneity by starting again!
  • The palette is muted and a little dead perhaps? The light sanding has removed some of the density of tone. Does it  need more tonal contrast? I’m wondering but not quite sure. The colours are reflective of the townscape of Foligno as it stands… perhaps it is more light and shade that is needed?
  • There is a mismatch in style between the buildings and the sky. I could perhaps have painted distinct shapes for the sky and clouds without the blended edges. Or, as per de Chirico, used a graduated blend of colours from near white through to pale blue and then to purple (a colour mixing challenge). I think it is likely that this would have been more successful and in keeping with the rest of the painting.

However, despite the faults I am reasonably happy with the outcome as it does capture a memorable holiday scene.


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