You’ve probably already completed several paintings that convey a particular mood or
atmosphere to the viewer. This may have occurred incidentally, by your choice of tonal
arrangements and colour, or it may have been your explicit intention to convey a particular
Look at your early paintings and think how each subject could be handled differently to
convey a more explicitly gloomy, moody atmosphere – or a different atmosphere altogether.
You could introduce an air of mystery and menace, for example, or a bright, cheerful
For this exercise, either create a completely new painting that evokes a powerful atmosphere
of some kind or re-work one of your earlier paintings. First, identify clearly what you’re trying
to achieve – the mood or atmosphere that you’re aiming to create. However you choose to
approach this exercise, make extensive notes about the techniques you’ve adopted to achieve
your stated aim. When you’ve finished, reflect on the success of your completed work.
I had made some sketches over on the Outer Hebrides earlier in the summer and one in particular resonated with me when I came to address this exercise – creating mood and atmosphere as part of an expressive landscape. The research point associated with this exercise can be seen at Research & Reflection – Part 4 – Research Point 2 “Expressive landscape”.
From my research I gleaned the following 3 key points:
∞ Look for defining compositional shapes, planes, zones, simplify the detail and use colour to suggest space and form
∞ Look for tonal structures and use mark making/brush marks to celebrate the joy of painting
∞ Look for what cannot be obviously seen – the ‘fantastical’ in the everyday – the drama (if it is there) – use your imagination
The Outer Hebrides sketches that I chose to work on for this exercise are of the Callanish Stones on Lewis:
“Callanish stones – these stones, hacked out of raw gneiss, present one of the great mysteries of the islands at Callanish on the west coast of Lewis. Raised there, even before Stonehenge, no one has yet been able to explain why. There are several other, smaller, stone circles in the vicinity. … This circle of thirteen stones, surrounding a central monolith ten metres high, all cut form slabs of local gneiss, has avenues that lead off north, south, east and west, and if viewed from above, bears a remarkable resemblance to a Celtic cross. The Callanish stones, however, were erected about 4,000 years ago, long before the birth of Christ. Why they were put there, no one knows.”
[May,P.(2013) Hebrides. London: Quercus Editions Ltd. p.21].
The mysteriousness of this landscape can only really be experienced and realised on visiting the site – the scale, the views north, south, east and west from the site on a hill – and above all the warm touch of the stones, their shapes and character.
I made a first larger sketch using charcoal and soft pastels on an A2 sheet of fine grain-heavyweight paper onto which I marked the ‘rule of thirds’:
As you can see, I focused on the central monolith stone for this composition, tried to mark out the key shapes – sky, background hills and foreground as well as the four stones – attempting to lose a lot of the detail.
My feelings about this mystical place on the western edge of northern Europe are captured by the ‘why’s, how’s and when’s’ of it all. No one knows it seems. My take for the sketch and hopefully for the final ‘expressive landscape’ study is a painting that presents a ‘moody and atmospheric’ take on this scene:
I see this as a conversation taking place on the Callanish hilltop – the stones arising from the misty ground cover to converse and ask questions, with ‘Mr Grumpy” – the stone on the right not quite managing to engage with the others – ‘why am I here’ – snideness, stoicism and flirtation on the left (in that order) answer/don’t answer?
Stuart Brownlee – 512319
9th August, 2014
I have re-imagined this exercise with a composition more aligned to the rule of thirds on a canvas board (40.6 x 50.8 cm):
Horizontal line = horizon
Vertical line = focal point standing stone
At this stage I have merely blocked in the background sky and foreground spaces with washes of mixed oils:
∞ a Payne’s Grey ground wash (and once dry) with a further Permanent Rose & Ultramarine wash
∞ an Ivory Black/Payne’s Grey/Lemon Yellow & Titanium White wash onto the sky (reducing from dark to light from top)
∞ a Sap Green/Payne’s Grey/Ivory Black foreground wash
all with a size 12 Hog hair long flat brush.
I used ‘Zezt-It’ paint dilutant and brush cleaner, as well as ‘Liquin Original’ (speeds drying/improves gloss?) for the first time.
Now to work on this for a satisfactory result.
Stuart Brownlee – 512319
12th August, 2014
The finished study:
“Callanish stones” – I decided to keep the overall feel of the painting dark and mysterious, and used a size 5 round brush for the standing stones and the foreground, painted to stand out from the sweeping sky and background landscape. I swithered with adding touches of green on the foreground and yellowish/orange streaks of the stones, but constrained myself to what I initially laid down using a mix of Ivory Black, Titanium White and Ultramarine. I didn’t want to overwork the paint and am reasonably happy with the finished study – 3 bold planes/tonal structures (sky, background and foreground) and the four vertical standing stones rising from the foreground and silhouetted against the background, horizon and sky – a wee bit spooky, they could almost be fingers poking upwards through the earth, but the ‘conversation’ remains.
Exercise 5 – creating mood & atmosphere ← click the link to download a .pdf version of this page
Stuart Brownlee – 512319
14th August, 2014