3.3.2 telling a story

My completed painting is below.  It started as a response to the ‘conveying mood and atmosphere’ exercise, but I realised when I’d finished it that it tells a story too. The idea was sourced from an image I found in the news, which I’ve interpreted and adapted to describe better the feelings of the two main figures and my own response to their plight.

When I’d finished the painting I felt drained, depressed and unsettled, almost as though I’d been there observing the scenario unfold.  I was in a low mood for a few days afterward.  This was unexpected, and made me ask myself if I want to continue to explore the theme and engage in what’s happening around us in future paintings, as I’d thought to do  – it’s uncomfortable.

Addendum some weeks later- critique from my husband, looking at this together with my three assignment pieces – this is the most successful in his view.  There is tension.  Both man and child’s face convey terror.  Are the arms reaching out to help or pushing him down?  The hand holding the truncheon looks strong.  The colours contrast and balance well.



The subject is a desperate man and his child.  I worked on the facial expressions in my sketchbook, essential to depict them effectively, and also on some composition ideas.



This is a life and death scene, one of love and terror.  My response to it was anger and frustration, which grew as I worked on the project, studying the image closely.    When I thought about it, we have a wealth of means by which to convey mood and atmosphere.  I felt naturally drawn to portraying the scene in dark colours, with chiaroscuro lighting.  I didn’t want to alter the stance and expression of the man, which conveys extreme emotion.  He is coiled like a spring, but also coiled in a gesture of love and protectiveness.

I wanted a painting that conveyed the chaos, panic, terror, anger.  I made a substrate of gessoed paper, creating a slashing diagonal texture, and painted a dark blue-grey, green-grey acrylic background, with warmer tones in the foreground.  After endless experiments and indecision I chose to use hard wax crayons as my medium, so I could vent my emotions with stabbing, scrubbing marks – a brush and liquid paint would have felt too soft.  The scene unfolded as I painted.  Friendly hands reached out from the darkness behind the man, to pull him back.  A stronger, clenched hand belonging to a shadowy figure in the foreground holds a cosh, diagonally barring and threatening the man and child.  Razor wire hems him in, presents a further danger.


When I started this project, I wanted to represent the emotion (terror, anger, suffering) and the idea of that strong parental instinct of protection of a child at all costs (even the death of the child).  I think my painting does achieve this, but not how I wanted it to.  Rather than make a realistic / impressionistic representation, I wanted to make the forms concise and exagerrated in order to synthesise the feeling, reality and my own response.  I considered not specifically depicting the exact context, to give a more universal cast to the scene.  However, old habits die hard, and I was drawn into more realistic detail.  

However, it’s a good start on a theme I want to explore and develop, and I will keep aiming for the elusive simplification.


Inspiration, Kathe Kollwitz (depiction of children being protected by a determined enveloping, whole-body embrace), Edward Munch (The Scream, The Sick Child, Melancholy, Separation), Picasso (blue period)

Similar pose – Giotto do Bondone, Mass of Innocents; Ghirlandaio Domenico, Slaugter of Innocents

Colour – see Rubens, Poussin, Slaying of Innocents http://www.artble.com/artists/nicolas_poussin/paintings/massacre_of_the_innocents  – brick red, blue/green greys.

 Or Dark colours, blocks of colour, somber tones.  Eg black and white on brown underpainting, some blue or red colour wash on charcoal

Media – experiment with white gesso, charcoal, lava medium, black ink, watercolour wash.  Strong contrasting lines and marks.

Form – concise and exagerrated

Light – chiaroscuro 





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