Category Archives: 4.3 Expressive landscape

4.3.1 creating mood and atmosphere

After completing the first exercise in part 4, I promised myself I would rework View From a Window.  This exercise is a chance to do so, and to try to inject atmosphere into the rather stark and cold, formal atmosphere of my first attempt.  Here are the ‘before and after’ versions.

Before rework:


The cold atmosphere of the original wasn’t my explicit intention but came about through

  • choice of all tonally muted colours, the dark purple on the left exacerbating the cool effect
  • the composition, which contains no ‘soft’ or homely features; and is essentially a pattern of straight hard lines, with the grid of the window and door frames adding to the feeling of ‘captivity’ inside, and freedom, happiness outside!
  • my own physical discomfort  – I did feel trapped indoors, painting sitting down, cold early morning, constrained in space, using only brushes to apply paint and grappling with a new technique of painting with acrylic medium instead of water.
I thought the painting could be cheered up with some daring touches of primary and secondary colour and the addition of homely kitchen paraphernalia.  Or it could be transformed into an atmospheric moonlit scene, many of which we’ve enjoyed on this terrace, with the palette changed to a harmony of midnight blues and moonlit highlights.

After rework: 

The window faces east, so when the moon rises it can clearly be seen and casts an extraordinary light over the view.  It transforms the atmosphere; the light is bright, extinguishes stars, silhouettes trees and casts strong shadows.  
I looked at other artists portrayals of the night (Pinterest board here).  Some have in common a portrayal of the sky as a deep royal blue-violet, which chimes with how I see the sky from my kitchen terrace when sunset and moonrise coincide.
I wasn’t able to find any painting with the theme of a night time view from an interior.  But when I saw Monet, Leicester Square at Night (see below, end of post),  I did laugh in delight at the audacity of colour palette and brushwork.  The sky is a cool but still deep blue.  The warm contrast of dabs of pure bright reds and yellows in the street below, tonal darks in the foreground, provide a contrast that conveys the bustle and warm energy of he city.
My sky became deep indigo and ultramarine.  Hills are silhouetted, closer in garden trees and bushes are deep green with moonlit highlights.  The terrace has deep violet cast shadows.  Stars and moon added to contribute to the  atmosphere.  To alter colours I used a combination of over painting with opaque paint, and scumbling (dry-brushing) over the original layer to modify its colour. The sky was blended with white, lighter around the moon, deeply dark further away.  The moon had several reworks as I searched for a way to make it convincing.  Turner’s moon and sky in Edge of a Heath was my model in the end.
The following week we had a full moon rising just after sunset, and I was able to observe, and make further changes.  I found I had to help the moon along with electric outdoor lighting to get something approaching the effect I’d painted from my imagination, otherwise all was drained of colour.  I made a few technical improvements to perspective lines (still not quite accurate), reflections and shadows, and called it a day.  
Looking at my other early part 4 paintings,  and thinking how each subject could be handled differently to convey a more explicit atmosphere :-
  • For the exercise ‘Hard or Soft Landscape‘ I painted a view through an archway at home.  
A much more joyful experience than the first exercise, and an outcome nearer to my original aims.  Painted standing outside, dynamically with palette knife;  colours are brighter, the atmosphere is intimate and alive with blustery movement (it was a very windy, sunny few days). If I wanted to change it I would consider trying to convey a thunderous downpour through the archway – darker colours outside and correspondeningly lighter inside; diagonal lines of swirling rain and a gale of wind bowing the fig tree.
  • For ‘Linear perspective‘ I chose a street scene.
I’d describe the atmosphere in the painting as grittily realistic – conveying a general scruffy poverty in the road and buildings, the dejected limp laundry, the cold colour palette.  In fact I wanted the scene to look cheerily domestic, as was my experience when sketching there (I was brought a tray of breakfast and tea by a resident family, who were friendly, interested and polite, inviting me to move onto their balcony where, they said, the view would be better for my drawing). If doing the painting again I’d try harder to pay less attention to the photo, and more to thinking about the atmosphere I wanted to convey.  Now I’d think about painting it in unnaturalistic but more expressive colours – bright reds and pinks, yellow ochre maybe – and with simple shapes and less attempt at detail and texture.
  • Finally Aerial Perspective 
Perhaps there’s a sense of calm and timelessness about this painting, which is how I think about the place.  Blue is a peaceful colour.  Space and distance encourage contemplation.  The garish colours of the German Expressionists would clash with my view of this place; but it’s natural colours change significantly at different times of day and in different weather conditions, and so there’s plenty of scope for different interpretations.  Veils of pinks and golds in the evening; clear, solid colours when the air is dry; a light blue overall haze in humid conditions; moonlight.
  Monet, Leicester Square at Night
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