UART Tip #21: Setting the Mood and Express Yourself with Christine Camilleri

Mood is something that the artist can control by using certain things that help to convey a certain emotion. You might choose one or all of these things to help tell your story or to emphasize a certain aspect in your subject.

For example, horizontal lines are calming, straight lines offer dignity or spirituality (upward movement), curved lines slow down the viewer (think roads and streams or the curves on a figure) and can be soothing and lyrical while diagonal lines are energetic and exciting.

Color and its saturation can also form mood. Warms like reds, orange and yellows can be exciting especially when they are at full saturation (strong). Cool colors like blues, violets and greens can be calming especially when they are “grayed” down.

Values also form mood. Strong darks and lights suggest suspense, mystery, drama, closing down etc. More subdued values convey delicacy, opening up, calm, approachable, etc.

Expressiveness of the medium also comes into play to convey mood. Strong marks can suggest energy and airiness, while a softer approach helps to subdue the painting and can suggest peacefulness. Choosing what to include in your painting and what to leave out because it’s not part of your story is also expressing yourself. Lost and found edges (you can’t tell where one edge is finishing and another is beginning; unlike coloring book lines) is also a powerful way of expressing yourself and what you want to tell your viewer.

In “Summer’s Refrain” there are contradictory moods and expressions which have been set up deliberately to entertain the viewer.  There are energetic marks to suggest the liveliness and breeze of the afternoon playing in the grass, the shadows on the road and the leaves of the trees.  There is an air of mystery set up by the strong value contrasts. Overall the colors chosen are warm because the story is about a summer afternoon. The lost and found edges are deliberate: they calm the viewer down and suggest openness and air and soft light against the dramatic shadows. The main idea is the last rays of the sun flaring up the leaves but the secondary story is “where does that road lead”?

By contrast “Mellow Morning” is a calm scene. Muted colors (grayed yellows, greens and red violets), soft expanses with gentle movements from edge to edge and color to color, and mid tone values all convey the mood that was intended. The early morning air seems to be saturated with humidity. Who is the “star”? There are diagonals that lead the viewer to the tree, the only round shape in the painting, however, upon reflection I felt the painting needed something more and so I added those cows grazing on the hillside.

As you plan your paintings think about what mood you want to have the viewer to feel because that is what you are feeling about your subject. Then use the tools to set that mood and express yourself artistically.  Happy painting!

Christine Camilleri, AFCA, MPAC, PSA (Associate)

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