This Post is by Keith Bond, Regular contributing writer for
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Early in my career, when I was trying to figure out what direction I wanted to take my art, I knew that emotion was important. I knew that the most meaningful art was painted from the heart. But I didn't know what was important to me. I wasn't sure what my emotional response was to anything, really (except my family, of course). So how do you paint emotion, if you don't recognize it?
I will share with you what has helped me paint with more emotion. I think that there are a number of ways to reach this level, but hopefully my thoughts will be of help to you.
While I was grappling with the whole emotional element of art and finding my true voice, I was painting furiously to simply get better at the technical aspects. Perhaps I should have focused more on emotion early on, I don't know. But I eventually reached the point where I understood the emotional aspect. I think it is a lifelong pursuit to reach the full potential of both technique and emotion, but I am certainly further along that I was a few years ago (perhaps we will never reach the full potential, but that's another topic).
Write about Art
I think one of the most important things I did was write about my art. When searching for the words to express my art, I found that I was searching deeper within myself and it was quite enlightening. Sometimes when I am trying to develop a painting, I will write about the scene. This will enable me to distill all those elusive ideas into a more focused idea. It helps me understand what spoke to me about the scene. It helps me find that emotional connection. Sometimes I just sit in nature and write about it even if I don't paint or sketch the scene.
I also often write about a painting or the painting experience after the fact. This deepens my overall story or my broader message. Doing this also reveals to me how closely I captured what I intended.
Lastly, I write about art in general, or art philosophy. This has been tremendously rewarding in that it helps me understand the role of art in my life and where my art fits in the world. Writing helps me understand my feelings; my emotion.
Once I began to realize that landscape was what I was most passionate about, I found that immersing myself in nature was the best way to deepen my sensitivities to it. The more I am surrounded by nature, the more I connect with it. My "Field Study" blog illustrates an example of this.
Similar to writing, thumbnails enable me to look deeper into the subject and deeper into myself. Before I begin a painting, I spend at most about 5 minutes doing 4 or 5 thumbnails of the scene to try to organize my thoughts and find what is important to me. This simple practice enables me to make choices in the composition which will best support my emotional connection. If I simply paint the most obvious or first idea, I may overlook the best ideas or best supporting arrangement of those ideas.
Working from Life
Painting on location (plein air) is especially important for me. Being surrounded by nature, while painting, engages every sense. The senses are more acute. The sights, sounds, smells, etc. all influence the development of the painting. I am responding directly to the source of the inspiration rather than a photographic summary or abbreviation. This is one of the major reasons that painting from photos is so unrewarding for me.
I have learned to recognize emotion. Now what? How do I get that into the painting? How do I express it? Can the simple act of experiencing emotion while painting automatically imbue the painting with emotion? Do I simply feel each brush stroke and emotion comes out? That is the more difficult part of the equation. But knowing is half the battle. Next week we will explore some of the ways to put emotion into the painting. Meanwhile, you must feel your way around in the dark.
PS This article was prompted by a recent article by Robert Genn. I experienced the same questions posed to Robert. My article addresses the first part of the question "How does one recognize emotion?" Robert Genn's article focuses more on the second part of the question; putting emotion into the painting. That will be next week's topic.