Mood In Painting

I was looking for some inspiration for a blog post and I came across a blog giving advise on ‘How to create MOOD in your painting’. I thought about this for a while and I’ve come to the conclusion that my paintings don’t contain ‘mood’. It’s not that I don’t want them to but It’s not something I think about when I paint. I see something and it strikes me as something I would like to paint, how it makes me feel, or some other deeper meaning, doesn’t enter into it. I don’t see a problem with deep meaning in a painting, but for me it is enough that I want to paint it.

Some paintings do create ‘mood’ for an observer, but I believe that is from the observer not the artist, so an artist has very little control over it. Some colours are associated with mood like warm fall colours or blue water. Most water isn’t blue but most people (including me) think it should be. There is a lot of water in my paintings and most of it is blue to some extent. I don’t think of it as ‘mood’ it’s just the way it is or that I think it should be.

So what good is ‘Mood’ in paintings? If someone is looking for a painting with a certain mood and the association is water or snow or fall foliage then they will find it, but I don’t believe that this is something an artist has much control over. If you like to paint blue paintings of subjects that appear cold then customers who want that look will find you. If you like warm coloured pictures then those customers looking for that might buy your paintings. If you want to sell more paintings then first paint all sorts of things to find a niche then paint more of what sells

I’m inclined to say that a good artist will be able to convey their ‘mood’ in their work, but I think it’s unlikely that even a good artist will be able to create that ‘mood’ on demand. Other than with a choice of subject and perhaps pallet I don’t think I could produce a happy or sad painting. I hope that if I am happy or sad it would be reflected in my paintings but I will likely be completely unaware of it.

Tips To Bring Your Paintings to Life

I have a theory that I call the reality illusion, this is not my theory exclusively and I didn’t come up with the idea although I might be able to lay claim to the name. When you look at a painting it sometimes starts to appear real or life-like. This is different from hyper-reality or photo-realistic painting since it can appear in paintings that are clearly not photo-realistic. I’ve noticed this occasionally in my paintings but I became more aware of it recently while painting some tree fungus (sounds sooooo appealing). I wanted the foreground to stand out so I started with the background; I painted for awhile then went to make tea and when I got back the background seemed to jump off the canvas and appear life-like. It certainly wasn’t detail that made this happen because there was very little of it in this background; so, what was it that precipitated the illusion? The other thing I noticed was that the illusion wasn’t like just looking at reality. The painting seemed magically real, even though there was little attempt to render the background realistically; it was only a background. Sadly, as I continued painting and finishing the painting the illusion decreased. Clearly, I wasn’t looking at reality but I got the impression that I was looking through a window at reality; quite disconcerting. Recently the fad in photography has been to make the photo appear to be a photo of a small-scale model; this is done through reducing the depth of field to a point that it appears that the image was taken through a macro lens. I think there is some connection to what I’m describing as the reality illusion.

I have read that we form a 3-dimensional construct in our mind of how reality around us should look, if the painting vaguely matches this construct then it sometimes starts to appear real. This is not a new idea and it probably has some evolutionary advantages. If what we are seeing doesn’t fit our internal construct because of a Lion in the grass then when, or if, a lion jumps out we might have a little more time to climb the nearest tree and live to further propagate our genes. It’s certainly not obvious since we rarely actually see a lion in the grass; something that we observe simply doesn’t seem right and we watch until the lion jumps out of the grass or we just move away to feel better. Apparently, the amount of information required to formulate the 3D construct is huge, and if the flow of information slows down our brain simply starts to make it up. So, we have this 3-D construct and it needs information, and we try to match it up with what we are seeing regardless if it exactly matches or not. I suspect that what we actually see rarely matches our 3D construct but we try hard to match it up anyway, hence the illusion. If our 3D construct is close then what we are looking at starts to appear real and this may have something to do with the phenomenon of Deja-vu because if what we are seeing doesn’t exactly match our construct then we start making it up, and how better to make it up than to use past constructs.

I think that the illusion has more to do with shades and colour than it does with detail and I think this is because we are trying to match our 3D construct using our peripheral vision.
A very detailed image can certainly posses the illusion, but I don’t think detail is the ultimate cause. I think the tonal quality of the image has more to do with the illusion, and this may have quite a bit to do with the low bandwidth connection between our eyes and brain. If high bandwidth is expensive (biologically) then I understand why the connection between our eyes and brain has so little bandwidth. The trade-off is the loss of being able to differentiate between absolute shades of a colour. This example demonstrates this perfectly:
This is really unfortunate because I would love to be able to mix a colour that I new absolutely was the exact colour and shade of some aspect of the scene I am looking at. This ambiguity of colour and tone can be an advantage to me, as an artist; it makes it possible to induce the reality illusion with a very few strokes of my brush, unfortunately I don’t know exactly how to do this, so I’m stuck with being surprised if and when the illusion appears.

I’ve settled on a system that seems to maximise my chances of the reality illusion appearing. I decide where the darkest areas of my image resides and there I use black, but sparingly. I use white for highlights that a photographer would refer to as ‘blown out’. I treat my painting in the same way I look at a photo; dark shadows are as black as the photo paper or paint allows and highlights are as light as the paper or paint allows. These areas, both black and white, have no discernible detail so in those areas I might need to add, or make up, some detail. I do this until I just can’t think of anything else to add; hopefully the reality illusion is now in full swing.

Typically, I pick a spot (sometimes the spot picks itself) and I work on it for a half-hour or so. Every spot needs some work so it’s not hard to find one and it really doesn’t matter because If I do this enough then the reality illusion usually starts. When I’m deciding on colours I choose bright ones rather than browns or greys, but if the colour is a shadow I muddy it up a little and it seems to work.

So, the best advise I can give is to keep painting until it starts to look right. That is what I do and it generally works.






Vaguely related links

How to Talk to a Customer

I spent many years in sales so I tend to use these techniques automatically. Sales is not particularly natural for me, I’ve just spent a lot of time in roleplay for sales situations. Sales is not a terrible thing. A salesperson can’t sell you something you don’t want and won’t likely try to trick you, but an unscrupulous salesperson might. Someone needs to sell your artwork so you had better be able to do it yourself, or at least recognise someone who can. When you are talking to a potential buyer here are some tips.

“So, you like my painting!” this isn’t actually a question. I think you should be able to recognise a real interest.
First of all, “thank you”.
“Is there something that you like that jumps out at you?” “Do you like the colours or the subject or the water or…?” I believe you need to get a prospective buyer to think about what they like about your artwork, because they probably don’t know themselves. “Thank you, I had trouble with the water” (just tell it like it is). “I couldn’t decide if I should paint it like I thought it should be or paint it like I saw it”. Get into a conversation (a short conversation) and try to get as much information as you give. Don’t talk to them about ART. They don’t care about ART, they like YOUR painting and they are thinking about buying YOUR PAINTING.

Most artists (me included) hate talking to non-artists about their work and ‘selling it’; hell would be preferable. If someone wants to buy your work then ask them why and be honest about wanting to hear the answer. Let them tell you why they would like to wake up to your work every day. If you realise that they shouldn’t be buying it then don’t be afraid to try to talk them out of it; remember, they want it. Don’t talk about price (unless they ask) and never discount your price because if you do you can never go back. Let them persuade you to sell it to them, but don’t be too hard about this, just remember that you do want their money. I don’t think you can talk too much about the work that they are thinking about buying, so long as the customer continues to ask questions. Art is different than a widget, it doesn’t do anything or save money or make life easier, but it might help your customer appreciate life more. Your customer wants your work so don’t be afraid to stand back a little and let the work speak for itself. If you talk too much, you can talk yourself out of a sale.

Never be afraid of talking to a potential customer. Remember you are the crazy artist and your customer believes that they could never produce anything like your work so in many ways it doesn’t matter what you say; just be polite and thankful. Don’t ask them to buy it because it will be interpreted poorly, but it’s OK to tell them how and direct them where. THEN LEAVE.

Sales is a balancing act so everyone should read at least one book on salesmanship. I recommend Zig Ziglar’s books and recordings.


Some links:

Look up Zig Ziglar on Google or YouTube. He wrote a number of books, choose one relating specifically to sales. He is a good speaker if you can stand his speaking style. Unfortunately, most of the ‘sales’ speakers are lumped in and confused with motivational speakers. A good salesperson is always positively motivated.

The worst book and movie bar none is “Death of A Salesman”. Read or watch it at your peril.
This one is very specifically about selling a product but I don’t see how it could be compared to selling art. Think about it, you might find a way.


The work on my easel was annoying me! It’s a dark portrait with the subject in a corner of a pub of some sort. It might be in the past because the subject is carrying a sword. I didn’t want to add unnecessary detail but I wanted the background to be more interesting, so I’ve opted for texture. I’ve applied the texture with a fairly small pallet knife and modeling paste, and so far, I quite like it.

The background is largely made up using reference images from the Web, so I feel good about simply adding in whatever I want. The texture is subtle and that is what I want, it doesn’t interfere with the portrait subject and adds interest to the painting. I used Golden modeling paste and I just troweled it on using a pallet knife.