Category Archives: 4 Expressive Landscape

Expressive Landscape 2 – Creating Mood and Atmosphere

For this exercise I wanted to create a completely new painting from one of the photos I took while up in Chiang Rai rather than re-work one of my existing paintings. I had made several sketches while in the northern province but there was a couple of photos that I thought would be good for this exercise taking into consideration the different artists I had looked at in the research point for this project.

1 Dark Landscape

1 Dark Landscape

The first drawing in water-soluble oil pastels in my sketchbook was a sketch looking onto to the mountain range where my girlfriend’s village is located. What I tried to do here was to try and draw something using similar colours to van Gogh’s darkest paintings such as ‘the Sower’ but from memory rather than look at his works. What messed it up was trying to draw the clouds using the dark tones, the original photograph was taken in the afternoon with a blue sky and white clouds.

2 Surrealist Landscape

2 Surrealist Landscape

This second sketch was drawn from the same photograph but this time I attempted to create a more surrealistic feel by lightening the sky and creating a more early evening feel to the drawing. The long shadows in the early evening reflecting the work of two of the artists I covered in the research point, Dali and de Chrico.


2 Inspired by Paul Nash

2 Inspired by Paul Nash

This third sketch was drawn not from the photograph but from the sketch above. There are slight differences but these were made deliberately  for the colours that I were using softer colours softer edges. The colours that I used here were supposed to be a nod to the ‘Wire 1918’ by Paul Nash. Again this turned out to be a surrealist style landscape and both would look great developed into a painting. However, I don’t know what type of mood or atmosphere I would be trying to create here.

One other thing about these last two drawings that I took into consideration was the effect made by the dimples in the paper, which can’t really be seen here in these photographs but it would be time consuming to try and recreate that with a pointillism technique.

4 Bamboo in Sketchbook

4 Bamboo in Sketchbook

I went on to look at developing a different scene, a close section landscape. This landscape with bamboo trees on either side reminded me of several paintings in Vincent’s Trees, such as Avenue of Poplars at Sunset pg. 49 and Couple Walking Between Rows of Poplars pg. 24.







4 Expressive Bamboo with Sunlight

5 Expressive Bamboo with Sunlight in Large Sketchbok

The photo was taken early evening and this first drawing in my large sketchbook captures that time of the day with the sun shining through the trees on that sunny day when I took the photo. It’s a nice bright drawing but i wanted it darker, my idea was to use similar colours to what van Gogh used in several of his paintings Prussian Blue and Lemon, juxtaposing them side by side.






5 Bamboo at Dusk

6 Bamboo at Dusk

So in this next drawing I went darker, I didn’t have prussian blue in the oil pastels but I did have navy and purple which gave me an idea of how they would look. I changed the sky to yellow and orange which changed the feeling of the painting and also the time of day as this change of colours made it feel later.

These last two drawings made my mind up for me to which of these scenes I would be painting but I still wasn’t sure which colours or what kind of mood I wanted to depict.

Showing these two drawings to my students in class I asked them which of the two they preferred, all apart from one student said the second one. When I asked that one student why he preferred the first one, he pointed to the second drawing and said I wouldn’t walk down there. to which I said ‘The second one it is then’.

The Final Painting

In the sketches above I had basically experimented with colours rather than techniques, scribbling the leaves of the trees in, dragging the pastels up and down the paper. I had no idea how I would depict this in the final painting. I had no ideas what would work or if I could make my painting anything like the sketches above or if I wanted to keep it the same.

Influence from other artists

6 Preparing the Background

7 Preparing the Background

I had some ideas of what techniques I were going to use in the painting, for the leaves of the leaves of the trees etc. I wasn’t even sure if the colours would work in the developed painting. What I decided to do was to throw my hat to the wind and let the painting take on a mind of it’s own, letting any influence from other artists take over in the different parts of the painting.

I started of with a van Gogh sun, lemon yellow on a darker yellow background moving out from the sun in circles.



7 Painting the Leaves

8 Painting the Leaves

The next choice I had was whether to paint the leaves first or the bamboo first, I settled on working on the leaves or at least making a start on them as it would be more difficult to paint them afterwards. At this stage I also started to lighten up the sky so that the leaves would stand out more. I made a start on the bamboo, to see what it would look like over the top of the leaves.





8 Creating Perspective

9 Creating Perspective

At this stage I was just practising the long strokes of the brush and seeing which brushes were better for the job and to also see if the leaves looked anything like bamboo leaves. After a while I wasn’t too bothered about that.


I actually thought about making the leaves more dense or even painting them in van Gogh style with heavy swirls layered on top of each other.

I must admit that the bamboo did actually look like bamboo at this stage, that was to change.




9 Working on the Trees

10 Working on the Trees

From here I began to layer the colour on running my brush up and down the bamboo poles and also painting in the shadows. It’s a good job I hadn’t kept the lemon sun in the background as the shadows suggested the sunshine was coming in from a different direction.

The Prussian blue over the yellow turned to green so that was something I had to work on with more layers and that was probably the turning point. It now started to look more like a thick forest than a bamboo lined trail.




Photo taken on my tablet

11 Photo taken on my tablet

At the next stage painting in layers of Purple and Prussian blue with Lemon to add light it actually started to look like the style of van Gogh.

I had the crazy idea to add leaves to the bottom of the bamboo on the right, applying the paint with the end of a pencil, it seemed like a good idea at the time but I was hoping for too much thinking that it would give me perfect hexagon shapes and it didn’t. What it did do though was give the painting texture.




The leaves were too dark so I begun to lighten them up with yellow and red which gave me the same tones as the leaves of the trees above. As I did this I realised that I had created a really nice 3D texture rather like that of Max Ernst and the mood of the painting was changing rapidly. It was becoming more of an enchanted, cartoon-like forest rather than a scary, dark path between bamboo trees and I was willing to roll with that as I liked what it was turning into.

11 Finished Painting

11 Finished Painting


I begun to add more texture to it the path was too smooth, nothing like pebbles and so I painted over the whole thing with Prussian blue then going back over it with mixes of blue and purple and lemon and white for the light patches.

Then with a small detail brush I patiently began building up the layers of the hair like bushy grass with up strokes of blue, yellow and red, letting the colours blend together in the same way I did with the leaves above.

If I was describe the finished painting I would sum it up as unnatural, maybe even surreal. As the painting neared the end it was like I could see both the influence of Max Ernst and van Gogh coming together on the canvas and so I went with it.

Thoughts on the Finished Painting

  • The finished painting turned out to be nothing like the studies, in a way I wish it had but it doesn’t have to be the end of it, I still have them and I can use them again later.
  • The colours in the painting go together well but I did intend it to be darker.
  • I was hoping the painting would feel more natural but I like the overall feeling of it so I am not going to change anything. I did try painting leaves down the side of the trees but they didn’t look right.
  • There are definite signs of influence from 2 or more of the artists I looked at in the research point.
  • If I was to do it again I would paint it quicker with more random brushstrokes for a more natural feeling.

Expressive Landscape 1 – Research Point

I had recently made quite a few sketches and taken rather a lot of photos on my New Year’s trip to my girlfriend’s home town. I have already developed two of the sketches into paintings for the previous exercises and I wasn’t sure whether or not to work from those paintings on the upcoming Mood and Atmosphere exercise or to start a fresh. The best way to make this decision was to look at some artists and their expressive landscapes and to get some ideas of how I could go about the exercise and which of the sketches, paintings or even photographs would be best to develop into an expressive landscape.

I started with the surrealist painters two of which I was very familiar with, Dali and Ernst and one who’s paintings I had seen before but whose name was new to me, de Chirico.

Salvador Dali

Geological Destiny

Geological Destiny – Salvador Dali

I’ve always liked Dali and I’ve examined most of his paintings very thoroughly but the two paintings here are two that I have previously overlooked. The one here ‘Geological Destiny’ (page 37, Dali by Gilles Neret) shows a horse in the process of metamorphosing into a rock on a smooth almost glacier-like plane with mountains in the distance and a solitary figure who looks to be walking in the direction of a giant rock. The long shadows and the colour of the light, tells me it’s nearing the evening rather than morning and the whole painting makes me feel vulnerable, out in the open with no shelter.

Like most of Dali’s paintings, there are no apparent brush strokes at least not from the photograph.


Salvador Dali - Solitude

Salvador Dali – Paranoiac Critical Solitude

The reason this painting Paranoiac-Critical Solitude is included in this research point is that it seems to be a nod to Max Ernst, appearing t have some very similar textures incorporated into Dali’s own surrealist style.



Max Ernst

Max Ernst The Forest 1927-1928

Max Ernst The Forest 1927-1928

Like most of his paintings, in The Forest Max Ernst uses really strong almost wire like texture. This texture with the dark tones and height and close-togetherness of the trees he creates a stressful, claustrophobic atmosphere. I imagine that this is a painting where he has taken what he has learnt from frottage and used it here, unless he has been somehow able to transfer the information to the canvas before working on it.


Max Ernst Antipodes of Landscape

Max Ernst Antipodes of Landscape

I can imagine Antipodes of Landscape to be the view that I get when I’ve finally made it out or above the Forest, a moment of bliss before you realise you’re in another strange land with prominent pipe like ridges pronounced by yellow light. A Rottweiler keeps guard laid down head upright with pricked up ears, probably relating to his time interned in Nazi Germany.



Paul Nash

Paul Nash - Wire 1918

Paul Nash – Wire 1918

Of the paintings I looked at of Paul Nash ‘Wire 1918’ was the one that really stood out as it was one that I could get ideas from for the type of scenery I was painting in Chiang Rai. Could I kill a tropical scenery into a ‘Killing Field’? What I liked about this was the way he uses the different grey tones with other lighter colours like rose to depict a cold, wet, post battle scene.




Gustave Moreau

Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine

Gustave Moreau and the Eternal Feminine

This painting, ‘the Eternal Feminine’ by Gustave Moreau reminded me of two different Dali paintings. The rock behind the ship, The Great Masturbator while the sail and the mast of the ship reminded me ‘Soft Construction with Boiled Beans.

Don’t ask me how I got there. They are very different from the mystical scene of Sirens calling a boat in to the alcove. The darker tones in the bottom right corner looks like the crew members maybe getting into some trouble.

Emil Nolde

Emil Nolde - Lake Lucerne, 1930

Emil Nolde – Lake Lucerne, 1930

I had never heard of Emil Nolde before but this painting has a lot similarities to my painting in the Hard or Soft Landscape exercise with the feathery texture of the landscape, the lake and the light coming through the clouds. Only he takes what we both had and turned it into something magical, less colour but more light manipulation.



Graham Sutherland

Graham Sutherland - Western Hills

Graham Sutherland – Western Hills

This painting by Graham Sutherland has again a style that could be used to paint the small but steep mountains of Chiang Rai. The patch work hills almost look like paddy fields with the subtle light from the low sun giving them an exotic feel. I really love the way he played with the light here with the warm tones of the sunspot.


Leon Bakst

A Romantic and idealized landscape design for Daphnis and Chloe

A Romantic and idealized landscape design for Daphnis and Chloe


A Romantic and idealized landscape design for Daphnis and Chloe by Leon Bankst was the only painting of his that really caught my eye. Not really my kind or paintings, although I like the way he depicts the aerial perspective in this painting and you could imagine it would be really great as back drop on stage.



Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt Garden Path with Chickens

Gustav Klimt Garden Path with Chickens

This painting looks better on page 79 of Klimt by Gilles Neret. There were often bright days in England where light bounced off too many objects for my eyes to take in. This painting reminds me of one of those days. The amount of detail that has gone into the individual flowers, each one with its own dark outline shows how long it took and how large the original painting must have been. Too be honest I looked at this painting a few times before and I never stopped to notice the dark objects were chickens even though they really stood out against the light coloured path. A brilliant use of colour and contrast.


Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo Roots

Frida Kahlo Roots

Thailand is in one of it’s worst droughts ever at the moment and this painting, Roots by Frida Kahlo depicts that perfectly. It is said that Frida Kahlo’s paintings weren’t surrealist paintings but paintings that depicted her agony and disability. I can’t sense her agony here but it does make me feel uncomfortable.


de Chirico

Piazza d Italia - de Chirico

Piazza d Italia – de Chirico

I’ve always liked the paintings of de Chrico with his white walled Mediterranean buildings, long shadows and burning sun that you never see that with the cloud on the horizon. He manages to create a great sense of distance in his paintings with very few obstacles.




van Gogh

van Gogh Wheat Field with Cypresses

van Gogh Wheat Field with Cypresses

It wouldn’t be right not to include at least one of van Gogh’s paintings. van Gogh was a master of expressing his inner emotions in his paintings and in Wheat Field with Cypresses there’s something there. You can’t quite put your finger on it but with the wild clouds and whipping leaves and branches of the trees and bushes you get a sense of frustration or anger or at least hyperactivity.