Creating mood and atmosphere: ‘The Foretelling’

I have already painted the castle here in Jimena at night. The castle holds many mysteries and Jimena de la Frontera  itself attracts a lot of people who have problems, and a few people have chosen to end their lives up there. I also know ashes have been scattered from there. So, with all this in mind, I would like to create  a picture of the castle with a feeling of death hanging over it. A moody, menacing sky. I can use some of the work I did previously of the castle, although I am thinking a sunset (which is behind the castle) using lots of reds which I have noted from research can add a feeling of menace. It could be quite surreal; the Griffin Vultures here clean up the dead (animals…they are not Parsi) so I could use them almost like angels of death above the castle. I am also remembering the books of Carlos Castenada that I used to love (Long time ago…) but the premise was that ultimately we return to the eagle (unless you are a warrior shaman of course :-)) So the symbol of the eagle, like the vulture,  coming for you at the end of your life, to crush you in its beak and take your life experiences, is in my mind.

‘I am already given to the power that rules my fate.

And I cling to nothing, so I will have nothing to defend.

I have no thoughts, so I will see.

I fear nothing, so I will remember myself.

Detached and at ease,

I will dart past the Eagle to be free.’

Soundtrack: ‘My death’ , David Bowie

I did some charcoal sketches of the vultures from my own photos, but they weren’t quite right for what I need. image3 (17)I have some pictures I have taken over the years but never caught one descending down, so I have used this image below: image from:



I am taking inspiration from de Chirico’s ‘The red tower’, the threatening menace he somehow invokes with the long shadows and the dark foreground, the half seen statue of the rider on a horse. I will keep  the foreground darker, as it will be when the sun sets behind the castle and there should be some reds in the sky.  source: think the bird itself should be more cloud like, not quite one thing or the other, and should be a source of light as if the moon is behind it perhaps, as in my sketch it is too bold and the perspective doesn’t work well. I am thinking of William Blake and they way he saw fantastical creatures in the clouds. I particularly like the colours and the style used by Blake in his ‘Red dragon and the woman clothed with the sun’ source:

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Charcoal study, A3 sketch pad, composition.

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Colour study in acrylics A4 sketch sheets.

I am now back from a 2 week break to the UK and so I need to get into this project again. At the exhibition ‘Beyond the Great Wave’ I was inspired by Hokusai’s dragon over mount Fuji- source:

….and it made me think of my little project. I think the dragon looks so large, as he has caught it with the scale of the mountain; if he had painted it too large it would not have been believable. I really liked this painting.


I decided that I would try and put a dragon over the castle just to see what it would look like and also because my head is still full of Hokusai…. I painted out the background as before but on A3 acrylic paper and then I found a closer image of the dragon and tried to copy this onto my painting. 20170612_145934

It is not so dramatic as the vulture and rather delicate; I used a pen to get the edges of the dragon sharp. It was a good exercise which I enjoyed but I will go back to my original plan and also I will work on an A2 plus sized canvas board. The two styles don’t mix so well, not a good idea to swop halfway through…..I think I got distracted 😉

So, I have finally painted ‘The Foretelling’ , using a 60 x 50 canvas framed, which I think is the largest I have used as yet image1 (100)on this course. I found working some of the time with a sponge to apply the paint worked quite well for the sky. It was difficult to decide how realistic to make the vulture, I also wanted it to be surreal apparition in the sky, really a vision in the clouds. Did this work? Actually, not too bad. I think the red tower and dark foreground give it a menacing feeling, as in the de Chirico. This (small, above left) is before I re did the vulture head, as I suddenly thought it looked too much like a pigeon…I not the effect I was looking for! I did another fast sketch and then painted it in again and I also added some more light to the sky – it is much better, much more vulture-like now.

It was hard to get my mind back to this project after taking a break in  the middle but it was unavoidable but still, something to consider in the future. I came back with my head full of Hokusai and it was hard to return to where I was mentally before.  But I will return and give my thoughts on this after a few weeks.

The foretelling finished

Research: Expressive landscapes

I begin by looking at Salvadore Dali. There is a lot of information on this website: . (image from here)metamorphosis-of-narcissus

‘Metamorphosis of Narcissus is Dali’s interpretation of the Greek myth of Narcissus. Narcissus was a youth of great beauty who loved only himself and broke the hearts of many lovers. The gods punished him by letting him see his own reflection in a pool. He fell in love with it, but discovered he could not embrace it and died of frustration. Relenting, the gods immortalised him as the narcissus (daffodil) flower. For this picture Dali used a meticulous technique which he described as ‘hand-painted colour photography’ to depict with hallucinatory effect the transformation of Narcissus, kneeling in the pool, into the hand holding the egg and flower. Narcissus as he was before his transformation is seen posing in the background. The play with ‘double images’ sprang from Dali’s fascination with hallucination and delusion.’

I have seen Dali’s work in many galleries over the years but never found myself drawn to his work for some reason. This is so brilliant though, having just spent some time really looking at it, how the hand echoes so the well the kneeling figure. I also like the idea that there is a poem to read whilst contemplating this painting, and also that by staring for some time at the kneeling figure it also becomes the hand holding the egg from which springs the flower. I am fascinated as I also like staring at objects until they change into something else. I have found you can do this to yourself in a mirror also.

I found the poem here:

Max Ernst:  ”Creativity is that marvelous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition. ”
– Max Ernst.

I shall endeavor to achieve this!

I found lots about Ernst’s history and work here:


‘The Temptation of Saint Anthony’, 1945. This was painted for a film made of the book by Flaubert, which was also panted by Dali, but they chose Ernst’s version to use in the film. The is the Dali one: source:

They are both pretty amazing. I think I would have chosen Ernst’s as well. It has more menace to it with all of those strange, nightmarish creatures twisted within it, I find it more disturbing. The colours also add to this. The Dali’s in contrast is more light and open looking, with dramatic perspective.

Giorgio de Chirico: There is a lot of information in this NY times review:

also here:

image source:


Looking at de Chrico’s work, he uses long shadows and an almost simplistic style. The bananas also seem to occur a lot. The perspective here is very disturbing, it does not look correct; the two small figures seem to be going up a hill but it does not recede in the correct way although the building next to it does. The clock and the train in the distance all add to the theme of departure. (I also like his ‘Red tower’ and may use it to inspire my next piece of work.)


Graham Sutherland: Black Landscape 1939-40 by Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980

This Welsh scene reflects the artist’s anxiety at the threat of war; it was painted during the ‘phoney war’ between 1939 and 1940. Both the title and the ominous twilight effect suggest imminent violence.’ It is also interesting to read that Sutherland was influenced by the pastoral visions of William Blake, as I can almost see a dragon hatching out of an egg. I note the limited pallette which adds to the uneasiness of this work.

Paul Nash: I have looked at the work of Nash previously. p04d4h3l

‘Landscape from a dream’ source:

‘When the war came, suddenly the sky was upon us all like a huge hawk hovering, threatening,” he wrote, poetically. “Everyone was searching the sky, waiting for some terror to fall.’

Here in this dream landscape, the hawk is watching himself and the world is being reflected back to him, with a dangerous red sky with portent of things to come. To the left it is perhaps a window through which we see the sea and the beauty of the coastline.


German Expressionist :Emil Nolde: 

Twilight, 1916
Oil on Canvas – 73 x 100 cm
Basel, Kunstmuseum


I love the simplicity of this and the colours together, and the yellow of the twilight reflecting back at the bottom in the water. This balances the composition well. There is a real feeling of depth and perspective, with the receding river onto the horizon line, and the distance blue of the hills.  ‘Nolde’s fondness for Germany and his homeland are well known.  The painter however was always in a particular situation, his northern region of Schleswig-Holstein having been given to Denmark at the Treaty of Versailles. Thus, born German, Nolde acquired Danish nationality while remaining in his “homeland” and defending its identity against the Danish authorities, despite his wife having been born Danish. This region and its inhabitants continually inspired him : portraits of peasants and glorious landscapes, such as the Twilight  recall this rooting in the land.’

Symbolist movement: Gustave Moreau:  


I have chosen this painting, which I am now thinking I not from his symbolist period…however, it is a wonderful sunset(?) and I love his use of colour in this and the texture of the sky which reflects and works with the earth as well.  I imagine the paint has been put on quite thickly giving an impasto effect, something I would like to try although I am not sure how well it works with acrylics.

Leon Bakst: information on the artist here

‘Leon Bakst was attracted to oriental style; and motifs from ancient Greece and Egypt became signatures in his paintings and theoretical work. The Benua circle also introduced him to symbolism and Art Nouveau. Bakst influenced and developed Art Nouveau style by bringing in a curvy line, as well as bright colours, oriental prints, and flowing drapes.’

He designed costumes and backdrops for the Russian ballet, like this one below, source: tumblr_midpbv3SbE1qekd4ho1_1280

It is exquisitely beautiful; I note how the tall trees frame the sides and the blue of the recumbent person in the foreground is also shown in a tree behind, which balances it out. It definitely has an oriental feel to it in the style with which it is painted.

I had not thought of Gustav Klimt as a landscape painter….I found a lot of information here:

gustav klimt forest i

I love this dense forest with only small glimpses of the sky showing through, and the knotty, spotty trees with their dry stick branches above. He has used this speckled technique for the forest floor also. I have some forests of pine trees nearby and this has given me an idea of painting a landscape that is perhaps more enclosed and mysterious…

Frida Khalo. I am a big admirer of Khalo’s work and I feel she is already an influence on me. I have a beautiful book, published by Bullfinch (Frida Khalo) and I found this landscape,  full of symbolism, within. ‘My Dress Hangs There’, 1933, pokes fun perhaps at America, with the toilet and the golf trophy. The cross on the church seems to be a dollar sign and there seems to be a graph on the hall steps and has Mae West set the theatre on fire? And Frida is in the centre, her Mexican dress proudly displayed. Wonderful.20170618_165023

Ariel perspective: Sunrise, looking to Gibraltar

My aim is to create the illusion of distance and receding space. I will paint from my terrace looking out either towards the East to the mountains, or to the South, where the rock of Gibraltar is visible and on a good day a small lump of Africa. The light changes over the course of the day but is perhaps giving the best effect for this perspective early in the morning when the sun has just risen.

I have been looking through a book of Turner’s work for inspiration and also at the Tate site, which has some of his amazing sketchbooks, here:

Soundtrack: ‘Air on a G string’ (guitar version)

Normally, in the morning, it can look quite hazy, which I hope to describe with some colour washes. The shadows from the nearer trees will be dark and long and so the colours will be darker in the fields nearer to the start of the town. I need to decide whether to include  some building in the foreground or whether this might distract from the overall washes of this painting. I will start by sketching out the outline of the mountains and hills and finding the most pleasing vista.

I think the view out toward Gibraltar will be best, as the other one is too detailed. I tried a quick water colour sketch today. Mostly blues in the distance, turning to greens and some earthy colours in the fields and the track.  Already I can see how this will work; the pale blues look distant in comparison to the near greens. I need to be up early to catch that morning light and the mist which often comes.20170516_162649

I had a play with some acrylic colours in the evening light. It was cloudy this morning so I didn’t get to paint. I hope to try tomorrow but I may not have time in the morning.


painted in rough outline guide

20170519_153248_Richtone(HDR)I was up for 7.00 am and caught the good morning light as the sun rose over the mountain (to the left of the picture). The whole scene was much greener than I had thought,so I spent some time mixing and laying down more green. I am very pleased with the sky; it was a milky white with a streak of pinkish yellow across it and I think I caught that well. It was wonderful to be up there painting so early and I am pleased with the work I did in an hour. I do not feel it is finished so I now have to decide how much more to do to it. The foreground needs stronger colours and details to make it feel closer. And I also have that fear of messing up the work I have already done!

Today I added some warmer and darker colours and contasts to the front of the picture, so this looks clearer. I think I have managed to 1) use loss of focus, making the distant mountains hazy and blurred, 2) loss of colour saturation by making the foreground sharper and brighter and 3) the foreground has warmer, richer tones and more contrasts. Together these things work well, however individually I think it would depend on what end result you were trying to achieve. On a really sunny, clear day, there is much less loss of focus for example. Sunrise - looking to Gibraltar

I believe I fulfilled my aims for this painting.  It is perhaps not particularly exciting, or in anyway like any of Turner’s work, which is where  was trying to draw inspiration. It is the sort of painting that visitors to this town might like, for example, but which other artists might think rather uninspired.



Perspective examples, linear and aerial


Georgia O´O’Keeffe ‘“Her paintings often times used the vantage point of being on the ground and looking up which conveys a sense of wonder an individual might experience while craning one’s neck to look up at the awe-inspiring skyscraper.”

In this example one is looking down at the city. I love the distant lights on the road.okeeffenewyorkatnight


I also thought of Peter Brown, the Bath artist who’s exhibition I was lucky enough to visit earlier this year. Brown paints a lot of city scenes of Bath and uses perspective well to capture the streets and buildings.  source: Departing sun, Marlborough Buildings 2015

In this example there is a clear vanishing point and the road rises up and away from you. I like the metal poles (what are they called..?!bollards?) that get closer together and they move away from the viewer.

Vincent Van Gogh. I like the simplicity of this painting of a  ‘Street in Saintes-Maries’

source: Street-in-Saintes-Maries


JWM Turner. I think this is a good example of aerial perspective, although of course linear is also employed here on the track, which fades away into the pale light in the distance.



Claude Monet ‘Antibes vue de la Salis’



The shimmering colours in this work fade to pale  for the distant town and mountains behind.

Jack B Yeats. Although his work is very abstract at times, I think he shows good aerial perspective in some of his work. This one, ‘Hearing the Nightingale’, depicts the view from Richmond Hill in London. image


Hard landscape. ‘Jimena castle by night’

For this exercise I am going to choose a ‘hard’ landscape rather than ‘soft’. I am lucky enough to have a terrace that you can look up to the castle from and there are a jumble of house on the way up too. My problem, if it is indeed a problem, is that it is a mixture of hard and soft as there are lots of trees and green foliage up by the castle but I have an idea that maybe I can paint it at night. The castle is floodlit and the houses should show up with lights in the windows. Maybe the moon will be in it too. The dark should hide the trees. I have done a quick sketch today and will go up when it gets dark and have a look at the possibilities. (The moon wasn’t really there…)20170505_151300_Richtone(HDR) (2)

It is 10.40 and I have been up on the terrace with my A3 pad and charcoal. It was not easy to see what I was doing. Also, I am sitting up on a wall to see more so I will have to be careful or I could end up on the neighbour’s roof….I will have to fix some light up there too for me to paint but surprising really, what one can draw even when you cannot see! The castle floodlights come on at 10.00 and the castle then stands out really bold and strong. The tree below look very black in contrast with some very bright green in the lights. The houses are more muted, soft greys and not all had lights on and most patios have trees and shrubs that stand out black against the lights. So it will be a limited pallette with a lot of black and greyish-greenish  tones. The castle is a sandy colour. I hope I am going the right way with this for this exercise but now I am excited about it and want to do this, so I will be attempting it one night soon. 20170506_112513_Richtone(HDR)

I have also been looking at how artists have portrayed the night.  Found an interesting article here:

..and good information here:

Van Gogh of course, painted a lot of night work from his ‘Starry Night’ and the cafe scenes.

Today I have prepared a canvas block (larger than A3) with a mixture of white and payne’s grey.  I will paint portrait as this suits the scene, with houses coming down the hill towards me and the castle the main feature at the top. I intend to mark out where the buildings are in daylight and then paint what I can see tonight using a limited pallette.


Well, that was fun :-0 . It was hard to see any colours and although I could see the canvas ok with my light but it meant I couldn’t see clearly the houses although the castle was bright. With the light off I could see the view much better. Maybe I will do some twilight work tomorrow quickly…it doesn’t last long. My cat wouldn’t leave me alone and I was afraid he would jump onto my tray and knock everything over. I was an hour up there and I got a lot done and I am quite pleased with it so far. My husband photographed my nocturnal creativity…

And this is what I did. Obviously not finished but I need to have a long hard look at it tomorrow.


The next day I neatened up the castle a little and I added the stars from memory. The moon hadn’t got there yet….

Well I have just spent an earlier hour up there, just as twilight ended ,  and I think I have finished. Some more lights were on in the houses which made it more interesting as they threw more shadows and yellowish colours. There is a street light in the centre that threw out a lot of light and made for interesting shadows. I think strangely enough, working in the dark made me bolder and a bit looser and I am happy with the work I have produced for this. Night painting is something I definitely will want to try again.

Jimena castle by night

View from a window

I decided on the bedroom/my studio 🙂 window. It looks out to the houses opposite and through to the mountains beyond. Also, there is a nice black metal railing with curlicues on it that will frame the view at the bottom and a blind at the top.  I tried at an angle but decided it worked better straight on. There is more of a view straight on and also the railing are difficult to describe at an angle. I used a view finder (Yes! Me! I used a viewfinder…) I pushed the plant over to one side so just visible in the view.

I sketched it out in pencil and I also did some fast water colour sketches of the mountains beyond. The light changes so very fast when it is wet weather. By the time I got to paint it had dried up and was sunny again but this made for a more constant light, if not so interesting. I can see why artists like water colour for outdoor sketching to capture something really fast, just a fleeting moment of light through the clouds….

I have also been looking at the work of Raoul Duffy, which is lovely and charming, and indeed I am in a similar area to him so I thought I might take some inspiration from him. The work of Gwen John is I feel not suitable inspiration for here in Spain, although it is soft and beautiful. I very much like the Edward Hopper, particularly this,  ‘Rooms by the sea’ with the bold use of colour and light.  source:

I drew the scene on A3 paper using a black permanent marker and then used water colours.

I thought it was rather fun but of course not quite like the Duffy :-)…..This was early afternoon and the light gives better, more interesting shadows late afternoon and I intend to paint the scene at that time. But I admit I do rather like the outcome of this. 



I used A3 acrylic paper. The shadows on the walls make it more interesting than the water colour, I think. What I feel works is that it give a feeling of looking out and into the distance and I think the black metal at the front frames it well. I don’t feel I have described the mountains very well and the washing prop on the wall goes up into it and looks a big strange. I did not see this at the time. I have maybe painted them in too strong colours. But, it is indeed the view from the bedroom.

Having just read this, I thought well, re do the mountains, so I have although maybe it is not that different. I think it is a little better. My husband prefers the water colour though, annoyingly. Maybe he is right….




Research into the evolution of landscape painting
A good brief history of the landscape genre is here. And also below.

Caspar David Friedrich (5 September 1774 – 7 May 1840) German Romantic landscape painter.


I love the restricted pallete and the way the trees reach up to the vast, hazy sky. A ruined abbey and a graveyard in early morning (?) light. This gives a very haunting effect. Is it a statement on the ruins of Europe at the time?

John Constable, ‘Branch Hill pond’, oil sketch source:


This is from the V&A site which has a lot of interesting information about Constable’s oil sketches. I think they are more interesting than his big oil paintings, more spontaneous! I love the rays of light breaking through the cloud and the reflection of this on the pond. I note the inclusion of some tiny figures, just to give scale and proportion to it and the use of ariel perspective, the way the countryside fades away into the distance.

Samuel Palmer: ‘The Harvest Moon: Drawing for ‘A Pastoral Scene’ source:

The Harvest Moon: Drawing for 'A Pastoral Scene' c.1831-2 by Samuel Palmer 1805-1881

This is a study for another painting, ‘¡A pastoral scene’. I love the moon in this; a beautiful bold moon way before zoom camera gave that effect. I may be wrong but I think most artists described the moon small as in real life at this time. The moonlight on the workers in the fields is just beautiful.

Thomas Cole. American artist source:

Two thirds of this landscape is the sky! But so delicately described. Cole was America’s leading landscape painter during the first half of the nineteenth century.  It must be rather hard to capture a sky as the clouds move and change as does the light but I make note of this, as endless land to me is not so interesting but a dramatic sky can make all the difference. Also a night scene with moonlight, as the Palmer, above, shows.

Egon Shiele.

I love Shiele’s rather naive, jumbled houses and landscapes.  I realise I might be reference Shiele too much…but I do love his work. he houses in my town jumble around in a similar way to these. In ‘Edge of town(Krumlov Town Crescent)’ he uses a pallette of blues and greens with pops of reds and oranges,  I note how the houses curve around; both jumbled and yet somehow ordered.  20170501_105023_Richtone(HDR)

source: book ‘Egon Shiele’ bought at his home town long ago at the Shiele Centrum,  Cesky Krumlov.

Modern artists reflecting environmental concerns

I found the work of Paul Nash interesting. When you look closely at this ‘sea’ you see it is actually German war planes, all broken, shot down machines together forming the sea. Was the message that we had destroyed all these German planes? or that the effect of war was to destroy the landscape….id_129rt2

‘Dead Sea’ 1940-41 oil on canvas. source:

There is an interesting video on this site too.

Nash saw the spiritual side of the English landscape (I love his early tree sketches) but then when the war came he painted to show how the war and man was destroying/changing the landscape.

I think L.S. Lowry also had a message with his smoking chimneys and his industrial scenes and the smallness of the people that he painted. How small man is and yet he has created all this industry and how the sky is filling with the smoke….source: