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:

image2 (66)

Charcoal study, A3 sketch pad, composition.

image1 (98).JPG

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

Hokusai: beyond the great wave

20170610_160353During my trip back to the UK I had time for a quick visit to London. Of all the exhibitions on at the moment, I could not resist getting tickets for the Hokusai at The British Museum. Yes, he is 18th/19th century but he is work is exquisite and although I am sure the Hodgkin at the National portrait Gallery was interesting, for me this is what I needed to see.

The exhibition was tight on timing, and it was very crowded and rather dark, so much so that it would have been impolite to stand and sketch for any length of time which was a shame. I was also not allowed to take any photographs. I made some notes as I went round in shockingly bad handwriting…..



The leaflet inside and some postcards:



The clouds in one of the many Mount Fuji paintings reminded me of Georgia O’Keeffe’s clouds paintings. A lot of the work was very linear and not tonal. I liked his unexpected touches, for example the white sea foam birds and turning in plover birds. He was inspired by his area, living with the view of Mount Fuji and the birds and flowers. This reminds me to look and paint the beautiful things I have here, in Andalucia. He was also inspired by poems, ghost tales. Some of his work seemed stylised, and then sudden it would be just bursting with life somehow, as below in the ‘Gamecock and Hen’ Gamecock and hen


I am captivated by the expression on their faces. Sometimes you just don’t need to put too much into a painting; I just love the simplicity of this. The cock so proud and challenging and the hen look coquettishly at him, she would flutter her eyelids if she had any. This was one of his later paintings.

There is another Guardian review here also:

This is a quote from there:  ‘There is precious little evidence of a later flowering, “beyond” The Great Wave, in this increasingly baffling exhibition. Hokusai’s late painting of a dragon, done in the traditional way on a silk scroll in 1849, the year of his death, shows he could still ink a decent monster at 90. Yet it is not any more exciting, sensitive or profound than the much earlier dragon painting shown here that he’d created in about 1798. Late style? What late style?’

I disagree. I loved all of his work but the later ones seemed to have more life in them somehow; they seemed to say more to me. My stand out favourite that I would loved to have stolen and taken home with me was the dragon in the smoke above Fuji that this critic is referring to. This is not a good copy but it took my breath away standing in front of it.  I think maybe it is the scale of the dragon against the mountain and the beautiful, again simplicity, of the whiteness of the mountain. Also, I have had to leave a work I am in the middle of  which is a vulture of death coming out of some clouds so I saw this and thought, yes, this is what I am trying to do.  source:

“If heaven will afford me five more years of life, then I’ll manage to become a true artist.” Hokusai.


‘Mutt and Jeff’, ‘Self portrait with Lemon Tree’ and Ruth smoking. Analysis and thoughts.

‘Spend min 10 min each reflecting and recording your responses to: Mutt and Jeff, Portrait lemon tree and Ruth smoking.’

Mutt & Jeff: purpose: to describe my feeling with regards to my hearing loss and the anguish and frustration I often feel from my body letting me down in this way. Red is a warm, hot colour but also describes pain and anguish, my arms raised in frustration, almost pulling out my hair, my eyes squeezed shut to stop tears. I used rough brush strokes and also a sponge to blend and to make sure this was not attempting a mirror likeness. Yes, I did not include clothing again, laying myself bare for the world to see me as I truly am. In order for this not to be taken so seriously, as after all, I do have hearing aids and can actually hear and it is not life threatening…so I used the title to lighten it and to add some humour in here. Yes, I get frustrated but don’t take me too seriously.

Ruth smoking: I had tried a few poses with this model but when we stopped for a break and she lit up her cigarette I asked if I could portray her in this way, defiantly smoking indoors, lost in her own thoughts, this is in fact the Ruth I see socially from time to time, an independent lady who challenges you to criticise her (lack of) eating habits and her cigarette habit. The portrait is quite bold and tonal, I think I have caught the light through the window quite well, which was my intention, but it also brings to the fore her character.

Self portrait with lemon tree: This pose was chosen by me from my selfies challenge, as I felt it to be the most interesting, and I learnt a lot from building up the layers in this portrait. I discovered the profile pose to be an interesting angle and one which I will be using again at some point. I also cropped to add interest. I am wearing a hat and a shirt as this is me outside, about to pick a lemon.   I initially thought this work was not bold, or clear enough, but looking back I can see the subtleties within it, and also that I have captured a certain look, (content, and intent, on what I am about to do). As my tutor seemed pleased with this self challenge, I may well continue with this project and see where it leads me.

Conveying character #2

I had mentioned that I might have another go at this exercise and, as a break from the landscape section, I painted my husband. Twice. My aim was to produce a likeness that showed his character and his concentration when he is working, or watching football, as in the last one. He was working on the laptop and I asked him to sit in the living room on the sofa, so the light was on him and I could sit and the table and work. I used A3 acrylic paper.  I worked very quickly as though sketching with the paints. The first one, as he was working, produced something curious. The top half was correct, and so was the bottom half, but I think because he was moving his head up and down as he was working, the middle section was too long! I could not see this at the time and I have learnt from this to stand back and look at the whole thing and not concentrate on the different parts but remember the picture as a whole. I folded a crease in the painting and it worked and balanced the angle of the face! 20170521_174004_Richtone(HDR)

Wanting to try again with this fresh in my mind, I got him to sit in the same place but this time watching a football match. The light had changed as it was now evening and he was not wearing his glasses to watch this. And, importantly, the head was still (most of the time anyway…) I worked quickly, and because I had the other painting in my mind, it was almost worked out for me already. I did this in an hour and a quarter.

I think it works as it shows his nervous concentration on the match and it is a good likeness of him. My husband’s reaction was that it was very much him. I think it went well as I was relaxed and also knew this face very well, and I had learnt from the first version to really look at the whole picture and not get too concentrated on one area.

Richard watching football
Richard watching football


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.



Action plan following feedback from assignment 3

I have updated assignment 3 with a response to the tutor feedback here (bottom of the post):

In addition to the assignment task, set clear aims for yourself. Before you begin your prep work,ask what are you trying to convey and communicate (beyond a ‘likeness’) . Make yourself a list of aims and objectives and refer to these as you work on the assignment. 

‘Whenever possible you would benefit by spending more time doing observational drawings and painting (rather than relying so much on photographs). You will learn more from spending time looking at, analysing, making visual and written notes and then to paint directly from life.’

For the portraits section I feel it was necessary to rely on some photographs; my model would not have had time to sit for hours (it took me many hours to complete the painting ‘Ruth smoking’; I worked from my many sketches and fast captures as well as my i pad for this. In ‘A simple wedding’ I had to rely on photographs – but I made this my own and worked by adding to them and combining what I had. Maybe it was a little self indulgent but I really enjoyed the chance to paint my grandparent’s wedding day and to imagine how it might have been. In my assignment I had to photograph the cat for the position, it was not possible otherwise. My self portraits have all been from mirror work except the selfies project. However, with the next section I am working on, landscapes, I will not be using photographs at all and hope to be outside working as much as possible. Indeed, have already done so.

(**) Look at and apply Bonnard’s compositions (and use of colour) i.e: Before dinner, The bath and The terrace at Vernon

This has been done from last time here:

(**) Luc Tuymans Look at both his drawings and paintings, the content of his ideas, his visual language and cropping-in.

I research and watched this and wrote it up here:

I also took the idea of using a still from a film from Tuymans in ‘Conveying character’.(Elisabeth Taylor in ‘The taming of the shew’.)

‘ Think about and compare your portraits with the series of Van gogh’s portraits, ask what your ‘purpose’, ‘impression’ or what you wish to ‘convey’. 

Not sure this is in my version of the coursebook but have now done so here:

‘Spend min 10 min each reflecting and recording your responses to: Mutt and Jeff, Portrait lemon tree and Ruth smoking’

I will also do this and post separately on my blog.

I will look at the work of Cathy Lomax.

I will watch the commentary by tutor Michelle Whiting on POP1 student Adrian Eaton.

‘(**) Extend your research to include some contemporary artists (C21st)- follow-up on suggestions from Assignment 2. Ask yourself how your artist’s research relates back to and underpins your drawing / painting: process / content? Begin to place your own work within a contemporary context: related to the ideas, process and aesthetics of artists you’re researching.’

Contemporary artists I have researched recently include: Mark Rydan, Luc Tuymans, David Hockney, Gaela Erwin, Estelle Day, Tracy Emin, Peter Brown…. and I will continue with this. I realise I need to relate their work to my own. 


  • I need to make more aims and objectives before starting an assignment or exercise and think about what I wish to say or convey with this work.
  • Analysing my own work is something I find hard to do; however  think if I return to a painting a few weeks afterwards it is easier to do so, as I have by then lost the rather child like enthusiasm I have for my latest piece, therefore I will aim to do this and add to my blog posts retrospectively.
  • Since last feedback, I felt I had been doing more preparation work (at least 5-6 sketches) for each exercise or assignment, however it seems I am still deficient in this so I will aim to be more thorough.
  • Analyse more what elements / qualities I wish to apply from my research. Then I will need to follow this up by considering how and in what ways I can do this.
  • Daily work, even if just sketching.