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Painting Feelings - Not a how to...

Updated: May 9, 2022

Lately I have been going on long walks to clear my head. I also found that during these walks, my mind gets flooded with ideas and questions; the sort of questions that usually arise at 3am when you suddenly wake up and can't go back to sleep. My most recent question is "How do I paint feelings, or emotions?" I don't mean other people, I mean me, how do I want to do it. I also got curious about how does one give advice on that, so I googled it!

eHow was the first hit, which greatly amused me as they're good for showing how to fix things, usually very practical advice. Their advice on how to paint emotions follows that same line of very practical thought. Just get to it in 6 simple steps:

  1. Remove all distractions

  2. Experiment in a sketchpad

  3. Find your subject

  4. Mix you colours/understand how different colours affect mood

  5. Let the ideas flow naturally, and give yourself permission to make mistakes

  6. Leave the painting and come back to it later.

I find that advice to be as dry and as generic as can be.

CreativeBloq, on the other hand, was more interesting as they use images created by artists as an example. They talk about the:

  1. Use of light

  2. Using your own experiences and emotions

  3. Introduce symbolism - colour, objects, animals, flowers, etc. There are plenty of good books on this subject matter too

  4. Use a mind map to sort out your ideas

  5. What is the story you are trying to tell

  6. Sensory disruption. Depending on what you are trying to convey, use discomfort, make it cause an impact - whatever that my mean to you

  7. Narratives people can associate with such as nostalgia, love, anything really

  8. Composition - how the central figure is your subject and how you make it stand out. The angle that subject is at, how it catches the light (see item 1); how you are setting the mood.

  9. Colour choice which is tied in with items 6, 7, and 8. You can cause sensory disruption by how you use the colours, think red for blood, for instance. A sense of nostalgia can be brought about also by how you use colour, for instance, the sepia used in old pictures or even the colour used in old magazines which are quite faded compare to today's super bright colours everywhere.

  10. How do you feel about your painting.

Definitely great advice, but even thinking about all that, you have to tie it all together and apply it to your own art. How do you make things? How do you process all that information and translate it into your own art?

Experimentation! It's the only way forward. So no matter how many articles, books, or even blogs you read on how to, you will never get anywhere without experimentation. If I were to post every single scribble, notes, paintings, drawings, more notes I do almost on a daily basis over the last 5 years, I could fill volumes. I don't post everything on Instagram or on here, and I have also removed some of my more early artwork as it was a completely different style. For a while I even had TikTok, until I deleted it for technical reasons and when I reinstalled it, I realised that (a) I couldn't remember my password, (b) creating more content for another platform was stressing me out - even if I created the same video for IG and TikTok, it was not the same as being able to keep up by simply sharing images or stories.

Hope LGBTQ Inner Essence Acrylic Painting
"Hope" (2014)

When I first tried painting feelings and emotions back in 2014, I wanted to paint something that anyone could see and recognize. No gender, an amorphous humanoid shape surrounded by different colours suggesting hope, or loneliness, it was dependent on how I felt at the time. But I wasn't happy with them because they were not in the style or direction where I saw myself heading. I wanted to paint more figurative and more realistic styles. So I went through a eyes and lips phase where I attempted to convey emotions by a person's facial expression. I used the symbol of flowers and nature to convey the message. Within that style I experimented further and also painted animals within nature and their surroundings and habitat.

Flower faces love betrayal
"Only You" (2018)

The further I delved into what I wanted to convey, the more unsatisfied I became with how I was conveying the message and all I could see was how much I need and wanted to improve. This need to push further. I also found that taking a break and not painting for a while and distracting my brain with other information was a good way to come back with fresh eyes and ideas. During lockdown, I painted as much as possible and allowed myself to play with different styles and techniques and i saw a marked improvement in my paintings. But it also got to a point where I felt drained. Not selling much also brought down my spirits because I thought maybe I wasn't good enough, but of course, there are many other factors such as.... I don't go out much, I don't meet people unless it's online, so basically, I tend to shoot myself in the foot. Anyway, that's another topic for another time.

This last winter I barely did any painting. The studio gets cold, I generally get quite down and like to curl up and read when the days are dark and cold. I also decided to update my knowledge in Economics and other areas where I actually have formal training in. Curiosity, need for something new and challenging, whatever it was, when I came back to painting regularly again in January, I saw things differently. There was something in me that felt off and lost and I was able to put that into my latest painting.

cog out of place belonging flowers decoration fine art
"Untitled #1" (2022)

It was simply a reflection on belonging, especially after I left a world I knew and understood and knew how to get ahead and dived head first into something I absolutely love, but find it harder to navigate and understand because I didn't start off there. So I never made the contacts, connections, etc. It is quite unusual for me to do something reckless without many many thoughts and overthinking and analysing every angle and possibility and then there is more personal aspects to this which I usually keep a lid on, but do come into play into how I go about things.

As they say, paint what you know! Painting becomes a discovery and for the artist, it does impact us quite deeply. You can experience mindfulness while painting, or deep focus and concentration when attempting something new, elation, joy, but depending on the thoughts running through your mind, great sadness. Painting take you on a whole journey and next time, I will talk about Art as a tool for Healing.


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