Part 4 Project Expressive Landscapes

Creating Mood and Atmosphere


I walk my dog in the fields around my village on a daily basis. The countryside is not particularly spectacular, especially this time of year when the fields are either ploughed or lying fallow with the stubbly, decaying remains of last years crops. The leaves are starting to fall off the trees and the grass has lost its vibrancy. It’s just run of the mill, agricultural countryside. However one thing that you do notice is the sky. There is lots of it and you see weather coming long before it hits you! As an island nation we are constantly remarking on the weather. We don’t have patterns that are generally stable enough for us to take for granted, nor do have time to get used to a particular set of conditions before it all changes again. Hence the well know British obsession with the weather.

For this exercise the mood I wanted to convey, as odd as it seems, is one of ordinariness. So many landscapes are of depictions of drama, maybe huge vistas or spellbinding colour. Much of our environment isn’t like that however and as much as I like looking at all of the above, I wanted to paint something ordinary with an atmosphere of familiarity with the weather, neither a barmy sun nor a misty atmospheric fog. Somehow both of those felt more achievable! How do you make ordinary interesting to look at?

I had seen some really lovely atmospheric paintings by a contemporary painter Zoe Taylor whose expressive paintings contain a variety of brush marks and strong sweeps of paint to convey a sense of space and mood in her landscapes. Using her work as inspiration I set about investigating my own landscape.

Initial sketches

I chose a view of a green footpath along side a hedge with a ploughed field to one side containing power lines. I know the area well a chose a point at which the path rises a little then dips away into the distance. I wanted to give the viewer a sense of walking that path on an average (whatever that is) day at the turn of Autumn. I thought I could use the pylons to add interest into the image.

My initial sketch was about whether to do a traditional landscape orientation or to move to portrait to incorporate a lot of the sky that dominates the view at this point.


I was very conscious of wanting to creating loose marks that show enquiry throughout this exercise. I wanted to bring back that sense of energy and enquiring mark making that I was just beginning to appreciate in my portraits that so far has been a little lacking in part 4 (city scape study excepted).

I was undecided on the format so I started two paintings simultaneously to see which would win out. Using oil, thinned with W and N liquin (quick drying) on commercial oil paper I blocked out two compositions.

Initially I like the portrait format. with the land in the bottom third it gave loads of space for a cloudy sky. The pylons were a little lost however. I put them in by eye, meaning I moved them across from where they actually were so that they were in the image, but they felt a little cramped. Never the less I continued to layer colour on my areas to develop both images.

Intermediate stage of portrait orientation

At this point in proceedings I changed my mind about liking the portrait orientation. The problem of the cramped pylons was bothering me and I felt that whilst I was developing a sense of the place, I wasn’t getting the sense of a journey. There was not enough at the sides to guide me along. I think some of these issues could have been resolved by placing the land much further down the canvas so that the view of the land was very much truncated. However given that I had a landscape orientation developing nicely along side, I worked on that instead. Unfortunately I failed to take an intermediary photo of it.

Final Image

Walking the dog. Oil on paper


I am very pleased with the outcome of this painting. I get a sense of place, a sense of journey and a sense countryside that whilst not dramatic in any way, I would like to be in it. It has that sense of ordinariness that I was after yet it is depicted in quite a sensitive way. I have managed to keep the light,  throughout the composition, but especially on the ploughed field and on the grassy path. Consequently the air is also full of light (if that makes sense!) The direction of the brush marks were very important to the sense of journey. The clouds needed to be billowing without being overly dramatic. They are however what greets you as you walk along that path. The inclusion of power lines were more important than I thought. Not only do they add to the sense of journey, but they also add a bit of height to the foreground. The painting would not work so well without them. I scratched back to white paper in places in the foreground to give impression of near grasses. I quite like the effect although I can see that it would be easy to over do! This is something that I observed in the work of Zoe Talyor and I am pleased that I included this technique here. On the whole I have managed to bring myself back to a place of more enquiring work with this piece. It is on a slightly different register to my two successful portraits and the city scape study, but it does show development.


Part 4 Project Expressive Landscapes

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