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How to Convey Emotion in Art

Pacific Grove Pools

When you are creating landscape paintings, part of what draws you to a scene is the emotion you feel when you are in the moment. This is not always easy to replicate, but one way to carry that emotion in art is by using different types of brushwork.

Depending on how you apply the paint to the canvas with determine whether or not your viewer will pick up on the emotion you felt when you created it. Whether it was the sounds and sights of the crashing waves, or the serenity of a secluded lake, you can use a variety of brushstrokes to capture and convey that emotion in art.

The saturation of the color in your brushwork with also reflect the emotion you are trying to capture. Highly saturated colors evoke excitement and energy, while softer lower saturated colors can create a calmer, more serene emotion in art.

If you use a vigorous paint quality and a vibrant color scheme you can communicate a lively emotion in art. Conversely, if you apply a much smoother texture of the paint quality, and use a subdued color scheme in your painting, can communicate an emotion in art of calm contemplation.

Create excitement with vigorous brushstrokes

Pacific Grove Pools
Pacific Grove Pools by Barry John Raybould

Fast, vigorous strokes can convey the excitement of moving water or crashing surf. This helps you to create hard edges in your brushwork, to further suggest the exciting emotion in art.

In “Pacific Grove Pools”, I was excited by the movement of the water and the breaking waves. Look at the vigorous brushwork in the foam that helps to promote a sense of movement. You have to paint with fast brushstrokes and larger brushes to capture the quickly moving waves, and momentary flashes of light on the water. Do not blend the paint, keep the brush filled with a mix of colors. There is no better way to express the turmoil in the water, and feel the emotion of stormy conditions.

Also, notice how the colors of the water are vibrant and rich in saturation. The waves are almost pure white in places, and the blues and purples in the water are crisp and sharp.

Emphasize stillness and tranquility with smoother brushstrokes

Smooth blended brushstrokes can communicate peaceful and still days, to encapsulate a calmer emotion in art.

In “Blue Lake”, the mood is completely different from “Pacific Grove Pools”. In this painting I used smooth strokes to express the peaceful, calm nature of the scene. The brushwork emphasizes the stillness of the pond and the silence of the day.

painting calmness
Blue Lake by Barry John Raybould

For this painting I used more subdued and blended colors, it is difficult to see where one brushstroke ends and another begins. There are no saturated colors in the water to spoil the calmness of the day.

The difference between the paintings

Painting exciting emotions
capturing excitement with bold strokes

Compare the bold brushstrokes of “Pacific Grove Pools” with the calmer, smoother brushstrokes of “Blue Lake”.

calm waters
smooth brushwork

Old Master examples of emotion in art through brushwork

Compare the wild, swirling brushwork in the two seascapes, to the softer, more blended brushstrokes of the landscapes. You can feel the different emotions the artists are trying to convey.

Snow Storm Steam Boat off a Harbour' Mouth by Joseph Mallord William Turner
Snow Storm Steam Boat off a Harbour’ Mouth by Joseph Mallord William Turner
Crashing Waves by Edgar Payne
Crashing Waves by Edgar Payne
In The Luxembourg Gardens by John Singer Sargent
In The Luxembourg Gardens by John Singer Sargent
The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak by Albert Bierstadt
The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak by Albert Bierstadt

To learn more about brushwork

To learn more about how to create dynamic and interesting brushwork, see the lessons on Brushwork Building Block in our Apprentice Program.

How to Convey Emotion in Art

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