Artists are often storytellers.
They paint a scene that expresses a time or place, people or a group of objects that suggests a particular response from the viewer.
Why not tempt your audience with a painting that stays with them long after they’ve left the gallery?
Go Beyond Typical Representation
It’s easy to set up a typical composition. Whether it is people, landscapes or still life, there are a number of stock arrangements that are commonly used. These compositions have pleasing proportions that artists learn or develop through practice and observation. The focal point is enhanced by color, line or auxiliary components to create a lively, visually dynamic painting. As artists, we strive to produce this type of structure.
If you are painting for illustrative purposes, reference work or concentrating on producing attractive paintings that will be desirable home décor, these traits are all you need to keep on painting picture after pretty picture.
However, as good as these painting may be technically, they may lack an indefinable wow factor that makes a painting memorable. Mystery can be portrayed in many ways, both overtly and subtly.
Lighting Makes A Big Difference
A landscape may be just another pretty outdoor scene, but viewing the setting through a hazy fog or light breaking through clouds can transform it into a vista of possibilities. What those prospects are to the viewer is charged by their imagination.
The lack of visibility adds a touch of the unknown to an otherwise known entity. Ladies of centuries past knew the appeal and power of a fan-concealed face, and fan etiquette was an art form meant to intrigue and captivate the male of the species. A mist-shrouded vista can do much the same.
Multiple sources of lighting can form discordance or a lack of harmony. This is more pronounced if the illumination contrasts in temperature and subconsciously establishes a sense of conflict in the viewer. Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks uses two distinct light sources in an interesting contrast. There is a sense of mystery even though the center of interest is well illuminated.
Rembrandt’s use of chiaroscuro is a paramount use of lighting for dramatic effect. This deliberate manipulation of light and shadow would furnish radiant enthusiasm or despondency on his subjects depending on the artist’s whim. With light and dark, he created a world of powerful intensity and visual patterns that is open to considerable speculation.
Mysterious Figures Populate The Artist’s World
Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is the epitome of a mysterious woman. Centuries of speculation over the meaning of her smile have ranged from an unannounced pregnancy to a broken heart or an attempt to entice a lover. No one will ever know her truth, and she remains one of the most famous women in the art world.
A subject’s demeanor, expression and carriage all add to the totality of a painting. Paint a subject’s expression as incongruous with the setting in which he is found and you will instantly add intrigue to the picture. A child sitting in a field of flowers is bucolic and expected. A child sitting in a field of flowers weeping is unanticipated. Why does the child cry? It’s another mystery for the viewer to ponder.
Portraits and scenes of people who appear isolated or perhaps abandoned pose another question. The audience has a voyeur’s curiosity. They want to know why. They want to know the story.
A successful painting is as much about what is concealed as what sits in plain sight. These paintings draw even the hesitant viewer into the artist’s vision of the world.
Edgar Degas is quoted as saying that a painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness and some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain, you end up boring people.
In your next painting, take these words to heart and add a little mystery to your artistic world.