Disclaimer: This article is about creating artworks for the public that incorporate emotion. This article is not about art therapy which is a more freeform practice of making art accompanied by interviews by an art therapist.
Painting with Emotion
People often wonder, "How do I paint with emotion?" Well, let me tell you, it's not about being in the midst of the emotion at the very moment you pick up your paintbrush. It's about understanding how that emotion feels and using that understanding to create your artwork.
Don't suppress your feelings
When you find yourself experiencing a genuine emotion in real life, it's important to resist the urge to suppress it. There are numerous reasons for this, but for the purpose of painting with emotion, it's crucial because you want to be able to recall how that emotion feels when you dive into your artistic process.
You might think you're fully in touch with your emotions, but are you really? Do you truly sit with your emotions, especially the uncomfortable ones, and notice how they manifest in your body? Or do you tend to distract yourself and brush them aside in an attempt to seek pleasure and avoid discomfort? It's a common human tendency, but it makes it difficult to fully experience any emotion at all.
How does the emotion feel in your body?
So, when you set out to create artwork that conveys a specific emotion—let's say anger—pay attention to how anger feels in your body. For me, anger manifests as a tightness in my chest, almost like a rigid, black sensation. I can feel my heart, which I associate with the color purple, shrinking back. There's also a tightness in the front of my head, creating a sense of tunnel vision, a narrowing of focus.
Translate the physical feeling to visual information
Now, imagine translating these bodily sensations into imagery on a canvas. Perhaps a massive raven dominates the entire space, with fiery eyes and a firm grip on something. Its wings exude a velvety texture, subtly infused with shades of purple. This image is not a literal representation of anger, but it evokes the feeling associated with it.
Let's consider another example—joy. I know what joy feels like in my body. It's expansive, like taking deep breaths in warm sunlight. To paint joy, I might expand my color palette to include vibrant and lively hues. I might choose to paint a broader, more expansive scene. Instead of a still life, I'd opt for a lush forest teeming with life. I might incorporate shimmering water and greens that buzz with energy. Again, this painting is not a literal depiction of happiness, but it captures the essence of the emotion.
The real work starts before you sit down to paint.
So here's a call to action: the next time you experience an emotion, especially an uncomfortable one, allow yourself to sit with it. Observe how it travels through your body without reacting to it. Simply notice. Then, when you return to your artistic pursuits, draw upon your memories of those bodily sensations, their specific locations and textures. Break down the emotion into its smallest parts, unique to your personal experience. Remember this self-awareness as you paint, infusing your work with the essence of the emotion.
In the end, painting with emotion isn't about hastily scribbling your anger or smearing your sadness onto the canvas as you feel it in real time. Rather, it's about attentively noticing the complex and nuanced feelings that reside within you and skillfully conveying them through your art. By embracing your own emotional journey and tapping into the wisdom held within your body, you have the power to create artwork that not only reflects your personal experiences but also resonates deeply with others.