Painting emotion
Robert Genn

August 18, 2009

Dear Rodney,

Yesterday, Dan McGrath of Lexington, Kentucky, wrote, "I consider myself an 
experienced landscape painter, but I see advice from successful artists: 
'Paint what you feel about a subject, not just what you see.' As an 
ex-engineer, I don't have a clue what I feel about a subject except that I 
love being outdoors and being in the places I visit. How does one recognize or 
introduce emotion into a scene? Is it bright colors, strong value contrasts, 
or what?"

We've put a selection of Dan's excellent paintings at the top of the current 
Like Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz," Dan has a heart, he just doesn't know 

Thanks, Dan. Your work shows what I call the "engineer's touch." This means 
your paintings have precise, organized and well-thought-out compositions. 
Further, you are blessed with good drawing, colour wisdom, aerial perspective 
and a strong sense of light and shade. Many artists would love to have these 
abilities. Your work already has the bright colours and strong contrasts you 
mentioned. Let's look further: 

Contrivances, whether conscious or unconscious, are the first place to start 
looking. Dan's work, like that of a lot of other painters, often shows a 
formalized and conservative consistency. In his case, it's often a stabilizing 
horizontality or a (generally foreground) lineup that repeats from painting to 
painting. To get more emotion, you need to forego some of this engineering and 
let yourself be a bit more of a swinger. 

Further, be careful with static elements, such as rocks. These are not objects 
to buttress a composition. They are living, breathing, painterly illusions 
with latent dynamism. While your work shows care and labour, care and labour 
are not necessarily emotions. 

Apart from the emotion one finds in masterful faces (see Rembrandt's portraits) 
and the emotion connected to a sensitive place (see Edward Hopper's lonely 
cafés), there's the tactile emotion that comes out of the end of the brush. 
Brushwork, energetic and fresh, might be just enough additional emotion for 
your well-engineered landscapes. In the words of Elbert Hubbard, "Allow motion 
to equal emotion."

Best regards,


PS: "Better to be without logic than without feeling." (Charlotte Bronte) "I 
want to draw and study a few things closely by feeling, not thinking." (Joanna 

Esoterica: Artists write daily to ask for advice on their work. Sometimes I 
don't know where to start. Often I pick out one or two salient points and try 
to get them across in about the length of a Twitter Tweet: "Consider adding 
painterly energy and bravura to give a bit more dazzle and authenticity to the 
work." I know the old saw is a bit jaded, but think of this one as well: "The 
main thing is sincerity, and when you learn to fake that, you've got it made." 
Perhaps readers would like to send Dan a few more. He's at