think that storytelling is only done with words, but you can also
tell a story in a picture.
To tell a
story you need several elements:
1. A character or characters
2. A "plot"
3. A setting
4. A mood
I generally start my paintings with actual people. Either I have a
model in front of me or I use reference drawings from my sketchbook.
I have found it extremely useful to keep a sketchbook with me at all
times for capturing the features, expressions and gestures of people
in public. Often the situation I am sketching will be enough to
inspire a whole painting; at other times I look for interesting
people and put them together in a narrative way.
For instance, I might start with one woman
standing with a wineglass in her hand. Then, if I add two or more
characters also holding wine glasses, I suddenly have a party.
In developing each character, I must consider
facial expression, gesture or body language, placement in
relationship to other characters, costumes and props. Each of these
elements will tell something important about who the character
I decide early if they are young or old,
beautiful or frumpy. If I want them friendly, I place them close
together. If I want them happy, I give them big smiles. If I want
them snooty, I stick their noses up in the air.
Basically the plot is what the characters are doing. Say I have
combined four standing figures. If I want my characters to be
gossiping, I will place them close together and have them leaning
toward each other. If I want them gossiping about someone else, I
can have them all looking in the same direction out of the picture.
If I want three of them to be close friends and one to be an
outsider, I will put three close together and leave some open space
between them and the solo figure.
Where is my party taking place? If it's an art gallery, I put some
pictures on the wall. If it's a living room, I add living room
furniture like a sofa, an easy chair, some end tables with flowers,
windows and curtains. For a more public event, I can add a crowd of
smaller, abstract figures.
Finally, I have to consider mood. Is it a happy occasion? Then I
will probably make the painting bright and colorful. If I want it
more dramatic, I can add light and shadows from a single light
source. If I want it mysterious, I use dark colors with bright areas
only for the faces and accents.
By the time I have finished the painting, I
want to know, and show, who these people are, what they are doing,
where they are doing it and how they feel about it. That way the
painting brings life and vitality to any room where it's hanging.