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Painting Emotion

"I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way." Georgia O'Keefe.

Georgia O'Keefe, the "Mother of American Modernism", inspires and influences me with the way she uses colour in landscapes and lines in landscapes. I was introduced to her work a year back when I played a parody of her character - Georgie O'Keith - in a murder mystery night. While Georgia was considered American Modernism, she painted nature the way it made her feel. During my preparation for the murder mystery, I painted the image below, as an homage to Georgia.

In Homage to Georgia - By Colette Ernst, November 2020

The use of vivid colour and use of lines in painting to express the emotions of the artist isn't new. It is taken from Expressionism painters like Edvard Munch's The Scream and Franz Marc in his painting the Blue Horses. The most famous work though, at least the one that I was most familiar with before painting, is Stary Night by van Gogh.


It seems that many early Expressionist painters expressed negative feelings in their paintings. The style of painting, colours chosen and textures express fear, horror, chaos and violence. In Blue Horses the colour blue used in the horses portrays harmony and peace in contrast to the chaos of the red hills in the background. Georgia, on the other hand, used colour to show positive emotions, like beauty and the vastness of nature.


Painting emotions is subjective. It's based on what stands out to the painter. In winter, as the world is cloaked in white, beauty often is found in the shadows, the textures and subtle colours of snow and ice. A friend of mine takes her family out hiking and posted a picture of Quality Falls all frozen over. I fell in love with the shapes and colours of snow and wanted to paint my impression of the image.

Frozen Falls - Quality Falls Tumbler Ridge

Recently a friend commissioned me to paint her favourite mountain. This was a mountain that dominated the scene as she grew up, a mountain that was a comforting presence, just - it seemed- beyond her back yard. I had been asked to paint "my style" but if possible using oranges and greens. This was a wonderful creative challenge, as the mountain itself wanted colours that evoked tranquility, warmth and strength.


I had painted mountains recently, as a way to represent endurance to remind myself that current hardships will pass. These mountains were done in blacks and I set them to a black background, subconsciously strengthening the dark colour choices of the mountains but also allowing the brightness of the sky and greens to stand out. Life endures.

I painted 4 versions of my friends "Friendly Mountain" in an attempt to get meaninful emotions in the painting. As with most of my work, I choose colours based on how them make me feel, how they tell a story and play with the other colours. As it turned out the first painting is the one that worked out best, this tracks with impressionistic works - the attempt to capture the feeling & emotions is strongest when you are first painting. Then I started to think too much and the emotional connection doesn't come through.


I am excited to present my final painting to my friend and hope that I have managed to create a painting that represents her memories of this childhood mountain - her back yard guardian.

Backyard Guardian - Charissa's Mountain - 10X13 Original Watercolour


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