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Sketching to Capture an Atmosphere.

January 31, 2011

Digital cameras allow you to capture scenic photographic images easily by what is known as ‘easy mode’, and with the advanced colour technology you ‘feel’ proud when you see the result. There is a difference however, when a professional photographer takes the same photo that you took. That is because your process, point and shoot, is vastly different from the professional photographer’s. For example he/she will wait for the best weather condition, preferred sun angle, while conducting meticulous adjustments to the camera’s manual settings, to name just a few variables. Several photo samples would be taken with perhaps different cameras too. The photographer’s challenge is to capture the ‘feel’ and ‘mood’ of the scene.

Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir, my favorite Impressionist artists, were masters at capturing ‘moods’ in their works. Their techniques, use of colours and imaginative talents created iconic paintings that radiated an ‘atmosphere’ of their scenic landscapes never seen before, and for that matter never again. Rembrandt’s landscape sketches, drawn three centuries before the impressionist, also radiate this notion of ‘atmosphere’ or ‘impressionist sensation’. Rembrandt achieved this using only pen and ink with ‘brown washes’ of varying intensities. Surprisingly he achieved these subtleties in the sketches of figures, buildings and ruins. These masters purposely avoided exact details, but instead used images that are the impressions of their mind’s eye.

It is always a challenge for me to create impressionist sketches and not exact pictorial images. Computer software is capable of reproducing photographic images but rarely reproduce the ‘mood’ of a scene as the impressionist artist or Rembrandt did. Often times I receive comments that my sketches seems more ‘alive’ than the corresponding photograph of the scene.

This sketch from my Four Season Resort hotel pagoda tries to capture the ‘mood’ of the view. The landscape, more than 15 years old, is beautifully planned and maintained on the naturally terraced site. Selected plant species and vegetation are embedded throughout complementing the 3 story bungalows. The architecture is subdued while the surrounding landscape, including artificial waterways and falls, are used to enhance the ‘mood’ of the resort. The landscape design is the captivating element of the resort. In the foreground of my sketch you will see leaves of specific species and as you move beyond, into the middle ground of the sketch, details of the plants becomes more impressionistic. In between the plants, the resort bungalow architecture is also sketched impressionistically to harmonize and illustrate the ‘mood’ of the composition.

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2 Comments
  1. Daphne Chan permalink

    I like your sketch and what you wrote about artists’ impressions. With ‘easy-mode’ photos from a digital camera, the breadth of artistic expressions is not as much as painting and sketching. However, they are good functional records of the scenes, and I must say, are very useful in bringing up memories.

    Works of art are those with “value-added” input by their soulful artist-creators who can ‘touch’ the viewers.

  2. You are right, the amateur photographers generally shoot scenes for personal reasons and records, rarely for aesthetic compositions. I think that is mainly because digital technology allows the photographer to shoot many photos without consideration of cost. Which is a pity since they loose that sense of excellence.

    Sketching is in a different sphere. Doing a quick or detailed sketch the artist is always conscious that the work is intended to be expressive and impressionistic. There is always a sense of excellence in every artist’s works, thrust me! 😉

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