Telling A Story with Your Art

Pumpkin Head – final painting, oil on linen, 29.25 x 36, Kit Miracle, Halloween theme, telling a story

I was talking with an artist friend recently and was lamenting that I couldn’t seem to find my style.  She was astounded and said that I definitely do have a style.  Upon reflection, I’ve had other people tell me that they can recognize my paintings immediately in a gallery full of artwork.  So, I guess maybe I do have a recognizable style.

But as we talked further, I said that the paintings that I’m most proud of are the ones that tell a story.  To me, storytelling is so much beyond just the skill of being able to render a still life or landscape.  This is not really a new thing. Artists have been telling stories through their art for centuries from the first caveman drawings (how to hunt) to relaying biblical scenes to recording street scenes.

Some of the things I think about when I’m creating one of these story paintings are:

  1. How can I engage the viewer?  How do I draw him in, step closer, stay awhile?
  2. I want the viewer to ask, What’s next? Is there a next?
  3. If I can, I want to insert an element of surprise. After the viewer stands in front of the painting, they notice the small things.  Maybe they have an Ah Ha
  4. I like to insert some emotional aspect.   Wonder.  Fear.  Danger.
  5. And it seems as if many of my story paintings exhibit some quality a little beyond reality.

The painting Pumpkin Head is such a painting.

The straight story here is that my son was carving some pumpkins for my granddaughter for Halloween.  When she asked for happy faces, he responded, No, they’re born as pumpkins and they die as scary Jack O’Lanterns! Kinda creepy if you ask me but it set the scene.

Many viewers have picked up on the element of danger here.  He really shouldn’t have been carving a pumpkin in his lap…but no blood was shed.

Pumpkin Head – detail, carving jack-o-lantern

And the element of surprise.  The viewer doesn’t really know if the child is a boy or girl with the gray outfit and dinosaur boots, until the pink bow is spotted peeking over the pumpkin she is holding.

Pumpkin Head – detail, child with jack-o-lantern

And, of course, there is humor.  It’s just a bit silly but something kids have done for years.

Finally, there’s an unreal quality about the painting.  Maybe it’s the October light or the impressionistic handling of the paint.  The moment in time.  The difficulty for me was to decide what to leave out of the painting.  I worked on this for two months with the last month taking the most time as I agonized what to change, what to emphasize.

I will make some future posts of other recent story paintings.  Meanwhile, think about the idea as you look at the work of Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, or Diego Rivera.  Good art is a lot more than just pretty decoration.

To view a step-by-step illustration of Pumpkin Head, visit this page.

Pumpkin Head is currently on exhibit in the annual Juried Show at the Krempp Gallery, Jasper Arts Center, Jasper, Indiana.

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