Part 3, project 2, exercise 3 – Looking at faces – creating mood and atmosphere

Updated on 11 March 2017 (Harvard referencing).

15 August 2016. In order to see how colours interact on a canvas to create mood and atmosphere, I carried out a simple experiment. I went to look for an interesting facial expression and used two different combinations of colours to see how mood and atmosphere change. Also, as I mentioned in my previous post (Lacher-Bryk, 2016), Alexej von Jawlensky and the resemblance to thermographic imaging sounded fascinating to me. So I used Jawlensky’s “Blue Head” as a reference, and had blue, red and yellow as well as Paynes grey and white to chose from.

The model I selected was not a sitter, but the photo of a winner of a gold medal at the London Olympic games in 2012. I had a look at several and selected a few, where facial expression was not just joy, but mixed with something else. I found one like that for 16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen (Yang, 2012), whose victory was so stunning that it became a doping issue so fierce that it now appears to ruin her career although the suspicions apparently were never confirmed. Hence probably the diffuse emotions on her face (Yang, 2012). The same I found in the Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, but this time due to having to fight depression (Watson, 2012).

Then I had a look at some thermographic portraits to get accustomed to the colour schemes used there (Taylor (2016), Sébire (2016), Sarfels (2013)). These were not too helpful, because the range of colours is of course entirely up to the designer, but they all roughly follow the red/hot-yellow/warm-blue/cold sequence. This I used to set up my own colour scheme, asking myself how the winner of the gold medal would probably react at the ceremony in order to identify the hot and cold areas on their face. Here I proceeded purely intuitively, since my goal was not to end up with a faithful thermographic image, but to see whether I could produce, by using very strong colours, an impression of resonance with an excited crowd (top image) or momentary introversion without emotional contact with the surroundings (bottom image). This is what I came up with, on two adjacent pages in my sketchbook (Fig. 1-2):

Figure 1. Sketchbook: Range of facial colours “in contact with the environment”


Figure 2. Sketchbook: Range of facial colours “separate from the environment”

I quite like both portraits and their wild colours, although I am not so sure whether the changes in colour added atmospheric quality to the paintings in the intended way. At the start I had hoped that the anxious look on the medal winner’s face, which in my opinion would be totally inappropriate to the occasion in case she had nothing on her mind to dampen her joy, might be altered by the warm and cool choice of colours as well as the similarity or disparity with the heated up surroundings. At the moment I would not be able to tell whether the experiment was successful, but I will show both paintings to some people without giving them any information about my intentions and see if they can spot the difference.


Lacher-Bryk, A. (2016) Research point: Mood and atmosphere in portraits [blog] [online]. Andrea Lacher-Bryk, Hallein. Available at: [Accessed 11 March 2017]

Sarfels, J. (2013) Sichtbares Mitgefühl. Soziologische Forschung mit Wärmebildkameras [online]. Inspect, Weinheim. Available at: [Accessed 15 August 2016]

Sébire, A. (2016) In the Heat of the Moment [exhibition announcement] [online]. Adam Sébire, Sydney. Available at: [Accessed 15 August 2016]

Taylor, L.A. (2016) Breast Thermography Now Available in the Greater Buffalo Area
[online]. Linda Ann Taylor, Williamsville. Available at: [Accessed 15 August 2016]

Watson, L. (2012) Five-time Olympic champion Ian Thorpe reveals he considered suicide and planned places to end his life during career crippled by depression [online]. Mail Online, 14 October 2012. Available at: [Accessed 15 August 2016]

Yang, Y. (2012) China gives Western media a gold medal for bias [online]. Latitude News, Cambridge, USA. Available at: [Accessed 15 August 2016]



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