• Susan Hamer

Filmic Painting: Qualities and Techniques

This blog is the first in a series of posts that aims to explore filmic qualities in painting - the language of film and how it can be applied to the language of painting. The aim of this research is to inform and provide a context for my own painting practice and in so doing, help inspire new work.

What are filmic “Cinematic” qualities?

When a painting is described as having filmic qualities it shares certain attributes that we associate with cinema and photography.

These may be:

  • Narrative - a suggestion of a story or narrative. A sense of something happening or about to happen.

  • Movement - a painting may give the illusion of movement, usually through the gestures of the figures or through the use of strong diagonals, horizontals, and verticals in the composition that indicates something is moving through space.

  • A clear sense of mise en scène - in film, this refers to all of the elements that comprise a single shot; that includes, but is not limited to, the actors, setting, props, costumes, and lighting.

  • A striking Composition - There may be cropping of the image or zooming in on the subject, suggesting it is seen through a lens. An awareness of viewpoint. This viewpoint may mirror the viewer's vantage point. The view may be seen close-up, oblique, or from a high or low vantage point.

  • Lighting - There may be strong contrasting shadows like the stark lighting effects found in film noir. Lighting may be theatrical in nature, appearing to be unnatural from the scene depicted.

  • Tonality or colour - awareness of a particular tone or colour scheme -brought to life by the quality of the painting technique

Carnac (oil on board 25x17cm)

Still Painting

I am particularly influenced by cinema, especially the film still, where a single moment is frozen in time. Once detached from the original film, the composition appears more random, fragmented and interrupted - people appear on the verge of action but the wider narrative is obscured.

I am interested in the idea of painting that has an unseen or oblique narrative that leaves the viewer open to project their own interpretation.

Unlike most films, my paintings rarely feature people, but their presence is felt through the man-made objects that are left behind, whether it be paddling pools in suburban gardens or the wartime relics such as pillboxes and sound mirrors found along the southern coast of England where I live.

I use many of the techniques found in photography and film such as cropping, framing, and close-up to create a fragmented composition. Many of the pool paintings, for example, are framed close-up and cropped, detaching and abstracting the subject matter. Others, like those from the Memento series, are framed as though seen through a long lens, the space is compressed, leaving the subject matter frustratingly distant and unknowable.

Original photo. St Mary the Virgin Church, Turville UK

Original photo converted to low resolution, black and white.

Image is scaled, cropped, colour and Photoshop filters added

Painting techniques

I mostly use personal digital films and photographs for reference material. The original digital image is always mediated in Photoshop first before I use it to start painting. I use Photoshop tools to control the view, intervene and make selections.

I first convert the image to a low resolution and then apply various Photoshop filters to allow for more chance effects to happen. Abstracting the image in this way helps to create the information gaps that evoke new meaning to the image; I then use this as a reference to start the painting. During the painting process, I continue to edit the composition, cropping, reframing and making new selections on the canvas of parts I have become more interested in. When I am satisfied with the new composition, I then cut this frame from the canvas or the gesso board painted on and remount. This fluid way of working, helps me constantly refresh my original idea and find new narratives as I’m painting.

The subject matter is handled with loose flat areas of paint, balancing what is essential with the particular. In the Carnac standing stone series the paint is blurred, seen as though glanced at suddenly from a moving vehicle, whereas in the recent work based on photos taken at Turville, I use a simplified palette of 2-3 key tones, influenced by the closely balanced tones of Giorgio Morandi.

The final painting (oil on gesso board 25x17cm)