Telling Tales – what are your paintings saying?

I recently had the opportunity to go to the Museo Carmen Thyssen in Málaga, which is an art gallery showing paintings from the last few hundred years in Spain. It was a fascinating visit but what I was struck by were the number of paintings that told a story. Below are some examples from the gallery which show stories through the actions of people.

But I got to thinking about how we can tell stories through landscape painting. Stories are a powerful way to engage people, and perhaps we should strive to get more stories into our landscape paintings.

Let’s take a quick look first at some examples from the art gallery:

Boy with a hen Manuel Benedito Vives 1913

What is the story here? I think it’s all in the captivating gaze of the boy. Is he looking proud to have caught the hen, or perhaps a little guilty? As he stares straight out at you, what do you feel? How do you react? What is he going to do with this hen (is it for the pot, or is it a prize pet?)
There’s a story here, and it draws you in.

Ladies in the garden Cecilio Pla Gallardo 1910

These ladies look like they are on their mobile phones! But what actually are they doing and what are they chatting about? Why are they in this garden, and where are the men?
Another painting that makes you invent a story.

An interrupted banquet Juan José Gárate y Clavero

This one makes me laugh! It is full of story, with people falling over, hiding under the table and shouting at each other during a banquet. But why is it such chaos? Look closely at the centre far left at the silhouette and you will see.
This painting is all about story!

How do we create story in a landscape painting?

This is more tricky than when painting people, or even animals.
However with the clever use of atmosphere (perhaps a storm is coming in, or the day is baking in the sun) or by choosing the right title, then we can create a story and draw the viewer in.

Homeward Bound Andy Walker 2022

I painted this in gouache en plein air as the clouds were welling up for a drenching. By also giving the painting the title Homeward Bound it conjures up the feeling that we really ought to be getting a move on and get back to the house as soon as possible. The undulating path will guide us there, hopefully before we get wet!

Forever for Sale Andy Walker 2022

This house has been for sale for at least the last ten years, and in the state it is in may be for the rest of its days. But it makes a great subject for a painting. The title hopefully tells its story.

So, what do you think? Can you tell tales and put a story into your painting?


  1. I have always been a story-teller. This found expression initially as a writer and public speaker. Later, narrative profoundly affected my painting and drawing. Story conveys spiritual truth via metaphor, which is why Jesus used it so effectively. Admittedly more challenging to a landscape painter, it can best be done by expressing mood. Ask about the emotions you wish to convey, not simply the content. Thanks, Andy.


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