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  • Writer's pictureSue Halstead

The Art of the mood board

Hi! Last month we kicked off my new blog series on 'how artists work' by looking at how we gather inspiration and the importance of collecting. This month, we focus on what to do with those collections and how to edit them into something useful, at the start of a new creative project. We're talking about honing in and getting focussed, in order to get those creative juices flowing!


So, maybe you've been collecting things that interest and inspire you for a while. That's great! It's good to surround yourself with things that inspire you, and it creates a stimulating work space. But, if your collections are anything like mine, they're pretty diverse. They may cover a really wide range of colours, textures, styles and moods. Sound familiar?


If you are inspired by lots of different things, beware of trying to pour all of them into one piece, or series of pieces - whether that's painting, print, patterns, photographs, or a piece of graphic work. Too many influences in one body of work makes it very confusing for you as the creative, AND it ends up looking very muddled, with perhaps no discernible style at all, which is confusing for the viewer. It's time to do some serious editing!



So before starting anything new, niche down. What do you really want to focus on, this time around? Pull together some images and objects from your stores that have some connection to each other - that you can build a theme around. I like to have maybe two themes running concurrently in a project- maybe one for the style, and one for the subject matter. Never more than two though. For example 'Mid-century landscape' was the working title for my 'Freedom Seeker' collection, and the moodboard for this is created from works by other artists, which I pulled from my existing Pinterest boards.

Credits: Ophelia Pang , top left; Max Angus, top right; The Japanese Paper Place, bottom left; Olivia Streetfield-James , mid right; Mark Hearld, Bottom right)


You can see there are repetitive lines in the landscape, field shapes and birds in flight. I know at this point that these are all elements I'd like to include in my own work in some way.


I create a 'board' like this at the beginning of almost every new collection. First I pull a lot of stuff together, then, edit, edit, edit, until I have distilled down the essence of what I want to capture in my own work. Your mood board can be digital like this one, or physical like a collage, or both. Often I'll include some of my own photographs too and I'll write a list of words that are related to my theme. I find these useful to come back later, to remind me of what I was aiming for, but also to use as titles, or when I need to write about the work.


Don't worry if there are things in your collections that you really love but you have had to leave out as part of the editing process - you can come back to those in future projects!


Sometimes a moodboard is set for you - maybe as part of a client's brief, or a college project. Then you have a little bit of decoding to do - What is the overall look, feel and mood they want you to capture? What colours and textures does it use? What subject matter or shapes does it suggest to you? What materials would be appropriate to use? What adjectives would you use to sum it up?


Your mood board is your guiding light for your forthcoming project. Some artists like to refer to it often throughout - as an aide memoir of what they're trying to achieve. Others will look at it for a long time at the beginning, then put it away, and never reference it again. Whichever you do, it is important to remember not to copy. Don't become overly influenced by anything on there. The moodboard is intended as a starting point for inspiration, a jumping off point for your own work. It is important that you add your own personal style and taste into the work that YOU make.


Here's a piece I created based on, but not copying, the mid century landscape board I created, above. The winter trees, repetitive lines, fields and birds are all there, but it's not directly derivative of anything on my moodboard.


Here's another example - I created this moodboard for an autumnal themed collection. As you can see this one in pretty stuffed full of photos, mostly my own, but also some from Pinterest. You could also use old magazines, and I love using paint colour charts from the DIY shop! I had thought I might include a Halloween theme in this too, hence the spiders, but in the end I decided that was too much for one project. I was aiming for a block-printed feel, and a sense of plenty, and abundance at harvest time. Notice again that's two themes, one concerning style, and one for the subject.

Credits: I believe the piece in the centre of this moodboard is by Jane Newland


This led to my 'Grown and Gathered' collection. Here is one of the 'placement prints I developed for it.



Even if you don't want to create any visual art work at all, a moodboard like this is a great way to plan a new room decor, a wedding, a themed party, a new garden design, or even branding for a new business! What else could you use a mood board to help you plan?


I'd love to see your mood boards, and anything you make inspired by them! Share with us in the comments below!


Next month, we'll cover going from the moodboard to developing your own imagery for a visual arts project. I hope you'll join me!


Get a free art print, worth £10, to download, when you join my monthly emailing list. Every month I share '3 good things' happening in my studio, and subscribers get special offers, discounts and sneak peaks at new products and designs. It's a little shot of colour into your inbox!





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