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Describing pictures

1. Describing landscapes

Key phrases used when describing landscapes

This is a landscape.

There is a (noun)
in the background / foreground,
on the left / in the middle / on the right.

There are some (noun + s)
in the background / foreground,
on the left / in the middle / on the right.

There is a (noun) (verb + ing)
in the background / foreground,
on the left / in the middle / on the right.

You can see
what appears / seems to be
a (noun) (verb + ing)
in the background / foreground,
on the left / in the middle / on the right.

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Canada. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

This is a picture of a lake in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. In this picture, the sky is clear and the sun is shining. There are several mountains in the background. There is some ice on the mountains, but there are no trees. There is a small glacier in the background, on the left. There is a lot of ice at the foot of the mountains on the right. At the foot of the mountains, the soil is bare and the slopes are steep.

In the foreground, there is a lake. The lake reflects the mountains, like a big mirror. You can see the reflection of the mountains in the lake. The water is clear and very still. There is no wind.

Beside the lake is a small forest of fir trees. You can see it in the foreground, on the right. There are also a few fir trees in the background, on the left, at the foot of the mountains.


2. Describing portraits

Key phrases used when describing portraits

This is a portrait of a man / woman. He/ She appears to be about ____ years old.
OR This is a self-portrait.

The subject of the portrait / The man / The woman is smiling / standing / sitting / walking / reclining on a sofa.
He/ She is wearing ________________ .

The man / The woman has...

(The man is bald / balding.)
(The man has a mustache and / or a beard. OR The man is clean-shaven.)

The man / The woman has (large) brown / blue / green / hazel / gray eyes.
Their expression appears to be _____________ .

The man / The woman has a straight / Roman / Grecian / snub / hook / ski-jump / button nose.
His / Her mouth is small / wide.
His / Her lips are thin / thick (full).
The chin is small / pointy.
The jaw is square / strong / weak.

In the background, there is a ________________ .

Vincent Van Gogh, Self-portrait, 1887.

This is a self-portrait by the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. It was painted in 1887, and is now kept at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In this portrait, the artist is not smiling. Instead, he seems to be looking intently out of the picture, at the viewer. His eyes, which are green in color, convey an impression of gentleness, combined with a hint of danger. His expression is calm, but solemn.

The artist's hair is reddish and swept back. He is clearly balding. His skin appears to have an orange tinge, but this is obviously because the artist wanted to draw attention to his red bushy beard and his thick red mustache. The nose is rather long, but not so long as to dominate his face. The left ear, which is clearly visible in the picture, appears rather short and pointy.

The artist appears to be wearing a blue tie and a white shirt underneath a brown tweed jacket. The top button of the jacket is done up, so we may guess the self-portrait was painted in winter.

The background is a mesmerizing, pointillistic collage of green, red and black dots, clearly reflecting the artist's impressionistic style. The same style can be seen in the painting of the jacket.


3. Describing still life pictures

Key phrases used when describing still life pictures

This is a still life picture.

There is a (noun)
on the left / in the middle / on the right
of the picture.

There are some (noun + s)
on the left / in the middle / on the right
of the picture.

There is a (noun)
to the left of / to the right of / in front of / behind
the ______ .

You can see
what appears / seems to be
a (noun)
to the left of / to the right of / in front of / behind
the _______ .

There is a tall glass of red wine in the foreground, on the far left. There is a glass of white wine behind it, in the background. Both glasses are almost full.

There is a cylindrical glass to the right of the glass of red wine. The cylindrical glass is almost empty. There is nothing in it except a block of ice and a little bit of liquid. The liquid appears to be whiskey.

In the middle of the picture, in the foreground, are two blue dice. Behind the dice is a green ashtray. There is a tall brown china pitcher with a large handle behind the ashtray. It is standing in front of a wall covered with square, greenish ceramic tiles. There are three glasses to the left of the pitcher.

There is a tall wine glass in the foreground, on the right. It still has a little bit of red wine in it. On the far right, in the foreground, is a cylindrical glass filled with what appears to be whiskey. Alternatively, it could be green tea or some sort of juice.


4. Describing abstract art

Kandinsky's On White II (1923).

This is an abstract art painting. In the top left of the picture, there are two triangles. One is red and the other is yellow. To the right of them is a round red object which looks like a cricket ball. There are also some squiggly black lines around the yellow triangle.

There is a funny shape at the top of the picture, in the middle. It looks like an X, except that one of the strokes is not straight, but shaped like a boomerang. There is also a large black X-shaped cross in the center of the picture, but the upper left arm of the cross is twisted out of shape: it is bent at three points. Behind the cross is a dark green background, covered with some interesting motifs: a 4x4 checkerboard, four or five nail-shaped objects, a circle with a very thick black edge, five banana-shaped objects decorated with red dots, and five white round shapes, dotted in the center, which look like eyes.

To the right of the dark green background is something that looks vaguely like an animal's head. There is a small checkerboard on the far right, covering part of the animal's neck.

In the bottom half of the picture, there are several semi-circles protruding from the lower left arm of the X-shaped cross, and three objects which look like cue sticks near the lower right arm. Between the two arms is a brown, four-sided object covered with the banana-shaped designs described above.


Application

See if you can describe two of the following images:

Left: Spiritual Healing Temple of The Rosicrucian Fellowship at Mount Ecclesia, Oceanside, California.
Right: Possible self-portrait by Leonardo da Vinci, 1513.
Left: Pie, by Scott Bauer.
Right: Composition with red, yellow blue and black, by Piet Mondrian.