Monday Motivator: Accepting What Your Drawings Look Like

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

“Accepting what your drawings look like now is important. You cannot learn to make more effective drawings if you don’t first draw.

“… The point isn’t to make ‘good’ drawings. The point is to draw. Learn the feel of the pencil against the paper, the different angles you hold your wrist, the motion of your whole arm when you draw from your shoulder.”

Chris Gavaler and Leigh Ann Beavers, “Creating Comics: A Writer’s and Arist’s Guide and Anthology“, page 25

Note the term “effective” in the quote. Isn’t this far more useful for judging a drawing than “good” or “bad”? A drawing I am unhappy about can still be effective in what it teaches me.

Accepting the gap between where our drawing skills are today and what we wish they were is part of how we narrow that gap. Berating yourself for perceived shortcomings is a misdirection of energy, and won’t solve the issue, so keep the pity-party short and try again.

One of the most frustrating things for me is that when I do try again, I frequently end up with a result I am even less pleased about. I know it happens, I recognise it when it happens, and the more desperately I want something to turn out well, the more likely it is to not. I have a category I file these pieces under: Trying Too Hard.

I also know from experience that if I can keep going, I usually get to a satisfactory result. I don’t always try again, sometimes I stop drawing. Other times I change mediums so I can’t make a direct comparison between my next piece and the previous.

That’s what I did on the morning I drew the two plein-air pieces below. I was a bit ambivalent about my pencil drawing and swapped to watercolour for another go at the scene.

I changed the composition too, focusing in closer on a smaller part of the edge of the bay. I got it to a point where I was feeling happy, and stood up to get a photo, having forgotten how windy it was because I’d been so absorbed in my painting.

As I took the photo above, the wind caught the edge of the paper and blew it onto the pebbles. A bit of wild scrabbling and I was able to get hold of it fortunately. If you compare the bottom of the photos above and below, you’ll see the wind’s contribution to the painting, creating drips off the edge. I rather like it.

Pebble Beach Watercolour Drawing

Monday Motivator: Practice Seeing

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote
Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

“What seems to happen as we grow older is that seeing becomes dulled. We begin to look in a practical manner just to get enough information to function. … We spend more and more time mentally running around, looking at one thing, thinking of another. …

In practicing seeing, allow your eyes to wander over your subject matter. Visually caress what you are looking at. … Realize there is a wholeness, but try not to stare to strain to see everything at once.

— Albert Handell and Leslie Trainor Handell, “Intuitive Composition”, page 12

It’s no secret that continuous line drawing is a favourite technique of mine, and doing it with ink not pencil, thus eliminating the option of erasing any part of it. While what I’m producing is a drawing, what I’m doing is focusing on looking and feeling my way around a subject rather than on my drawing itself.

Because the technique means the result is never going to be detailed realism, it frees me from worrying about trying to make it so, to simply draw and leave dealing with what I’ve drawn for later. There’s a certain stage at which I switch focus from looking to what the drawing is becoming and where I want to take the piece. It’s hard to quantify; sometimes it’s because I feel I’ve looked “enough” or “at everything”, often it’s because I feel like moving onto the next stage with other colours or mediums.

You don’t need pen and paper to do continuous line; you can draw it in your head, tracking as your eyes shift across and around a subject. It’s a drawing about looking, and looking some more.

Sketching at Talisker Bay, Isle of Skye

Monday Motivator: Location Painting vs Studio

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

“With landscape paintings, the wind’s always blowing, the light’s changing, the tide’s going in or out, but at home in a room the person can come back and sit in the same place with the same clothes on and it’s a deeper process, but it’s not so exhilarating. I’d like to mix the two processes up together.”

Jean Cooke, “Jean Cooke Profile” by Nell Dunn in “Jean Cooke: Ungardening”, published by the Garden Museum, page 65

I think one of the reasons I enjoy painting at the same locations repeatedly is because the familiarity of the landscape is a comfort zone, like being in my studio, but the differences each time because of the weather, season, time of day, tide, sea conditions, refresh the challenge.

As for wearing the same clothes each time, I know which of my various denim shirts I’m wearing from the colours of the paint on it. Today’s has a splash of gold on the left sleeve and a ‘librarian’ pinbadge that reads “Shhhh happens”.

The Other Story: My Watercolour Palette

When it comes to my watercolour set, it’s very different to the colours I use with acrylics and oils. I’ve built up a big set of tantalising colours by squeezing out tube watercolour into half pans (which have the names written on them). Opening the box makes me happy, being presented by the possibilities and joy of the colours, though I do feel a bit embarrassed bringing it out in a workshop where I’ve been extolling the virtues of a limited palette.

I know have favourites amongst these; I can tell by which I need to refill regularly, such as haematite genuine. I never use them all at once. I do know what most are, but will admit to getting a bit lost amongst the blues which look very similar as dark dry pans. I solve that by simply trying one after another till I hit the right one. I do know that the end one is Payne’s Grey and the one above is Graphite Grey (it has that typical graphite shine to it). I also tend to use the set orientated as it is in the photo, as this helps muscle memory in terms of what colour is where.

Controlling My Colour Mixing

My favourite paint colours

When I first started painting my “Moods of the Minch” seascapes (the stretch of sea between the Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides is called the Minch) I used Prussian Blue, Burnt Umber, and Titanium White as the main colours. At times, the only colours.

Moods of the Minch: Cold Snap 80x40cm (31×15″ approx) Acrylic on canvas

Adding a cadmium yellow gives grassy shore greens, lichen on shore rocks yellows, and sunset colours. Adding magenta gives the pinks of the seathrift and purples of sunsets. Removing red from my palette as using it was how I kept ending up in murky mixes, and using magenta wherever I would have used red instead. Add lemon yellow which is a lighter, transparent, bluer (cooler) yellow, perfect for daffodils. Plus a black (PBk31) for sheep, one that when mixed with white leans into green, and mixed with yellow produces beautiful landscape greens.

For me Prussian Blue gives a sense of the cold Atlantic Ocean and dark showery weather, with a tremendous range from deep dark to very pale. It’s one of those “a little goes a long way” colours, and the way to control it when colour mixing is to add a touch of it into another colour rather than adding into a pile of the Prussian. It remains my favourite blue, and ultramarine remains my least.

When I started exploring using coloured grounds rather than working on the white of the canvas, and after a life painting workshop with Alan McGowan where I came away with the mantra “build a bridge between the orange and the blue”, I really got into blue plus orange mixing. A single-pigment orange mixed with a blue, plus white, is now a fundamental part of my palette. It gives a wide range of brown and grey, and because every mix is derived from the same two colours they all harmonise. (It needs to be a single-pigment orange because one that’s a mixture of red plus yellow goes into greens when you add blue, not useful for painting a seascape.)

Orange + blue + white

I expanded the cadmium orange plus blue possibilities by using different blues, and worked with this for some time. Then I bought every single-pigment orange I could find to see how different oranges would work. Of these, Transluscent or Transparent Orange PO71 was the one I enjoyed the most, and this is now a standard on my palette too. It’s a transparent pigment, so mixes differently to Cadmium Orange, which is an opaque pigment.

The next colour I added was Dioxazine Purple, to explore purple plus yellow colour mixing and using purples in shadows. Made hideous murky messes with yellow, but discovered that mixing it with orange did beautiful things.

Moving to northeastern Aberdeenshire, I found I myself on seashores with red sandstone, a colour that wasn’t mixable with a palette that didn’t include red. So that’s been added this year though I haven’t got a favourite yet.

30x30cm, acrylic on wood panel

There’s one other colour that I use as an ink, but not as a tube colour, and that’s Payne’s Grey. I enjoy it for continuous line drawing. It’s softer than black, having blue in the mix. Mostly I’m using it as a strong dark, not as a mixing colour.

Monday Motivator: Subtle Variations in Colour Mixes

Marion's Art Group on Skye
Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

“She [Kate Waanders] happily mixes colours as she goes, preferring not to save mixes because she enjoys the subtle variations and new ways of seeing a colour when it is mixed again the following day.”

Amber Creswell Bell, “Kate Waanders” in “Still Life: Contemporary Painters” (Thames & Hudson 2021), page 249

Having the trust in yourself that you are able to remix a colour isn’t something you’ll see on lists of top tips for colour mixing. Possibly because you can’t shortcut your way to it; it comes from knowing your paints and how they mix with one another. That comes with practice, working with a few colours and getting to know how these respond to one another until it’s instinctive knowledge.

By a few I don’t mean a dozen. I’m thinking two plus white. Then add another colour to these. Then another, and another, giving yourself time to internalise how they mix until you can do it without thinking. We don’t think it’s odd for an artist to work only in pencil, or black ink, so don’t feel that because you’re using colour you have to use the whole rainbow instantly.

Another part of trusting yourself is letting go of the need for a mix to be absolutely identical to the one you made earlier. In most cases, it doesn’t matter; on the contrary, it adds visual interest. Put the energy you’d use stressing about this into progressing your painting instead.

Marion's Art Group on Skye
Colour mixing orange and blue in one of my art workshops

Monday Motivator: Paintings that are Reactions not Representations

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

“His paintings are reactions not representations … presenting with enviable vigour and dynamism a conspectus of landscape that embraces history, geography, art history, geology and archaeology.

… The paintings are equivalents of the landscape, and this is the landscape [Jeremy Gardiner] walks through, inhabits sporadically in his mind, and takes possession of fully through his imagination.”

Andrew Lambirth, “Vantage Points and Variable Perspectives”, in “Jeremy Gardiner: South by Southwest”, page 29

I’m pulling together a set of paintings for a forthcoming online exhibition with Fife Contemporary that all come from the same source of inspiration: beach pebbles. They range from representational rows of pebbles to abstracted paintings based on pattern and/or colour. I find it hard to write/talk about my reasons for painting these, but it starts with my getting mesmerised by small sections of beach as I wander along, and my enjoyment of pattern and colour.

Painting of a row of beach pebbles
Row of Pebbles I. 50x20cm. Acrylic on canvas.

There’s an array of colours in the geological mix of pebbles on the east coast compared to the fairly uniform black-greys of the volcanic rock of northern Skye. On different occasions my eye is drawn to different pebbles: stripes, circular, broken revealing the ‘inside’, white quartz, orange-and-white, conglomerate, red sandstone. How the water smooths and arranges the pebbles, how it changes with every tide if the pebbles are small, how at times sand hides rocks I know are there.

To try and find the words I need for an artist’s statement I’ve been delving into books on my shelves on artists who paint “non-representational landscapes”, which is what led me to the Monday Motivator quote above. I think “reactions” is a useful description. A painting such as the one below is my reaction-in-paint to the patterns and colours of pebbles. Painted wet-onto-wet so the colours spread and mix with not-entirely predictable nor controllable results, like the sea washing in.

15x15cm, acrylic on wood panel

Selected for “Colours” Exhibition

Delighted that this painting of mine has selected for the “Colours” exhibition by the Aberdeen Artist’s Society at Milton Art Gallery in Crathes from 30 September until 29 October 2023.

Flower Garden I painting by Marion Boddy-Evans
“Flower Garden I”. Acrylic on wood panel. 30x30cm (unframed size).

I have a few other new flower paintings that I will have on display for the NEOS open studios event next month, 9 to 17 September 2023, details here.

Monday Motivator: The Unexpected in Abstraction

“Most people consume media such as film, which is completely representational, so I think there is not a language that has built up through culture that is taught to appreciate a diverse set of imagery or shifts in this figurative reality. … a good abstraction can transport a viewer to places that are unexpected”

Emily Ferretti, in “Australian Abstract” by Amber Creswell Bell, page 110

The idea that “it looks like a photo” is what makes a good drawing or painting is so limiting in terms of the possibilities, yet you see it regularly on social media where it’s intended as the ultimate compliment. Learn the technical skills of representation, but don’t stop there. Don’t aim be a human photocopier, but to explore further.

Conversely, if you’re avoiding starting to draw and paint because of worries about not having the “talent” for “making things look real”, start by exploring colour, different materials, then head into composition. There’s a long way to be travelled along these paths without going through a gate called “realism”.

See Also: Following a ‘What If I…?’ Impulse When Painting

Pleinair at Haddo House

The setting: huge country house with a formal garden and a large park. Haddo House in middle-of-nowhere Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

(Do not adjust your eyes, this is two photos inexpertly stitched together)

My brain: buzzing about like a bumble bee, absorbing all the possibilities for paintings. I felt obliged to tackle the building because imposter syndrome was whispering in my ear about how this is what “real” pleinair painters would do, but truly the colours and patterns in the garden are what’s lingering in my mind a couple of days later.

There were two gardeners deadheading the flower beds

My aim with my drawing was to be a drawn exploration of a building with so many different parts to it rather than an obsession with perspective. I found myself wondering why the main door that opens onto the gardens isn’t wider, more grandiose. And if the fountain can be turned up be to more than little dribble. And how strong the wind gets given the supports on the small palm trees.

Top: before I went over the water-soluble ink drawing with a waterbrush and added some coloured pencil.
The view looking the other way from where I sat to draw
Was I being overcautious in not stepping right on the edges of these stairs?
There are tractor marks in the distant wheatfield that echo the curves on the drive and lawn. The right-angle of the shadow felt like an element determined to go its own way