“Paint records the most delicate gesture and the most tense. It tells whether the painter sat, stood, or crouched in front of the canvas. Paint is a cast made of the painter’s movements, a portrait of the painter’s body and thoughts. …
“Painting is an unspoken and largely uncognized dialogue, where paint speaks silently in masses and colors and the artist responds in moods.
“All those meanings are intact in the paintings that hang in museums: they preserve the memory of the tired bodies that made them, the quick jabs, the exhausted truces, the careful nourishing gestures. Painters can sense those motions in the paint even before they notice what the paintings are about.
“Paint is water and stone, and it is also liquid thought. That is an essential fact that art history misses…”
I think it’s possible to identify painters in an art gallery. They’re the people who also step to one side to look at the painted surface from an angle, which makes brushmarks and layers clearer. And often clasp their hands behind their back so as not to give into the temptation to touch. Paint is a non-verbal language that speaks across time.
The rocky beach at Duntulm being so exposed it needs a relatively windstill day for it to count as “good painting weather” for this location. Last Sunday was such a day, with the sea flat and calm, small waves breaking on the shore.
The ground and rocks were very wet though, so I decided not to slide my way down the slope onto the shore because I’d have to somehow get back up again. Instead I set up on a relatively flat spot about halfway down to the beach, the sun reaching me before long, and set about painting a section of the rock slabs.
It’s been a little while since I’ve been out with my oil paints, and I enjoyed painting this and am happy with the result, especially when I look at the brushwork up close.
For my second panel I decided to paint the row of bigger rocks in the foreground with the yellows on top. But I soon got distracted by my enjoyment of the ‘interesting greys’ on the top of the panel, the colour mixing and brushmarks with a rigger, and decided to see where this took me.
The in-house art critic said it looks more like something inspired by Monet’s haystacks than a sea shore, and I tend to agree. I think I’ll call it a plein-air colour study and leave it at that.
“… joy, humor, and overall goofiness are actually vital for creativity. They are the playful elements that lead to better creative thinking. …
“When teachers use humor (especially observational humor), they are modeling a certain kind of curiosity and a willingness to look at life from a different angle. While this might not seem like an inherently creative act, curiosity is often the starting point for creativity. At some point, you move from questioning and exploring into making.
” … play often inspires deeper creativity. … a relaxed, non-threatening way to question everything
“… if we choose to be creative in the small things — if we embrace the goofy and silly and ridiculous and humorous — we have embraced that mindset that allows us to be creative in the big things.”
This is one of those projects that seems fairly simple until you get into it and discover how many options the seemingly straightforward set of instructions present. I’ve really enjoyed seeing where this has taken different people and the discussions it’s generated about colour choices, and how the word ‘circles’ influenced the creation of the ‘rock shapes’. My thanks to everyone who’s shared their photo of their paintings for us all to enjoy. (Project instructions here.)
“I believe that one of the greatest mistakes made by human beings is to want certainties when trying to understand something. The search for knowledge is not nourished by certainty: it is nourished by a radical absence of certainty.
“Thanks to the acute awareness of our ignorance, we are open to doubt and can continue to learn and to learn better. This has always been the strength of scientific thinking—thinking born of curiosity, revolt, change.”
Theoretical Physicist Carlo Rovelli, “Helgoland: Making Sense of the Quantum Revolution” (via Austin Kleon)
It may feel that knowing what the outcome will be before putting brush to paint to paper is the way to success, but it’s also the road to inhibition (hesitation in case you do it wrong), self-doubt (when you don’t get what you expected) and fear (of even trying).
With wind that’d blow much more than merely cobwebs away, I decided to do something I don’t usually and sat in my car to sketch. I somehow managed not to spill any Payne’s grey ink whilst drawing with the pipette, but did discover I’d left the bottle of white behind, so no splashy white foam bits would be happening.
This was the first painting I did, and the one I like most. I managed not to get too dark with the ink, and like the gentle colour from the coloured pencils showing through the watercolour. I was disappointed to discover I didn’t have the bottle of white acrylic ink with me, but did have a white pen, which I think works and it’s certainly easier to not overwork it than when using fluid ink.
This was the second, and I struggled for a bit as it was too dark in places with Payne’s grey ink that had dried too fast, and I didn’t have anything that would show on top of this except the white pen, but that I wanted for the sea edge. Breakthrough moment was when I realised there was no reason I could not use it for the lighter rock and the sea. It’s something I might do again deliberately.
This third one is watercolour only, no ink, and I regard it as an incomplete thought. I stopped because I got annoyed with the green and was scrubbing at it with a bit of paper towel, to the point of damaging the surface. I’ll work on it further on another day when the weather and my headspace are less blustery.
“Sea with waves does not have a universal colour, but he who sees it from dry land sees it dark in colour and it will be so much darker to the extent that it is closer to the horizon, [though] he will see there a certain brightness or lustre which moves slowly in the manner of white sheep in flocks
” … from the land [you] see the waves which reflect the darkness of the land, and from the high seas [you] see in the waves the blue air reflected in such waves.”
— Leonardo da Vinci, “Leonardo on Painting“, edited by Martin Kemp, Yale University Press, 2001, page 170
As frustrating an answer as it is, I think the true answer to the question “What Colour is the Sea?” always has to be “it depends”. There might be a single-word answer for what colour the sea is right now, from where you’re looking, but there is no single-word answer that is always right. (And certainly not living somewhere where the weather is as variable as Scotland.)
The colour of the sea depends on an assortment of elements, including the depth of the sea, how much wave action there is, how rocky or sandy the coast is, time of day it is, the weather. I’ve seen sea that’s dark near-black and sea that’s turquoise, sea that’s a mass of white waves and sea that’s white from reflected clouds. In summer, at sunset, I regularly see sea that’s purple and pink and yellow without a hint of blue or green. And in winter, at night, from my studio the sea a uniform blackness, with a handful of tiny lights from fishing boats and automated lighthouses.
There’s no shortage of options available to a us when it comes to choosing colors for the sea. A colour chart from any paint manufacturer will provide you will the full range. But the reason I have so many ‘sea colours”‘ isn’t because a sea painting needs so many, rather it’s because I like colours and so have built up quite a collection of blues over the years, though I do have a core set that I use.
So although I searched through my paints for the various blues to paint the chart shown in the photo, I used only a few in a painting. Painting a colour chart makes it easy to compare the various colors and the opacity or transparency of each, and to remind you of options beyond favourites.
I hardly ever use ultramarine, a blue so many consider fundamental. If things aren’t going well, I’ll revert to my beloved blue, Prussian, and after that phthalo turquoise. But often blue isn’t the answer anyway, and then I’ll reach for colours to mix interesting greys, and orange, magenta, yellow, iridescent silver …
With pencil, you can change your mind and erase, you can doubt yourself and do a light line first. Ink forces you to keep going forwards, to respond and adapt, to live with mistakes and inperfections. Counter-intuitively, drawing with ink is easier than with pencil because you’re instantly committed, it reduces choices.
Layers and layers of colour … the paintings done in response to August’s painting project show what an array of results can come from the same set of instructions. Thanks to everyone who shared their painting.