Monday Motivator: Paint is Liquid Thought

“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…”

James Elkins, What Painting Is

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.

First Gorse Study #2 painting
SOLD. First Gorse Study #2. 20x20cm

Painting at Duntulm

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.

Oil paint on wood panel. 12×9″ (30x22cm)

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.

Oil paint on wood panel. 12×9″ (30x22cm)

Monday Motivator: Humour is an Element of Creativity

Monsieur P big pencil

“… 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.”

John Spencer, Five Ways Humor Boosts Creative Thinking and Problem-Solving in the Classroom, 16 Sept 2019

Monsieur P big pencil
Monsieur P and the BIg Paint Tube

Painting Project Photo Gallery: Circles of My Mind

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.)

By Claire: “The pale off-white watercolour wash didn’t reveal the scored pebbles satisfactorily so I tried to pick them out with fine pencil line but could only find a few. Otherwise it worked quite well and I finished off with a fude pen for the outlines and white neocolor wax pastels for the top white lines.”
By Sue F: A beginner in watercolour, and really enjoyed doing this exercise. The red paint spatter was a bit of a shock when it happened!
By Sue F: Second attempt, very carefully keeping all the white circles separate.
By Cathi: “First attempt — I think the black lines are too heavy and the white lines (pastel) seem to throw the rest of the picture into the background!”
By Cathi: “Second attempt — here I think the white circles seem to be in conflict with the colour, perhaps because I was trying very hard to make them different shapes and sizes to the rest of the picture.”
By Cathi: “Last one – just love the colours in this one. The white is a fatter white marker I sent of for – my correction marker hardly showed up at all but maybe something in between would work best. Thinner black lines work better.”
By Karen: “Just a 15 minute first attempt, pure escapism. A great way to draw pebbles on a beach. I love the background sand effect. All done with acrylics. At first I thought it was a simple project this month, but it’s not and I’m looking forward to experimenting.”

By Marion: This was my first attempt, which I really like.
By Marion: This was my second attempt, which fell into the category of “trying too hard” and it became rather messy as I diverted away from the project instrustions and tried to resolve it. There are bits I like, and deciding that it was the yellow at the base layer that was problematic I added more white with the thought of it being like sea washing in over the rocks. That didn’t improve things, which is why there isn’t a photo of the ‘final’ painting.

Monday Motivator: Uncertainty and the Search for Knowledge

“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).

Creative Ideas Overload

Three Blustery Day Skye Sketches

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.

Mixed media, A3 watercolour paper

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.

Mixed media, A3 watercolour paper

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.

Watercolour, A3 paper

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.

What Colour is the Sea?

Uig to Stornoway Ferry Trip: Calm Sea

“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.

Sea and sky

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.

Sea Colours from Tsitsikamma

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 …

Monday Motivator: Ink vs Pencil

“Working in ink gives you two options — you can simply not draw, or you can draw and face whether or not your marks came out as you intended them to. There’s no in between.

“… Where success shows us where we are currently, failure shows us what our next steps might be.”

Irshad Karim, “Why Ink?“, Draw a Box

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.

Photo Gallery: Arboreal Abstracts Painting Project

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.

By Brenda
Note the contrast of the red stripey bit towards the right and the birch-like quality of the white.
By Cathi: “Brenda and I did these before we watched your video. I missed the bit about trees, so they do look more like colourful barcodes! I quite like this but is a bit heavy-handed.”
By Cathi: “This looked absolutely dreadful until the very end when I added the orange and white “snow” which transformed it into abstract trees! I like the places where the colour applied was quite dry and gave a texture to the ‘trunks’. I did feel it was more contrived than the first attempt because I had trees in mind – the first one was just playing with colour.”
By Sarah: Thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. This brought me back into my painting from my other projects and reminded me of how painting and drawing relax and re-energise me.
By Eddie: “My muse is still MIA and I wasn’t going to do this one but the art room drew(!) me in. It started off as an abstract but the trees just appeared.”

From Marion: Your Muse is clearly determined that you see the trees for the wood… Isn’t is strange yet comforting how our brains lead us back to a familiar place when painting? I think it’s the part of painting that’s like meditation, and we unconsciously head that way unless we actively counter it at intervals.
By Eddie: “I did this one after looking at Rick Stevens site as you suggested. I tried very hard to use light drifts of colour, heeding Karen Margulis’ advice that, for pastel, “a light touch is the right touch”. I have tried this many times but find that using ‘sanded’ paper light drifts will start to slide before they cover the texture enough for my liking, at least in my hands. Sure enough, I got frustrated and reverted to my stab and slash technique to get the marks I wanted. Having said that, I do like the result, especially the colours, compared to my first attempt. Perhaps while my muse is sulking somewhere I should just stay in my comfort zone, waiting to emerge when she re-appears.”

From Marion: It’s not called a comfort zone for nothing, and there’s a lot to be said for seeking out that comfort, for revisiting familiar and enjoyable places real and artistic. I like this result a lot, the little slashes of colour have an energy to them that may have come from frustration but do feel so vibrant.

My finished project painting, acrylic on A4 wood panel
Detail from my painting