Check a Composition by the Painting’s Title

Sunday morning, studio cat Ghost and I are sitting in the chair listening to Beethoven’s ninth and the birdsong, reading a ‘new’ book that arrived from a secondhand bookshop in the States.

I like these older books because they tend to have more in them, more thoughts and less how-to broken down to the nth. While the photos may be black and white, they’re full of gems that require “reading with a pencil”. Like this:

Photos: Painting at Staffin Beach in the Sunshine (aka My Pebbles Got Bigger)

Painting yesterday at Staffin beach at low tide, I found myself enjoying the large boulders dotted around. When I later showed the in-house art critic my photos, he said my paintings looked postcard size. That’s when I realised that not only had I supersized the average rock I was painting, but that the pebbles I was using to hold down wet paintings were also bigger than normal. Do wonder what I might have painted if I’d had a bigger brush with me!

The first drawing. I initially stopped when it was line only as I was enjoying the piece, but later added wash to it as it felt too sparse.
The second painting. Judge the top angle of the rock by the horizon of the sea, not the edge of the shet of paper.
My second-last painting. I blame the soporific sun for the rounding of the shape…
Looking the ‘other way’.
I mostly used Daniel Smith hematite genuine for the ‘rock colour’. Its granulation gives a sense of the texture of the rock. It’s the second-nearest colour in the left hand row in my box.
Watercolour and acrylic ink on A3 paper. I like and dislike bits in each.
In terms of composition, I think this works as a photo, but could I make it work as a painting?
The dot of red is where I was sitting when painting; the orange is my Ma. I’m standing a couple of metres from the water’s edge.
My Ma, plein-air knitting.
“Do you need a viewfinder?”
My Ma, plein-air knitting.
Me thinking “I can’t see anything on the screen in this glare but this looks about the right angle”.
This volcanic rock is amazingly matte black, darker than in the photo..
Not a fossilized dinosaur brain. (We were close to where the dinosaur footprints can be found.)
Abstracts from nature.
I think the sheep noticed I was painting rocks and wanted to be included too.

Monday Motivator: How to Stay Relevant

Monday motivator art quotes

“If your work is original and if it draws deeply both from your imagination and from the world around you, your work will continue to have relevance. Take your inspiration first from your own experience. If you want to get fired up by the art of others, look at artists of the past or from other cultures, not your close contemporaries.”
James Gurney

Experience need not be far-flung. How long didn’t Monet paint his pond?

Lost marbles

Monday Motivator: The Thing About Thoughtful Critique

Monday motivator art quotes

“The thing about thoughtful critique is that it makes you want to engage it and continue the conversation”
How Millennials Grew Up and Burned Out

One of the hardest things for me when asked “what do you think of my painting” is not to hesitate too long before replying because this delay is invariably taken as a sign that I think it’s terrible rather than I’m thinking. Saying “let me gather my thoughts” to gain a few more seconds doesn’t reassure either.

We all want people to like our paintings, to be intrigued by them at least. Be patient and let someone have time to look.

While you’re waiting, think of a different question to ask. Be a bit more specific than “do you like it?” or “what do you think?”. Perhaps about something new you tried, the colour choices, how it fits with your other paintings. Start the conversation.

Feather Monoprints: Leave Some Things Unsaid
Feather Monoprints: Leave Some Things Unsaid

April’s Project Photo Gallery (Paint Tube Still Life)

April painting project

An interesting mix of paintings in response to April’s project, and thank you to everyone who’s shared theirs. I was a bit worried I’d put you off by setting a still life, and I do empathise with those of you who’re ambivalent about still life paintings. I often am too, but started loving them more when I met the still lifes of Giorgio Morandi, the way he plays with pattern and shape amongst the objects (such as this painting) his mastery of hatching (see example) creating form. Now still-life painting is a way to completely change pace when I need it. Enjoy the photos!

April painting project
By Bee: ” My attempt at paint tubes.”

From Marion: “I like the juxtaposition between the three tubes in an almost-neat row and the tube of yellow; for me it’s that moment when using tubes overrides the desire to have an organized painting space.” Join the discussion…
April painting project
By Bayberry: “My small effort for the paint tubes.”

From Marion: “I like the contrast between the expressive splashed colour and the controlled line, the sense of a tube containing and restraining colourful expression.” Join the discussion…
April painting project
By Claire: “I struggled most with the background and the lettering. Perhaps if I let the tubes dry properly and used a black pen instead of a barbecue stick and drying paint, perhaps if I took more time, perhaps…”

From Marion: I like the subtleness to the composition, the way the tubes at first glance seem like three in a row but then you notice one is the other way up to the other two, and one has the cap off. Join the discussion…
April painting project
By Eddie: “I struggled a bit with this and spent ages doing thumbnails exploring the various possible compositions. I found the shadows difficult in pencil and almost impossible in paint. I thought I would just go for it to avoid endless vacillation and hope the bold colours distract from the poor painting of the tube. I rarely do still life because I don’t have the patience for the subtle variation in colour, tone and shading required for a realistic depiction. I have tried to do this project in one shot and largely avoided over-thinking it.”

From Marion: I like the flow of the composition, and the contrast of the b&w to colour. Join the discussion…
April painting project
By Lesley: “This one was another challenge as the more I looked, the more errors jumped out in my drawing with all the folds of the tube so there was much correcting as I went along. Time ran away with me this month and no painting, instead a quick pastel pencil drawing (using the wrong kind of paper) then a go at my first digital drawing [see below]. It was good fun learning how to use the drawing app as I went along and I like how it ended up. Not quite as satisfying as real paint, though.”

From Marion: If you hadn’t said it was a digital painting I probably wouldn’t have guessed, though it does explain the even-ness to the drybrush mark making which is harder to achieve when you’re having to reload a brush with paint. I’ve found that with digital I end up missing the tactile quality of paint, but it does save having to wash brushes!
April painting project
By Lesley. digital painting
April painting project
By Erika: “Suckling Piglets”. I couldn’t resist – this was too much fun even though it was cheating on the task of the project! “

From Marion: I wouldn’t call it cheating, it’s thinking out of the box to create a piece of assemblage art.
By Cathi: “What fun I have had this month! I specifically did not look at your work until I had finished mine, I did not want to be influenced!! Having said that I love Joshua Starcher’s work. The design aspect led me to my first two flamboyant efforts.”

From Marion: I love your “flamboyant tubes”, and found myself imagining what the colours would be called, e.g. “Paisley” and “Raindrops”.
By Cathi
April painting project
By Cathi: “I then had a go on a little 8” square board, trying to capture the essence of a used tube….”

From Marion: The mark making of the background conveys a sense of flattening the tub to get every last bit of paint out.
April painting project
By Cathi: “Then I thought “who needs mountains to use texture paste and runny paint! This tube is actually formed with texture paste, details added and then the overcoat added. I love this one, I keep coming back to look at it! I like the way the shadow really lifts the tube off the surface.”

From Marion: I imagine that in real life it’d be hard not to touch the tube!
April painting project
By Cathi: “Finally, I was reminded of your sheep collage painting you were working on. I photographed all the information found on the tubes and used them for the collage background. The tube and lid are painted but the paint is texture paste!

From Marion: This would also be very hard not to touch! It feels as if I could put a finger against the tube and squeeze some more out.
April painting project
By Gail: “April was a very hectic month for me so I am sending a painting I did in 2018 that features not only paint tubes but other artist accoutrements. I didn’t have any metal paint tubes to use as a reference in my studio since just about all my paint either comes in tubs or plastic tubes. Hope this will be suitable and I am looking forward to May’s painting project.”

From Marion: It counts because the project made you think about it! Hope May is less hectic for you.


What Photos Don’t Show Us About a Painting

Ram Painting with Line in Different Lights

Which of these four photos shows ‘the truth’ of this painting?

Ram Painting with Line in Different Lights

Top left: Taken in my studio out of direct light (most of my photos are taken like this).
Top right: Photo edited with ‘auto-adjust’ (subtle differences).
Bottom left: Taken in my studio in direct sunlight.
Bottom right: Taken in my studio with part of it in direct sunlight through the window

I think they’re all ‘true’ because what you see in a painting depends on the light. The more light there is, the more you’ll see down through the layers of colour; the less light there is, the less you see. That’s one of the joys of an original painting, what you see does change as the light changes through the day. One photo simply can’t convey it all.

May’s Painting Project: The Instructions

Gorse adds a splash of colour before the greens return to the Skye landscape and continues flowering for weeks. Walking along a familiar path recently (more photos) I suddenly noticed this tree and the strip of stone wall, with the yellows across the hillside behind. There was something about the light at that moment that made my fingers itch to paint it, and so it’s the challenge for May.

Painting Project Gorse and Tree
Painting Project Gorse and Tree

For me the interesting things to explore are:
1. All those warm and cool greens: blue-greens of the grass and yellow-greens of the moss. An excuse to pull out all your blues and yellows to spend time colour mixing, and to also explore adding yellow and blue to tube greens.

2. The deep darks in the shadows: how dark can you make it with still having a suggestion of what’s going on. What colours to use, with perylene black feeling like an obvious choice as it makes also interesting greens when mixed with yellow. Alternatively, how colourful can you make this “dark”, or how purple (taking inspiration from the Impressionists).

3. How far across will the tree extend, which will partly be determined by shape of the composition, whether it’s square, portrait or landscape.

4. Compositional choices of things to leave out. The telephone pole seems a definite to me, but what about the fence behind it?

Medium, size and format are up to you. Have fun! I look forward to seeing what this inspires.

My first attempt I did using acrylic ink, one yellow and Payne’s grey only, with the aim of having a light touch, using lots of negative space. Working flat so the ink wouldn’t run.

Only when I stood up again did I notice I’d made the tree too upright and the bundle of small trunks into one solid one even though I had the reference right in front of me!

I’ll be posting my thumbnails for this project and the notes I made on my potential to Patreon for project subscribers, along with a video of when I added the ink tree to a background done in acrylics, my third attempt at this. Become a subscriber here…

These are not thumbnails…

Monday Motivator: All Failures & Successes are Temporary

Monday motivator art quotes

Monday motivator art quotes

“When your utmost goal is simply to get better, all failures and successes are temporary because you will forever improve, given more time and more practice. You don’t define yourself by any single moment in time; you define yourself by an entire body of work in service of ongoing growth and development. Your pursuit ceases to be something you are aiming for and becomes a part of who you are.”
— Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness 6 Principles to Crush in Life Without Burning Out

Don’t compare your paintings to last week’s, but to last year’s. Don’t destroy drawings that are unsatisfactory until at least a week has past, ideally more. Some will be as dire as you thought at the time, others will surprise you pleasantly or you’ll be in a mindset to see what they taught you.

Go North: A Painting Looking Towards the Shiant Islands

Sitting in the sunshine at the shore looking out across the bay towards the Shiant Isles, that’s the inspiration behind this painting. It’s somewhere I often sketch, but haven’t done as a painting on a large canvas for some time.

“Go North”. 100x100cm (39×39″). In my studio £795.
Go North Shiant Islands Seascape

If you’re wondering about the colour differences between these two photos, one was taken on my phone camera and the other on my SLR (“proper”) camera. In terms of which colour is truer to the original, it’s the first, but neither is perfect. What you see in a painting done with texture and multiple layers of paint changes with the light conditions too.

Here are a few work-in-progress photos from this painting:

wip shiant painting detail 2
wip shiant painting detail 3
wip shiant painting

Monday Motivator: The Misclassification of Drawing

Monday motivator art quotes

“We often think of drawing as something that takes innate talent, but this kind of thinking stems from our misclassification of drawing as, primarily, an art form rather than a tool for learning.

“…Human beings have been drawing for 73,000 years. It’s an inextricable part of what it means to be human. We don’t have the strength of chimpanzees because we’ve given up brute strength to manipulate subtle instruments, like hammers, spears, and — later — pens and pencils.”
— Matt Davis, Why drawing isn’t just an art

learning to draw