Project Photo Gallery: Bluebells

Here are paintings inspired by June’s project, in an array of styles all the way from botanical to abstract. Enjoy!

By Bee: “My attempt at bluebell woods in acrylic, using leaf prints. I was worried I had gone a bit dark and got a bit too enthusiastic with the leaf prints.”
From Marion: Really like this! The sense of cool shade, how it leads the eye up to the bluebells and sunlight.
By Bayberry: I gave this one a shot but it is more about birches than bluebells! From Marion: For me it’s got a real sense of walking in the cool shade of Uig woodland, seeing the sunny field of buttercups through the trees.
By Eddie: Having done a couple of small studies I decided to go large. I found it difficult to know how big to do the flowers and started off far too small since I wanted them to be front and centre. I have used watercolour, gouache, inktense, acrylic and soft pastels. From Marion: Your bluebells are definitely front and centre, immediately dominating the composition and demanding we look at them. That they decrease in size as they go into the background adds a sense of depth and location. The layers on the bluebells give them form, colour, and visual intrigue. They feel as if I could touch them with my finger and they’re dance about.
By Katherine: But by following the links on the Higham newsletter I’ve found your monthly projects, and this is my first effort. I’ve combined it with a challenge that my local art teacher to produce something using 3 ‘wet’ colours and 3 ‘dry’ colours so this has been created using 3 loosely applied watercolours and 3 chalk pastel colours. It also had to be done within 30 minutes (not including drying time).
From Marion: Delighted you found the project, and hope you’ll be joining in more.
By Helen R: My go at a bluebell wood.
From Marion: It reminds me of the bluebells growing in the grounds at Armadale Castle on the south of Skye, where they outgrow the other greenery.
By Sarah: . I started with Ink, then I went back to practice more in watercolours. I thoroughly enjoyed this.
From Marion: I’ve enjoyed watching your progress on Facebook with your botanical art studies, and it’s a special thrill that this month’s project prompted you to do a bluebells. A beautiful painting of a deliate flower, and a reminder to me of how it’s time well spent to slow down and look closely.
By Cathi: ” After much doodling and playing around I came up with two totally different pics. Watercolour and ink.”
From Marion: I love the freedom in this, the loose expression of the colour constrained with just a touch of line. So deceptively simple!
By Cathi: “After much doodling and playing around I came up with two totally different pics. This, the second, at last, is going away from the “must look like what it is”! Watercolour and ink.”
From Marion: If it weren’t for the theme “bluebells” I wouldn’t be making the connection, so in your aim to get away from it “looking real”, you’d certainly succeeded. Conversely, having “bluebells” in mind gives me a path into the painting, a way to interpret and make it intriguing rather than merely mysterious. I find myself wondering what a version with curved cut lines rather than straight would feel like, vs the strong straight lines.

By Marion. Mixed media. (See this blog post)

July’s Painting Project: White Daisies

This month’s project features one of my favourite flowers, white daisies. A challenge to use this reference photo with a small colour range (white, green, yellow) and a lot of repeated shapes (the circles of the flowers and lines of the stems) to compose and create a painting. Remember, a reference photo is a starting point, not the finish point. See where it takes you, in any medium you choose.


  • Simply the composition: There’s a lot happening in this reference photo, so start by thinking about what you would leave out and narrow down what you might include in a composition. Doing thumbnails would be time well spent, tiny drawings with the basics of a composition. (I would crop off the right-hand half and a sliver off the bottom of the photo, a composition with an area top left where there aren’t daisies to give breathing space.)
  • Focus on shape: Daisies have a very distinctive shape, the central splash of yellow with slivers of white dancing around. Growing as they are in the reference photo, we see them from all sorts of angles as well as some older flowers where the petals are drooping. A second level of shape is the wiggles of the stems.
  • White: The ‘white’ of the petals isn’t the same across the whole flower. Think “interesting whites” not “tube white”. Add a bit of blue or purple to areas in shadow, and yellow to areas catching the light. If you use the same blue(s) and yellow(s) to paint the greenery, you’ll have a colour harmony in your painting.
  • Shadows: If you’re using acrylics or oils, think about painting from dark to light, put the shadow areas in first and add opaque colour on top, rather than trying to add shadows afterwards. Or let the painting dry so you can add the darks by glazing.
  • Sky: That little sparkle of sky in the top lefthand corner, maybe continue that across the top of the composition to give an extra colour and relieve all that green.
  • Think in layers: Create a list of layers you could have, mediums and colours and mark making. It’s a bit like a recipe, all the decisions made before you start, leaving you to focus the painting.
  • Do blocks: Taking inspiration from April’s projects and create a composition with little blocks of daisies (as I did with my Dozen Daisies).
  • Supersize: Take a detail and make it fill a composition, a “supersized” or giant daisy or three. Like the Edinburgh-artist Lucy Jones has done here and here.

This is what my list of layers might look like, using mixed media on paper (as I did in my Concertina Daisies):

  • Pencil to mark the initial composition, especially the position of the flowers. This could be lightly done so it doesn’t show, or used as the first layer of line.
  • Line drawing of the flowers and stems, using acrylic ink (because once it’s dry, it won’t lift).
  • Yellow ink or watercolour onto centres of flowers, and a little random yellow onto the areas of greenery (to create colour variation once I start painting the stems more deliberately).
  • A darkish watercolour green applied with stems in mind to give a linear feel to it, but not too carefully.
  • Another watercolour green,similarly applied, to give variation.
  • While I wait for the greens to dry, do another layer on the flowers with a light blue ink for “shadow petals”, knowing these will have a layer of white over the blue to ‘subdue’ it.
  • Another layer on the stems and foliage, a brighter more yellow green that’s and more opaque too so it pulls forward. Applied with a little more precision to tighten up shapes and give definition to stems.
  • Add some light blue ‘sky’ colour along the top, encouraging it to drip and run down. I’d first try with watercolour, but if it’s too lost then I might repeat the layer with a slightly opaque acrylic (adding white to any blue, then making it fairly watery).
  • Use white to define the petals. This could be a drawn line with acrylic ink or using a flat brush (which if you twist it as you pull it gives a nice ‘petal’). Watch out for it being too uniform a white — having bits that are still wet that you hit and mix on the paper, or having stray bits of colour on your palette can help. Or mix a bit of ‘interesting’ white and use this first before ‘clean white’ as the top layer.
  • Reinforce the yellows of the flowers.
  • Check if the darks need to be reinfored.
  • Leave it overnight, look again with fresh eyes, and decide if anything else needs doing.

If you’d like to have your painting included in the project gallery, simply email it to me (and for any of the other projects, whenever you might do them). If you’d like help whilst working on your painting and feedback on the finished painting, this is available to project patrons. Have fun!

Painting Daisies in a Concertina Sketchbook (with video)

If you’ve not met one before, a concertina sketchbook has one long zigzag page that folds up between the covers. How many pages it has and what type of paper depends on the brand; the one I’m using in this video is from Seawhite and slips into a case. (If you don’t see the video below, click here to go to my Vimeo channel.)

I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, then watercolour in a dropper bottle (including two granulating greens), watercolour from my set using a brush, acrylic paint (cadmiun yellow light and medium), a mixed blue-grey acrylic ink (the masking tape on the bottle tells me it’s a colour I’ve mixed), white acrylic ink (Sennelier’s super-opaque white), and ultimately a touch of orange acrylic ink to deepen the yellows in the flower centres.

The decision as to how many pages to do was intuitive, a feeling for how many would be manageable across the width of my table (and off a bit) and would probably not be totally dry by the time I got back to the start with a new colour. I’m drawing daisies from a mixture of memory and the ones in the jug in front of me, which I turned around at various points so I was seeing ‘new’ daisies.

The colours initially are a bit gloomy, but when I add the bright green these become “background shadows” and everything turns brighter. I had visualised this brighter layer of green before I started, I just didn’t know exactly when I would do it. I’ve got a list in my mind of what layers I’m going to do (colours/materials) but if you’re new to working like this it’s worth taking the time to draw up a list, and having everything to hand, so when you’re painting the decisions are already made and you can concentrate on painting.

What will I do with the rest of the pages? At the moment my thought is to continue with flowers, probably the pink foxgloves that are flowering now too, but I’ll see what I feel like when I start again.

This is only the second concertina sketchbook I’ve used; the first has a watercolour of the sea/weather from my studio on every pair of pages, with a consistent positioning of the horizon line across the pages (drawn in with a pencil before I started). I’m sure there will be more, not least because I have a little Sennelier one with thicker paper I won in a competition and the Moleskine one the in-house art critic gave me last Christmas to try.

Monday Motivator: Past and Future

Monday Motivator quote

“When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.”

From the poem “The Three Oddest Words” by Wislawa Szymborska

In her Nobel Prize for Literature lecture in 1996 Wislawa Szymborska said: “It’s not accidental that film biographies of great scientists and artists are produced in droves. The more ambitious directors seek to reproduce convincingly the creative process that led to … the emergence of a masterpiece. … Films about painters can be spectacular, as they go about recreating every stage of a famous painting’s evolution, from the first penciled line to the final brush-stroke. …

Of course this is all quite naive and doesn’t explain the strange mental state popularly known as inspiration, but at least there’s something to look at and listen to. But poets are the worst. Their work is hopelessly unphotogenic. Someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later … Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?

Painters can do little that’s photogenic for ages too. Thoughts, observations, doubts and doodles that become part of our past influencing paintings in our future.


From Location to Studio Painting: “On Edge”

The connection between the sketching and painting I do on location (and the sitting just looking) and the painting I do in my studio isn’t always direct, but sometimes the dots that need to be joined are fairly evident, as with this studio painting finished a few days ago:

“On Edge”. 30x30cm, acrylic on wood panel.

Its path started last week when I painted at Duntulm (northwestern tip of the Trotternish Peninsula on Skye) at low tide on consecutive days, ending up with two watercolours and two studies in oil paint.

If you’ve looked up Duntulm on a map and seen the word “castle”, don’t get overly excited as there’s not much left.

The first day it was misty, clearing as the morning progressed. I started sitting on the grass, looking down over a stretch of rocky shore (there’s quite a drop where the grass ends in the photo below), painting with watercolour. The mist slowed the speed with which the watercolour dried, making wet-into-wet easy and an interesting change of pace with the paint.

I had my big set of pan watercolours, along with bottles of fluid watercolour and my beloved Payne’s grey acrylic ink (which I didn’t use for once). The red fabric is the corner of my raincoat which I was sitting on.

Then I moved along and down a bit, to a grassy bank, and got out my oil paints.

I stopped painting on this because I got tired, so it’s more of a loose study or sketch rather than a finished plein-air painting. Closer-up photo further below.
Sea, mist, winding road, sheep, and wild yellow irises

These two photos give a wider view of the location, and how the colours of the sea change with the light conditions of the two days.

Back in my studio, I put the watercolours and two oil paintings up on my easel as I painted at my table on a wood panel (with a layer of clear gesso on it).

Texture paste was applied with a palette knife, both Lava Black, which is a coarse-grained texture perfect for sandy shores, and Golden’s Light Modelling Paste which dries to an absorbent surface on which watery acrylic behaves a bit like watercolour.

The latter can also be scratched into with a sharp edge fairly easily when it’s relatively newly dried. If you look at the lowest band of rock in the next three work-in-progress photos, you’ll see how I abandoned having a band of rounded slabs of rock and scratched into it with the point of a palette knife so this section looks more like the others.

Painting-in-progress photo 1
Painting-in-progress photo 1
Painting-in-progress photo 3

Here’s the final painting, plus several detail photos:

Where next? I’ve already started another studio painting based on this location, again using texture paste and acrylic but this time on an unprimed wooden board. Without gesso on the board, thin acrylic sinks in and the woodgrain is revealed, as you can see below:

It having dried overnight, I’ve started adding some colour to the rocky shore. Trying not to lose the woodgrain on the right-hand “sea section” is inhibiting me as I’m painting, as are my favourite bits of my just-finished painting because I keep comparing the two. The “sea area” surface is very absorbent any any stray paint will soak in and dry almost instantly, so I’m second-guessing what I’m doing before I do it, rather than responding to what’s happening as I paint. It’s what I mentally label as “trying too hard”. The photo below is where I stopped struggling with it and left it to dry again; I will give it a break for a couple of days.

Project Photo Gallery: Abstracted Grids

An email from a friend reminded me I hadn’t done the photo gallery for May’s painting project yet (nor June’s newsletter). Apologies for keeping you waiting; June has rather slipped away from me, but pulling this photo gallery together this morning has reminded me of how much fun there is to be had with grids. So without further ado, here they are for you to enjoy:

By Bee: “windows on my work room. Fun with a fountain pen.”
From Marion: ” Each is intriguing by itself, and then together create a story, a sense of location.”
ByEddie: “This is a tour around my studio with a pencil. Good luck with recognising anything here.”

From Marion: My first thought was “I bet I can recognise things” and sure, there are a few, brushes for instance, a mannekin and clock. Possibly a tape dispenser. And a boat, but is it a model or a painting if a boat? It becomes absorbing, unpicking a puzzle and finding the strands of the story.
By Eddie: “Cutting up failed paintings is a fun way to use them.”
By Eddie: “I liked the cut up technique interesting but found the small size a bit limiting. This an abstract which I tore up to use the back of the paper. A bit of cutting and rearranging was fun.”

From Marion: It’s intriguing how a cut-up piece takes on a new life and becomes more than it was before. The tidier side of my personality keeps wanting to nudge the ones that are just a little out of alignment, though I realise this would make the composition more rigid and it’ll feel different.
By Eddie: “I am a little concerned that this could become addictive but it’s a great use for failed watercolours.”

From Marion: “If you find yourself deliberately messing up a painting so you can do this, then you’ve become addicted! It’s like each little block is a chapter and together they create a story. Each time I allow my eyes to circle around the blocks a different one grabs my attention.
By Eddie: “If I do this again I will use larger squares (these are 2cm, pastel) as I found them pretty difficult.”
By Cathi: As usual the “must look like what it is” side of me won over. I have ended up with lots of little quick sketch ideas of my garden. 2” squares giving an A2 finished size.
By Cathi, watercolour on A3: “This is a more abstract version of the previous one. Spot the bluebells.”
By Cathi, pastel

May’s project led me in several directions:

This was created looking at a bunch of roses in a yellow jug. The closer-up details that are more abstracted and intriguing work better for me, but I also like the blocks that combine line and colour (second row, second from the right).
See Blocks of Abstraction: Two Cut-Ups
It becomes quite mesmerising shifting little sections of a failed painting around as it transforms into something new
This is my favourite from the various pieces May’s project led me to doing. See A Dozen Daisies

The details of June’s painting project (bluebells) can be found here. And a reminder that if you’d like to help with your project paintings, the way to do this is to become a project subscriber via Patreon (now with £, $ and Euro options; I use Patreon because the site deals with the VAT paperwork for me).

Video Painting Demo: Bluebells

Watch over my shoulder as I paint using the reference photo from the painting project for June as my starting point inspiration (along with my visual memories from the times I’ve been in the Uig woodland and seen bluebells). I’m using an A2 sheet of 350gsm watercolour paper, with watercolour, coloured pencil, and oil pastel.

At one point I take the masking tape off to try to stop myself overworking it; the next day when I continued I taped the edges again, cropping a bit at the top. You’ll see quite a bit of my putting down paint and then lifting most of it off with a piece of paper towel; I was worried about getting too dark too soon, but may well have hesitated too much. The video is at 10x speed, except for the bit where studio cat comes to inspect (at 06:41).

Monday Motivator: Returning to Pencil

Monday motivator art quotes

“I am returning to the pencil. The premise of which remark signifies consciousness that at some point I left the pencil, a moment I have no recollection of. I am going to have to guess. It was around the age of eleven, just as learning got serious, that we were told we could use biro or fountain pens instead. Implicit in this message was the notion that pencil was somehow junior, inferior, not serious. …

“Just as I cannot remember stopping using them, I can’t quite pinpoint their return. …

“I find I can’t read now without one. For underlining and margin notes, the pencil’s the thing. It’s quick and doesn’t smudge …The great thing about these pencils … is the lack of fuss of them. … they don’t ask for much. The odd twist of the sharpener, yes. But not much more.

“Using a pencil I find myself following my best teaching advice: ‘Don’t rub out, just put a line through it’. It is as though the lack of physical pressure required to move my hand across the page somehow removes the psychological pressure to get it absolutely perfect first time. While I know it never will be, it’s a lesson I can never learn too often.”

Poet Anthony Wilson, “Pencil“, 11 May 2016

Monday Motivator: The Wonderful Pencil

Monday motivator art quotes

“Pencil is a wonderfully accessible medium. Anyone can find one quickly when they need to (a bit like that fact about how you are never more than 6ft from a rat).

It is a very versatile medium that allows you to be both expressive and precise.

There’s very little fuss with pencil – no prep time, you don’t have to wait for it to dry, there’s no clear up operation AND you can even rub it out. Simple and straightforward.”

Hannah Longmuir, “Pencil Drawing: Materials “, 27 April 2020

And if you use a propelling pencil, you don’t even need a sharpener.

Monsieur P big pencil