Monday Motivator: The Trick Is…

“The trick is to develop a mark-making language with a set of tools that you can apply and alter to suit your needs.

You’ll be able to look at a subject and think through the stages of marks you’ll need, rather than thinking, ‘how do I draw trees again’.

By breaking down the subject you’re looking at into a sequence or series of particular shapes and abstracted marks, the drawing as a whole will begin to take care of itself.”

Kate Boucher, “Drawing with Charcoal” page 49

Once we’ve learnt the alphabet, and then what these letters placed in certain arrangements can mean (words), we create sentences. We don’t start a sentence thinking about the alphabet (though we might check spelling of a word). Mark making is painting’s alphabet.

Brushmarks in orange

Monday Motivator: The Brushstroke Beneath

“Taking paint off is as equally important as putting it on … the key is to minimize concern over any wastage that may occur … it is essential you give yourself permission to scrape off paint when it’s required, which is surprisingly often throughout a painting’s progress. What is revealed underneath can be very exciting … what is left underneath is the equivalent of a new ‘brushstroke’.”

Gareth Edwards, “Painting Abstract Landscapes“, page 24

Oil paint, being so slow drying, gives you plenty of time to scrape off paint with a painting knife. If you mix together what you scrape off it’ll head towards a greyish ‘nothing’ colour, which has its uses and counters the feeling of wasting paint. I keep it in a corner of my palette as it can be useful for clouds, mixed with lots of white, as interesting greys.

With acrylics, if it’s recently dried, try being aggressive assertive with a damp cloth or a wet wipe, maybe reaching for some hand sanitizer (alcohol) which will ‘encourage’ acrylic to lift. If there’s lot of dried texture, reach for sand paper.

With watercolour, a damp cloth or wet, stiff brush will lift a lot, but you could also spray the whole painting with water and then dab up and down with paper towel. Or with a “take that you uncooperative painting” put the whole painting under a tap or in a basin of water.

Never forget, it’s your time and materials to use as you choose. If you’re having fun, it’s not wasted. If you’re learning and/or exploring, it’s not wasted. If you’re painting, it’s not wasted, regardless of the outcome.

Monday Motivator: Change is the Lesson

‘I feel that as artists we need to be comfortable with the state of constant change. The longer I paint, the more I don’t want to know “how” to do something or have a technique upon which I rely to create my work. Predictability is a killer of excitement. Instead, change has been my lesson.’

Loriann Signor, Risk-Taking

When we start learning how to paint and draw, there’s a feeling we’ll reach a point at which we’ll have “learnt how to do it”. But do we really want to or is it being on the edge of uncertainty where our greatest discoveries are made?

Coloured Primers: Dark to Light vs Light to Dark

Another thing I’ve added to my list for this month’s painting project is to have a go at painting from dark to light, rather than from light to dark as I usually do. It necessitates knowing which of your colours are opaque so they’ll show up on top of a dark colour, and presents the challenge of leaving bits of the shadow areas unpainted so the dark base layer shows through.

I was reminded of it when I noticed that “other than white” versions of the non-absorbent primer by Michael Harding are now available at Jackson’s (affiliate link). MH is a UK brand renowned for its quality of his oils paints and range of colours. Lots of traditional pigments in the range, some with prices in the “ouch” category.

I’ve been watching out for MH coloured primers because the range includes a clear primer, which will be less less grabby/rough than the one I have been using (Holbein, medium grain) on wood panel to let the grain of the wood be part of the painting.

I then saw the black and headed into “ooohhh” territory. The other colours don’t tempt me as they’re not colours on my palette and risk ending up with a ground that doesn’t fit well with the painting, and the neutral grey isn’t exciting. Some of the oil paintings I’ve done that I was happiest with I started with a Payne’s grey acrylic ink drawing. So a black gesso would do similar, albeit without gaps. I look forward to finding out.

One thing I do wish though is that the containers the Michael Harding ground comes in were narrower. The lid on the white one I’ve got is too big for me to get a grip across it to unscrew it easily. I wish it came with a narrower lid that had a flip/twist to squeeze some out nozzle and could be screwed off to access with a brush.

Painting Project: The Same But Different

This project is about using different drawing and painting materials to depict a relatively straightforward subject in order to remind ourselves of materials we’ve forgotten, neglected, not yet tried, been too intimidated to attempt, and love the most. To do a series of drawings/paintings either as individual pieces or together on a large piece of paper.

My suggested subject is a piece of fruit, something that will last for a while. Work from observation not memory because looking at it closely, and repeatedly, will reveal how much we don’t typically notice. Position it the right way up, upside down, on its side, cut in half or peeled, with a bite taken out, as just a core or pip or peel.

Do at least seven drawings/paintings, as large or small as you wish, with or without backgrounds. Dig out all your different materials and give each a go. For instance:

  • pencil (line only, tone only, line and tone)
  • pen (permanent and water-soluble)
  • black only (ink or charcoal)
  • black+ (black dominates but using other colours, as in traditional Chinese ink paintings)
  • collage (recycling failed paintings)
  • unrealistic/exaggerated colour (see Matthew Smith: Apples), a chance to use neglected colours
  • dark outlines (Georges Braque: Plate of Apples)
  • high key (limiting the range of tones in a painting to medium to light only, no strong dark tones)
  • low key (using mostly dark to medium tones, as in Van Gogh’s Basket of Apples)
  • palette knife
  • texture paste
  • loose wet into wet with line added afterwards to suggest detail

At the end of the month, email me a photo of your results for inclusion in the photo gallery. If you’re unsure of how to use any material you’ve got, feel free to email me and ask. For feedback on your results, sign up to be a project subscriber on Patreon, where there’s also an option for me helping you one-to-one with any aspect of your art. Happy painting!

MY PROJECT PAINTING: I’ve chosen a green apple because none of the red ones had a stem, the green gets yellower as the apple ages, the shadow areas invite the use of reds and purples (as complementary to green/yellow) and it takes me away from orange/blue that have become such fundamental colours.

I’m doing it in a concertina sketchbook, with each on a new spread (pair of pages) so that the result will be a book you can flip through seeing them sequentially or open out to see them as a row. Painting over the fold of the paper isn’t ideal as the paint tends to gather there and get the paper too wet and it tears, but a single page felt too squashed.

Water-soluble black ink and white pen (the apple has been moved from where it was when I was drawing to fit it in the photo)

Almost 2022

A photo of a bunch of wood panels that I’ve gessoed may not seem like an image of hope that 2022 will be a better year than 2021, but that yesterday I found myself wanting to have some panels to hand ready for painting, and only a couple wouldn’t do so I gessoed the dozen in the photo, tells me that I am feeling better than I have for some time.

Add to this my obsession the past couple of weeks with painting the yellow lichen-covered seawall (see here and here), that I have been out painting on location with my oils again, set up some new Monday Motivator photos using the Rijksmuseum Playmobil figures the in-house art critic gave me for Christmas, and how much I am looking forward to my two workshops at Higham Hall in April, and I realize I have refound part of myself that’s been trampled by the pandemic and the in-house art critic’s neurocognitive issues.

My thanks to everyone for your support and understanding this past year, in all the different forms it’s been given, for your enthusiasm and encouragement, for paintings bought and commissioned, blog posts and newletters read, quick messages and long listening, and social media comments. A special thanks to my Patreon subscribers for keeping me in coffee and for the joys in helping others with their painting.

May your 2022 be a year filled with joyful moments and many hours of painting.

Plein-Air at the Yellow Breakwater

I woke up to pastel pinks and blues, a clear and calm (windstill) day that I let warm up for a couple of hours before heading out with my paints to have another plein-air attempt at the yellow breakwater at Camus Mor that’s been obsessing me lately.

Sunrise this time of year is around 09:00.

I set myself up on the same bit of wall as last time, but with the slash of yellow towards the right of the composition. I also had black on my palette, as I’d used this in studio paintings of this scene and was pleased with the result. There’s a risk with black of colours looking murky, but there’s also the interesting results when it’s mixed with yellow (it mixes to green).

Studio paintings. Oils on paper. A3 size.

When I started painting, my wood panel and palette were in the sunshine, and the sun was warm on my back. The tide was an hour or so off high, lapping in quietly.

Oils on wood panel, 12×9″

I decided to stop here for risk of overworking it, and set up with my second panel with the thought of doing a small section of rocks and washed-up kelp.

The temperature dropped when the sun went behind the hill, and my brush strokes speeded up, but I got the painting to a point I was happy to stop. Definitely my idea of a beautiful day.

Monday Motivator: Imperfect Pursuit

Monday motivator art quotes
Monday motivator art quotes

“Being willing to involve yourself in something [you]* intrinsically enjoy, to give yourself over to the imperfect pursuit of something you’d like to know how to do for no particular reason, seems like a small form of resistance.

“… drawing [is] an unusually absorbing, almost meditative task—one that makes you look at the world differently even when you’re not actually doing it and pours you into undistracted flow when you are.”

Margaret Talbot, “Is It Really Too Late to Learn New Skills?“, The New Yorker, 11 January 2021

Paint and draw for the joys in doing it. The feel of paper under a pencil, paint squishing under a brush, colour emerging from a tube, and ultimately an image developing (maybe).

The worst drawing or painting you do is something you created that didn’t exist before. Your negative side might tell you it’d be better if it didn’t exist, but you couldn’t know beforehand how it’d turn out.

Be cautious of those who focus on monetizing your enjoyment (“you should sell your paintings”) and never make any other comments. That there’s no value in doing something unless there’s money to be made from it is the 2020s version of “you’re wasting your time (and money)”.

*The original quote is “Being willing to involve yourself in something you’re mediocre at but intrinsically enjoy“, but I think “mediocre” is too loaded a word, carries too many negative connotations. There’s a lot of joy to be had in doing something without it being brilliantly well done and without it being inadequate.

Painting by Marion Boddy-Evans. Acrylic on Paper. Approx A2 size.

Follow the Yellow Breakwater

I’ve sat on the yellow lichen-covered breakwater at Camus Mor many times, usually at the spot where the taller part can act as a backrest, to sketch and to stare out to sea, and occasionally enjoy an ice cream.

I’ve taken a lot of photos of it, yet never painted it, until now. Suddenly my head is full of the striking slash of yellow, of compositions that dance with large abstract shapes and bright colour, from the yellow being a small element to it dominating most of the painting. A few days ago I did three on-location studies using mixed media (watercolour and Inktense sticks on A3 paper):

I did a large mixed media painting (watercolour, acrylic, and pencil on A1 paper) in my studio, exploring the idea of a composition dominated by a large yellow shape against the slab of rock on the right and the broken boulders and sea beyond:

(Don’t adjust your eyes, this photo is a bit fuzzy)

On Sunday I did two plein-air paintings with oils, sitting higher up the wall than I would usually, in a spot where if I dropped anything down the left-hand side I would be able to retrieve it.

Oil paint on wood panel, 9×12″
Oil paint on wood panel, 9×12″

Here are the two paintings side by side, in the same light. I like both, but if I had to choose a favourite it’d be the one of the right, for the larger area of yellow and there being more on the left as the yellow slash leads your eye into the painting.

These are the colours I was using, on wood panel with a light blue ground (white primer mixed with Prussian blue). I don’t often put two yellows on my palette, I usually choose one, but I did for this as I knew that yellow would be a big part of the painting. They look quite similar in the photo, but the lemon yellow (on the right) is more transparent and cooler (bluer).

I didn’t put out black, relying instead on the Prussian blue and violet to give me a strong dark, which would then be more colourful when mixed with white or orange or yellow than a black. I didn’t use my beloved Payne’s grey acrylic ink as an underpainting, because it was too cold for it to dry anytime soon.

When I started, the sun was warming the spot, but by the time I’d finished the second painting it had dipped below the top of the hill. It’s not exactly high in the sky this time of year, which makes for fun shadows:

(I’m standing between two gate posts)

Thinking about why the yellow breakwater has suddenly become an obsession, it feels like several things joining together. One is a painting by a Fife-based artist Dominique Cameron called “Breakwater“, which could easily be pure abstract except the title suggested it’s somewhere specific. And indeed once you know about “St Monan’s breakwater”, you instantly recognize the zigzag. It’s a painting that’s stuck in my head from the moment I saw it, and I keep coming back to it. It also made me put the location on my to-visit list for a roadtrip I’ve got planned for May.

The second thing was discovering that another favourite contemporary artist Kurt Jackson, who’s based in Cornwall, had stayed in a cottage at Camus Mor in 2013, and painted scenes very familiar to me. Skip to timestamp 7:15 in his video for Skye, and then 9:46 for his painting with the yellow breakwater, or scroll down this page on Messums gallery to find the paintings (which were done in 2013 according to the dates on the individual paintings). It’s interesting being familiar with a location because it gives me a feeling for how much of an interpretation his paintings are. I did find myself counting the number of little white houses dotted around.

The third thing was a comment my Ma made about my needing to stop painting in black and white, to get back to brighter colour, and not turn into “one of those people who wear dark colours in winter”. Soon after this conversation I bought myself a bunch of roses, something I haven’t done this year as I’ve avoided going into the big supermarket. And this led to me painting daisies again, which of course involves yellow and orange. And then I was at Camus Mor and the yellow lichen glowed at me and compositions popped into my head, and now I can’t stop thinking about it.

One part of me wants to do a textured painting using black lava paste for the wall. Another wants to be very abstract and geometric. Another wonders whether about leaving out any suggestion of the sea and sky, or maybe only the sky. Another questions whether paintings with lots of yellow could possibly sell, but fortunately that little voice is being squashed by the others. Where will this lead? I don’t know, but I’ve got gesso on a 50x50cm panel drying…

Sitting at the sea side

Part Two: Plein-Air at the Yellow Breakwater

Monday Motivator: Art as a Place of Boldness

“…whatever your self doubts and fears are, your negative habits and your chronic mistakes, make sure that the work itself is a place of boldness.

“Artmaking either personally or professionally should be Walter Mitty Syndrome in reverse: The dreamworld where you’re a bold and brave hero should be the work’s reality, not the other way around.

“And find some solace too in knowing that all of us wrestle with doubt and worry and fear of finishing and failing in public and showing too much of our undies accidentally and all the rest. ”

Greg Ruth. “Be Mighty”, Muddy Colours 20 April 2018

I’m far more likely to find myself thinking “why did I imagine this was a good idea?” than feeling bold and brave, but it’s continuing anyway that matters, finding out where you end up on an uncertain path. It might be amongst demons, but what if it’s not?