Location Sketching Influencing My Studio Painting

A question that came up with the group of pleinair painters from the US who were on an art retreat on Skye last week was how I thought my on-location painting would relate to or influence my studio work. My answer was (paraphrasing) that I had no idea but I imagined it would be roundabout not directly connected.

Wrong! Sunday was my first “normal” studio day for a fortnight, and when I picked up a little painting to complete it, I found myself reaching for the Payne’s grey acrylic ink I’ve had so much fun using for location sketching. The painting ended up quite different to where it was — more intense colour and strong black (or rather, Payne’s grey).

Dabbing off areas with excessive ink
Red earth ink added
Iridescent green and yellow inks added. (Iridescent simply because I had them to hand.)
Adding white ink with a rigger brush in the sea. I also added blue to the sea, and raised the horizon line slightly so I could include some sea to the left of the sea stack.
As it was when I left it to dry overnight. I was liking where it was.
Talisker Bay and the Cuillin at Sligachan paintings
Inspired by Talisker Bay and the Cuillin at Sligachan. 15x20cm.

The next one taken from the started-but-not-finished collection also got reworked with acrylic inks. I’m liking the results but, even more importantly, I’m really enjoying doing it.

Monday Motivator: When is a Door Not a Door?

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

“…as we grow older … seeing becomes dulled. We begin to look in a practical manner just to get enough information to function. We know where the doorway is so we don’t walk into the wall. We spend more and more time mentally running around, looking at one thing, thinking of another.”


— Albert Handell and Leslie Trainor Handell, Intuitive Composition, page 12

How many different doorhandles did you touch yesterday? How many doors opened to the left and how many to the right? What colours were the doors?

While there’s no point clogging up our brains by remembering such things, does it mean you also don’t notice unusual doors because you’re in “going through a door” mode?

When is a door not a (everyday) door?

Note the double doors!

Monday Motivator: When Response (Finally) Becomes Intuitive

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

“When an observation takes an instant, immediately followed by the mixing and application of paint, there is no time for thinking about how to make art. But the mature artist has already thought about it -— and has been thinking about it all his working life —- and so his response becomes intuitive. Through that intuition, he is making unconscious choices that … refine the experience or the expression of the experience. In another person’s hands, the result may be merely a carefully observed study; but in his, it becomes something filled with power and beauty. “
— Michael Chelsey Johnson, Two Approaches to Plein Air Painting

The past week I’ve had the joy of painting on location along with Michael Chelsey Johnson, Lyn Asselta, and a handful of other painters enjoying an art retreat on Skye (I haven’t seen any social media posts from them about it which is why I haven’t given their names). We’ve been to some of the iconic postcard places and others where the only other company are the sheep. It’s been so inspiring seeing everyone’s responses to the landscape, including lots of conversations about greens!

Michael has done some demos and seeing his colours and layering (using gouache) has made me realise how intuitive warm/cool is to him, whereas I tend (read: invariably) to forget as I get seduced, yet again, by pattern and colour. I’ve found myself wondering if all the days of “soft northern light” aggravate this, or am I reaching for an excuse?

• From Michael’s blog: Scotland Plein Air Painting Retreat – Interim Report 4

Nevermind the Castle

Spot Dunvegan castle. It is in the photo, I promise.

But with sea thrift turning swathes pink like this, I could not stay focused on the castle. So after one dubious drawing of the castle, I switched my efforts to rocks and pink, with happier results.

Photos: Sketching on Location (aka The Radioactive Green)

The last three days have seen us (the American artists on an art retreat on Skye and me) sketching on the Quiraing, Staffin beach, and Eilean Donan Castle. Shades of green from deep blue-green to improbably intense yellow-sap green (which I mentally think of as radioactive green). It’s not only been sunny enough to dig out the sunblock, but I even ended up looking for a shady spot yesterday at the castle.

My thanks to Michael Chesley Johnson for the pastel demo of rocks at Duntulm. It’s so intriguing, mesmerising, inspiring to see familiar landscape through the eyes of artists seeing it for the first time.

You can read Michael’s blogs on Skye here: Scotland Plein Air Painting Retreat

Waiting for the little Glenelg turntable ferry.
That spot on the bend on the A87 where most people photograph the waterfall, looking the other way.

Photos: Being a Troll (aka Painting Under the Slig Bridge)

Painted on location at Sligachan with a group of painters on an art retreat today. When we arrived, the peaks were hiding behind cloud, but they revealed themselves in the afternoon. The river was really low after all this dry weather, so I started at a spot under the modern bridge out of the breeze. The view of the underneath of the bridge and its reflection was tempting, but I decided to save that geometric abstract for another day and stick with my intended focus, the old bridge. Later I moved upstream to amongst beautiful water-polished rocks. (Materials: Payne’s grey and a yellow acrylic ink, watercolour, on 350g paper.)

Artist Michael Chelsey Johnson

Monday Motivator: Contented Concentration vs Fun

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

Monday Motivator Motivation Quote

“That contented concentration is what I love about making art … I don’t call it fun. My non-artist friends would invariably ask … was I having fun? True, art can feel like play, can actually be play. But I’d say fun is too frivolous [a] word for the contentment, the concentration, the peace of mind I experience when I draw or paint”

— Nell Painter, quoted in Learning To Be a Painter at 64 by Ilene Dube, Hyperallergic 30 May 2018

I have had people give me that “you’re weird” look for calling it fun, and once a landscape painter took offence at what they was perceived as a trivialising of their hard work by my using the f*n word.

I do call it fun, because fun is a serious business and we should work at having more of it in our lives. Wishing you a week filled with serious fun.

Painting Roses Viewpoint

Photos: May Word Prompts

Another month’s worth of inspiring drawings; thank you to everyone for sharing your charts! It’s so interesting seeing what everyone has done from the same prompts, the similarities and differences, the lateral thinking and connections.  Take 13 Knitting, for instance, where there’s one with a ball and needles (which makes me wonder if Jerry doesn’t knit),  knitted pieces on the needles, and some with hands holding the needles (one from the knitter’s point of view and the other from an onlooker’s). Or 6 Salty, for which a pretzel would never occur to me as it’s simply not something that is part of my life (I couldn’t even tell you if the local supermarket sells them).

From Jerry, who said “Starting to get a bit more creative — also have gotten some others in our painting group involved! I tried to do a fingerprint for #24 (evidence) — it didn’t turn out too well!”

From Karen:

From Vanessa, who said: “I have to admit that I had to do some catch up for this month. Plus I was too quick with two days and mixed them up.”

From Tessa, who said: “I got about two weeks behind this time. (Don’t tell Studio Cat.) Some of them had me stumped for a while. Caught up eventually.”

From Esther, who said: “I took the advice of the person who recommended a fixative spray this time. Thank you very much! I strongly suspect you were a bit hungry when coming up with the words this month. I found several words difficult to imagine as images and others tricky to draw. My camel and chef are sadly deformed and Brunnhilde, my Diva, is a bit lopsided. Once again, I included a cat. I didn’t forget its ears, she is a kitten and they are folded down as she stalks her prey. If I had a lucky number, I’d be able to visit Scotland and attend one of your workshops! Another very enjoyable and challenging month.”

From Eddie, who said: “There are some good challenges in this month.”

From Margaret, who said: “16 crossing may have been influenced by my visit on ferry to your beautiful island. I took 19 as pi rather than pie (which was the topic of no 1 sweet or savoury). Another enjoyable sheet and off to print out June.”

I can’t show you my May sheet because I tidied my studio mid month and now can’t find it. Theoretically it would be in my folder with February to April’s sheets, but it’s not. So instead here are a few days in what will be my display copy of my Word Prompts book for Patchings Art Festival in July. My favourite was 14 Psychologist (though I think that inadvertently making a face with 2 Bacon & Eggs might say more than my inkblot).

You’ll find June’s word prompt chart here:
Word prompt chart for June

Bluebell Blues

Theoretically I was painting sea blues and sheep, but every mix involving blue my mind was asking “would this fit into a bluebell blue?”. Ultramarine, phthalo, Prussian, cerulean…

I know it’s bluebell season, and I spent a bit of time taking photos of bluebells under the trees by the Uig community centre at the weekend, but I think the root of the quest lies in a conversation with my Ma about her trying to find a wool that was truly “bluebell blue”.

Bluebell Blues sheep WIP

I think part of the problem is that bluebells are blue-purple not sky or sea blue, yet the “blue” part of the name resonated so strongly. Plus the colour also varies with the time of day and how much shadow they’re in. I’ve also been wondering what other languages call bluebells, whether colour is still part of their name.

Bluebells in Uig Woodland
Bluebells in Uig Woodland

Here’s the finished painting on my easel, not a bluebell in sight.

Sheep painting by Skye artist Marion Boddy-Evans
(Currently untitled). 100x100cm. In my studio.

Word Promp Chart for June: It being the end of the month, it’s time for a new chart. You’ll find June’s as a printable .pdf here. Looking forward to seeing photos of May’s charts!

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Related: Listening to Bluebells