Reflections & Old Boats

These photos were taken at the top of Loch Harport (look for Carbost on a map of Skye), heading towards high tide, on a windstill morning. Some were taken as a reminder of the context of the other photos, some as information or photos references for paintings, and some I think work only as photographs.

The latter got me thinking about the differences in composition between paintings and photos, not only cropping a scene but also depth of field (what’s in focus and what isn’t). I also realised how much easier I find it to narrow my focus on details when I’m exploring a landscape with my camera, or just walking along looking, than when I’m sitting with a sketchbook and tend to feel I want to get “everything” in.

The reflections in the mirror-still sea make me want to add the caption: “Don’t sneeze!”

What the photos don’t show are the midges, which love summer windstill days. I’ll be back in the autumn when they’ve gone and the hills are wearing different colours.

Monday Motivator: Talent vs Sparked Interest

Monday motivator art quotes

“A lot of what we recognize as natural born talent is simply an interest sparked at a young age that isn’t lost.”

Bishop O’Connell, The Myth of Natural Born Talent

Subtract the thoughts about it being too late for you now; rather ask yourself what you can do to keep your spark of interest aflame and boost it.

Add all the motivational quotes you’ve ever heard about drawing with the spontaneity of a child. It boils down to eliminating all the second-guessing, erasing and redoing. You start and keep going. You care more about the doing than the outcome.

Take a look at A Year of Drawing by the younger of Austin Kleon’s children, and note his words in the last paragraph: “…at this point … drawing for him still has nothing to do with the results. He does not care what you do with his drawings after he’s done making them.”

(Edited to add: oops, make this a Sunday Motivator as I set it to publish a day early!)


Read next: Paint with a Beginner’s Mind

Video: Tall Trees Painting

This video shows me painting on the middle of my trio of tall trees from yesterday’s blog. I used an unfinished seascape with texture paste, starting with yellow acrylic ink which I knew was transparent enough to turn the blues to greens. I had the canvas sideways so I could easily reach edge to edge, rather than having to stretch across it.

The in-house art critic asked how I decide where to put the “blobs of colour”. The answer “I know it’s only to go on the trunk and just random” is inadequate, apparently, so I’ll be trying to figure it out more and put it into words.

Trio of Tree Paintings

I have been wanting to try a tall trees painting (see this month’s painting project) using acrylic ink on canvas rather than paper, and have ended up with three in quite different colours. I’m unsure whether to move them closer to one another (that would involve choosing a favourite, which I think is the middle one) or let them be individuals.

Two were painted over unresolved paintings (one a waterfall, the other a seascape). The leftmost canvas is covered with black lava paste and the middle with my favourite light texture paste. I did this because reusing a canvas ‘permits’ experimentation with less worry about ‘wasting’ the canvas. Also because I thought the texture could work well and didn’t have to wait for it to dry. The rightmost canvas I covered with light turquoise first, which it wasn’t quite dry when I started on the trees.

I mostly used acrylic inks but also a few fluid colours which are more opaque and spread less wet into wet, such as the orange in the central painting. Iridescent yellow and gold too. Canvas size 20x50cm (8×20″). Brushes were a rigger and smallish flat, both with long handles. I painted flat on my table rather than vertical at my easel so that gravity wouldn’t pull the paint.

The paintings weren’t totally dry when I took the photos, and I will look at them afresh tomorrow and decide if tweaks are needed.

Photos: Look Down

Look down rain coat word in pavement

Four things I walked past: three in Inverness and the fourth at Findhorn Beach.

Look down Leaves inset in pavement
Look down paperclips on pavement
Look down rain coat word in pavement
Look down pebbles on sandy beach

When last was walking not only about getting somewhere? When last did you walk following a pattern in floor tiles, or stepping on the edge of the to-and fro-ing water on a sandy beach, or splashing in puddles, or rustling through leaves? These small joys don’t stop being there simply because we stopped noticing.

Monday Motivator: The Secret to Green

Monday motivator art quotes

“…the secret of green is orange and the friend of green is violet. Natural light represents all color, so a little orange introduced into green (which is a combination of yellow and blue) subtly introduces the color family of red and completes the color wheel spectrum.”

Richard McKinley, Painting Greens in the Landscape

Given, in my world, the secret to vibrant blue in a seascape is also orange, maybe the answer is always orange? What’s your go-to colour?


Photo Gallery for July’s Painting Project (Beach Huts)

I’ve had fun looking through the paintings done in response to July’s painting project, the number and colours of the huts, the imaginations applied to the scene, and the depictions of the weather (knowing as I do that it was threatening to rain as I took the reference photo). Scroll down and enjoy the paintings!

By Lorraine: Beach huts Borders style!

From Marion: Enjoying the splashes of colour in the foreground, in the grasses and washing, against the calm expanse of a sandy shore that invites you to walk along it.
By Erika: “Tried something different this time by combining both subject matters (cabins/people) in one painting with lots of quiet space in between. Since I’m not a quiet-type person, I feel it needs more (kites flying, dogs in the foreground, at least some sgrafitti) but for now it shall be left as is.”

From Marion: I like that your figures are dressed for a typical Scottish summer! The composition works well for me, with the bands of calm top and bottom containing the central diagonal where everything is happening. And the line of white dancing across the sky pulling the eye across whilst adding visual interest into the dark sky; it feels like lines drawn by two birds who flew across. The pebbles enhance the connection of the main focal point and the secondary.
By Bee: I used oils which I have done very little of and enjoyed it , I find I keep fiddling in oils in a way I don’t in other mediums.
By Sarah W: ” After much fun and learning thank you Cathi and Marion, this outcome I throughly enjoyed and learnt a lot about perspective and horizon line . In Inks and watercolour after tracing .”
By Sarah W: Its been a let’s finish morning , playing , looking and knowing it is not as the photo represents. I have thoroughly enjoyed the learning on perspective and playing with a result I didn’t expect until I stood back. Sorry the beach dissappeared in my project.

From Marion: ” Sometimes paintings take on a life of their own and I believe it’s important to see where this leads because it can be to interesting, unexpected places. You can always go back to your original idea another time.”
By Barbara R: I enjoyed the dramatic skies and the challenge of trying to get the perspective right on the beach huts. Mixed media (watercolours, inks, Brusho, collage on the pebble postcards).
By Barbara R.
By Barbara R
By Barbara R.
By Cathi: I toned down this painting of beach huts from where it was, and think it looks better being less fussy.
By Cathi: Then I titivated the texture paste lone hut. I think it looks as if it is floating on top of the beach but didn’t know how to “anchor” it.

From Marion: Adding a little darker shadow beneath the hut and glazing a little of this out onto some of the pebble sand may well be all it needs to anchor it. The sense of rain shower from the sky created with the drippy paint is very effective.
By Cathi: This is my watercolour on canvas paper version which has a much more subtle feel to it. Something a bit old-fashioned about it and the ochre splodge in the sky almost disappeared!
By Cathi: My “spontaneous” ink version which I think it is my favourite, though I do like the watercolour above.The paper has curled so the perspective looks way out, I know the middle hut is ‘dancing ‘ a bit!

From Marion: I found myself looking back and forth between this painting and the previous. I like the strong ink mark making on this one (hardly a surprise) but also the gentle colour of the previous.
By Cathi: The shed in the wood, with door and step. Ink, spray water, kebab sticks… the lot.

From Marion: For anyone wondering where the trees suddenly came from, I spent a day painting with Cathi and Sarah which saw me doing mostly trees inspired by what I could see through the windows as well as painting the beach hut scene. Towards the end of the day Cathi combined the two, and we were all doing mixed media.
By Cathi. Digital drawing.
By Eddie: This is my attempt at the sheds, after a few corrections suggested by Marion. I thought the huts were too regular so decided to move one out of line.
By Eddie: “I couldn’t resist trying the pebbles. I put a random brown and cream wash with a palette knife on acrylic paper. I then made washes on watercolour paper using granulating pigments and, when dry, I cut out pebble shapes and stuck them on to the acrylic paper. I added shadows on the shapes with a 6B pencil and decided not to add cast shadows on the ground. I covered everything with gloss medium to make sure the shapes were stuck down and protected. Finally I put on a thin blue unifying glaze.”

From Marion: Just as in real life I find myself mesmerized by the shapes, colours, patterns, trying to decide which are my favourites, which one I would pick up.
By Eddie: “Another version using the same process. I don’t often do collage and doing these reminded me why I don’t. They took a long time and I was in danger of developing blisters or repetitive strain injury while cutting out the shapes (not helped by using thick watercolour paper). Despite this it was a lot of fun.”

Of the various attempts I made at painting this scene, my first remains my favourite. You can see three versions (including the failed one) here. I also had a go at the pebbles using acrylic ink, on a wooden board primed with clear gesso. I started with the hope that the continuous line in Payne’s grey would work for the shadows without painting them in painstakingly. (Video of me painting this for project subscribers here.)

Wearing my new shoes that are supposed to not get near paint!

My thanks to everyone who’s shared their paintings for us all to enjoy and learn from. You’ll find a list of all the projects here. It’s never to late to do any of these, and if you email me a photo of your painting it will join whatever the next photo gallery is.

And, finally, a reminder that if you become a project subscriber, you can get feedback from me on your painting either by email or in the project community.

Video: Four Of My Attempts

This video is a speeded up version (eight times faster than real life) of four of the paintings I’ve done with this month’s Tall Trees painting project as the starting point. I’m using acrylic ink (no prizes for guessing it’s Payne’s grey) and DIY watercolour “ink” (hematite genuine and undersea green, both distinctive Daniel Smith colours).

If you’re a Project Subscriber, you should already have received the link to the real-time video of the first of these paintings, or go here. As a celebration of summer (or the thought of summer if you’re in the southern hemisphere), I’ve set the real-time video so that If you become a patron today via Patreon, including at the $2/month level, you’ll be able to watch this.

Which do you prefer? Speeded-up or real-time, a bit of both or speeded-up a little? Post a comment and let me know.

August’s Painting Project: The Instructions

Stand of very tall pine trees for painting project

This month I’ve chosen a photograph which I’m hoping will inspire you to experiment painting wet-into-wet, to worry less about a perfect outcome but relax into enjoying the technique knowing that lack of control is part of it. (You can, of course, also paint it using any other technique; just because it inspired me in a particular direction doesn’t mean it’s the only way.)

At first glance it may seem like an unimposing stand of trees, mostly pine at that, and at second glance that there’s so much going on it may feel overwhelming. The aim is to paint the poetry of the scene, not every twig and leaf. In deciding what to include and what to leave out, you might think about what strikes you most (perhaps close your eyes as you think about it).

Stand of very tall pine trees for painting project

For me the two things that stand out are the bright green splash and the strong darks of the shadowed trunks against the bright light. There’s further appeal in the pattern of light and dark, the sharp verticals interlaced with the diagonal branches reaching upwards, overlaid with greens.

Suggestions:
Less is More: How minimal can you be and still create a painting that reads as a stand of trees? Aim to leave lots of the paper white and use only one or two colours.

Wet-into-Wet: With clean water, brush multiple trunks onto a sheet of paper, then add paint. Work wet-into-wet, letting the colour flow freely, rather than on dry paper with tightly controlled paint. How warm it is, and thus how quickly things dry, and how fast you work add an element of the unpredictable to the painting, which can be serendipitous. Heavier paper (I use 350gsm) dries out a bit slower than thinner as it’s got a ‘core’ to hold moisture; you might also spray the back of the sheet.

Acrylic ink: Use the dropper from the bottle or a stick dipped in the ink rather than a brush as it reduces control and gives a more organic result (watch video). Spraying over a line of acrylic ink with water makes it do interesting, spidery things.

Pastels: Try brushing water onto dry pastel or working onto wet paper.

Watercolour: Try a granulating watercolour for the tree trunks, which as an uneven colour giving a sense of texture. My current favourite is Daniel Smith’s Hematite Genuine which I’ve put into a dropper bottle. For the foliage, try one of Daniel Smith’s watercolours that dry into multiple colours, such as Undersea Green, or work wet-into-wet with a couple of greens/yellow unevenly mixed. (Watch video of a granulating watercolour drying vs ‘normal’.)

Texture Paste: Tree trunks also lend themselves to texture, so dig out that jar and apply it with a palette knife, or glue down some tissue paper.

Layered Colour: If you’re in the mood for lots of colour, take a look at the tree paintings by Klimt (less known than his figures), and contemporary painters Wolf Khan (bright colours) and Rick Stevens (layered colour).


As always, medium, size and format are up to you. I look forward to seeing what this inspires. If you’ve done a painting in response to a project, whether the current month or any earlier one (see list of painting projects), do email me a photo to put in the photo gallery so we can all enjoy it. Happy painting!


It’s not a subject that’s new to me (see my tree paintings and my blogs on painting trees), but one I have come back to again in the past few weeks, this time using ink and watercolour on paper rather than acrylic on canvas. I’ll be posting some photos and videos of my paintings, but here’s a taster:

Monday Motivator: To a Timid Student

Monday motivator art quotes

“To a timid student I would say, don’t be frightened of your paint — there is nothing so deadly as a thinly-painted tree. Put out plenty of colour on your palette and don’t compromise with the remains of your yellow ochre when another fresh colour is obviously needed.

“Don’t strive to accomplish everything in one painting. Sunlight and shade, colour, movement of leaves and texture of bark are all excellent things, but all are not necessarily incorporable at one attempt.”

Adrian Hill, “Drawing and Painting Trees”, page 128

I haven’t yet come across where Hill explains why yellow ochre will be the colour you’d have left on your palette, but you get the drift I’m sure.