“When you paint things exactly as they are, you don’t show people anything they couldn’t see for themselves — you’re telling them what they already know.” Paul Strisk, The Art of Landscape Painting, page 34
It’s a game to play with a friend, to be somewhere, anywhere, and ask not “what do you see” but “tell me three things you see”. In a group, write it down, then share. Play it with yourself by closing your eyes, counting to ten and then seeing what pops up in your visual memory.
Some people look at things close by, others in the distance; how good your eyesight is and whether you wear glasses being factors too, of course. Some focus on details, some on colour. Sometimes a favourite thing will hold our attention, such as when I see foxgloves or daisies growing on a verge.
After visiting the new Dundee V&A, my Ma and I popped into the city’s McManus Art Gallery and Museum to look at the paintings. It’s another beautiful piece of architecture, opened in 1867 and restored between 2006 and 2009 (see photos). Worth it just for the three Joan Eardley’s.
“But by correcting every flaw, you might lose the sparkle and vitality of the painting. In some indefinable way, the strangeness of the picture can often be a essential part of its charm.” Paul Strisk, The Art of Landscape Painting, page 71
Resist wiping up drips, covering every sliver of underpainting showing through, straightening a freehand horizon with a ruler … I’m sure you can think of other fixes that tidy things up but simultaneously add blandness rather than character to a painting.
Start by saving the ‘fixing’ until tomorrow, telling yourself you’re only leaving it for now not forever. Then look at it with fresh eyes and ask yourself not if it’s right or wrong but if it detracts or enhances. Call it quirkiness rather than flawed.
I’ve found it very interesting to see the choices of tree vs landscape, silhouette vs colour, focal point vs pattern, in May’s project paintings. Thank you to everyone who’s shared their paintings for us to enjoy.
Loving the V&A in London as I do, a visit to the newV&A Museum in Dundee has been on my wishlist since it opened last September. My Ma and I got there on a drizzly Sunday at the end of May, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The building was designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and photos don’t begin to do it justice. Clever, beautiful, mesmerizing design inside and out. It took a while and many photos before we went inside.
V&A Dundee holds an interesting permenent display of Scottish design history, plus a few ‘other bits’ and a pay-to-see temporary exhibition (entry to the rest is free). It’s not big, leaving me wishing for perhaps a bit more, but without museum fatigue or feeling I couldn’t stop to look slowly at everything that caught my eye .
The lighting was blissfully subdued. There are interactive displays but well integrated and balanced with ‘traditional’ displays of “object + info panel”. My favourites were the cross section of the cables used for the new Queensferry bridge and discovering that kaleidoscopes were invented in 1816 (in Scotland, by a David Brewster). It’s a mix of eras and subjects, I loved it, and will go again some day.
“I like to think of painting as a form of drawing. And drawing is a form of guessing followed by correction.” — James Gurney
Quit telling yourself a line has to be correct the first time, that you only get one go at it. You are allowed to change your mind, and probably should expect to. Treat it as you would seasoning in food, a starting point to be adjusted as ingredients are added and things develop.
I did six paintings using the photo I chose for June’s Painting project as the starting point. Two were dire and I’m not going to show you those. One was in watercolour, the other in acrylic. The former I gave up on as it got too dark and I didn’t feel like making it a mixed media piece because I was trying to do ‘pure’ watercolour; the latter I even tore up the next day, which I rarely do.
Here are the other four. The top two are mixed media on paper (acrylic and oil pastel) and were done first, followed by the watercolour bottom left (I hadn’t taped the edges) and the acrylic on canvas bottom right. (I’ve created a step-by-step video of photos taken as I painted the first two for project subscribers.)
The latter is my favourite, and feels like persistence rewarded. If you’re thinking it’s more realistic than many of my paintings, it’s simply because I was in the mood for a bit of painterly realism.
This month’s project photo is of a section of rocky shore dominated by a big rock and seaweek, presenting an array of colours and textures. I took the photo at Staffin, on the eastern side of the Trotternish Peninsula on Skye, when I was doing some on-location drawing (see photos).
I think the photo offers interesting possibilities for composition, starting with the decision of whether to include the big rock or not, and whether to include any of the sea and breaking waves at the top or not. There’s a strong diagonal in the photo, and where this intersects with the edge is crucial — I’d avoid it being right in the corner because it’ll feel improbable. In terms of colour, I think it lends itself to exploring mixing an orange and blue, the range of browns to greys this produces.
You might use modelling paste or collage to help convey a sense of the different textures of the rocks, water, and seaweed. Perhaps salt or string in still-wet paint. In watercolour, consider granulating colours. Think about how you might convey a sense of the various textures in a painterly way, letting your materials and mark making do the work.
The photo could be the starting point for something completely abstract, a painting that’s about colours and/or textures without strongly stating “sea shore”. What about a mixed media collage using paper, fabric, and paint?
As always, medium, size and format are up to you. Happy painting! I look forward to seeing what this inspires.
If you’ve done a painting in response to May’s project, 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.
Whilst hunting out the one bottle of fluid watercolour I’ve got in preparation for a 1:1 workshop on expressive watercolour, I came across a few empty bottles of acrylic ink and had a lightbulb moment. Why not wash them out and make my own watercolour ink with some favourite colours?
The unknown of course was how much to squeeze out of a tube, and if I’d been sensible rather than impatient I would have started with less and then added more testing it as I’d mixed it up. Maybe next time.
If you’ve noticed that the bottle of Aquafine watercolour ink is ultramarine and are thinking that it’s a colour I openly dislike and wondering why I would have chosen it, the answer is that I was given it as a sample last year at Patchings Art Festival. I wasn’t about to get fussy about the colour of the gift horse!
This is the spread from my sketchbook where I was trying out my three DIY watercolour inks. Definitely a member of the messy sketchbook club.
The sienna is too strong, and needs further diluting. The Lunar Black spreads out a lot on wet paper. The haematite genuine holds a tighter edge on wet paper, and on dry dries to a variegated line. Overall I anticipate much happiness working with these colours and the ink-bottle droppers as the drawing tool,. Taking what I’ve been doing with acrylic ink but using watercolours that granulate and have multiple layers of colour., and remembering that it’ll lift up unlike acrylics.