Reading: “Kyffin Williams: The Light and the Dark”

This monograph covers the sixty-odd years Kyffin Williams painted. Expect lots of moody Welsh landscapes, but also portraits (including bright red military uniforms), linocuts, drawings, and watercolours. The reproductions enable you to clearly see the texture of his impasto, knife-painting style and visualise individual strokes. The accompanying text is an engaging and accessible read about his painting, influences, and life.
• “Kyffin Williams: The Light and the Dark” is published by Lund Humphries

Monday Motivator: Intensively vs Extensively

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote
Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

” … reading “intensively” [was] the common practice of most readers before the nineteenth century, when books, which were scarce and expensive, were often read aloud and many times over. As reading materials—not just books, but newspapers, magazines, and ephemera—proliferated, more recent centuries saw the rise of reading “extensively”: we read these materials once, often quickly, and move on.”

Mairead Small Staid, Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction, The Paris Review, 8 Feb 2019

I have favourite fiction books I have read many times, favourite films/series I have watched many times, and favourite reference books. Wearing my non-fiction editor hat, I read things at least three times, first for the gist, second to line-edit, third to check my edit. Maybe it’s inevitable that I revisit subjects and locations to paint them time and again, looping around and coming back to things with myself being the variable not the constant.

Random fact: “Extense” is an archaic word. “Intense” we still use.

Photos: Late Afternoon Walk in Uig Woodland

The sun was in that stage on its was towards the horizon when things become golden as I wandered in the Uig Woodland this afternoon. Because the trees don’t have leaves at the moment, a sliver of sun reaches the river by the gate.

The sun’s shimmer on the river made me think of my “Summer Glow” painting which was inspired by this spot and has lots of iridescent paint on it. Time to dig that out again.
Not the rolling stones
When I walked back past these stones the light was even moodier
Rule of thirds
I was mesmerized by the reflections in this puddle, stepping back and forth looking at  all the composition possibilities
I think my favourite is this with lots of the dried stems in the foreground
Looking towards Uig Pier as I walked around to the gate
On my way back; it wasn’t this dark, camera light reading was set on the sun so it silhouettes the foreground

Monet The Garden Paintings Exhibition

The Kunstmuseum Den Haag currently has a Monet exhibition centred around the restoration of their wisteria painting by him (info here). They’ve also produced this documentary which I enjoyed watching. (And an exhibition catalogue that has me repeating to myself: “don’t need another book on Monet, don’t need…“)

Claude Monet in front of his home in Giverny (detail), 1921 Autochrome, 18 x 24 cm, Musée d’Orsay.
Agence Rol (1904-1937), Claude Monet in his studio, 1926, gelatin silver print, 18 x 13 cm, Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF), Paris
Claude Monet (1840-1926), Wisteria, 1917-1920, oil on canvas, 150,5 x 200,5 cm, Kunstmuseum Den Haag.

Monday Motivator: Assume You Don’t Need It

Monday motivator art quotes

Monday motivator art quotes

” …you can take the first draft of any poem and improve it 80% by lopping off the first and last stanzas.

“… with the first stanza we are struggling to get the creative juices flowing; by the end of the poem we are so enamored with what we are doing that we don’t want to stop

“… what do we agonize over most when writing a piece?  The first sentence, the first paragraph, the first scene.  Jump in, don’t worry about it; assume you’ll throw this part out when you revise, anyway.”

— John Lehman, Like Melting Ice, quoting an observation by Rod Jellema

Taking this into drawing and painting, I think it is: jump in and start anywhere; include less (in the composition and detail); stop sooner.

My First Long Video

It took an entire afternoon to upload on my single-track broadband (fibre currently ends three miles down the road), but eventually it did. So cue the dramatic music, my very first long video is a now available to rent (watch online) or buy (watch and download) here.

It’s 27 minutes long, featuring me painting this month’s project and “thinking aloud” about what I’m doing. It’s like watching me do a demo in a workshop. (And being on Vimeo rather than YouTube it’s advert-free.)

All my current Patreon subscribers should have received an email with a code to watch it for free; check your spam filters if you haven’t. If you beome a subscriber (on any tier) by 15 January 2020, you’ll also be sent a VIP code. Find out more here…

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, go here…)

Do I get bonus points for ticking something off my to-do list before it’s even fortnight into 2020? Thoughts and comments appreciated, as always.

Project Photo Gallery: Highland Cows

I think this project photo gallery really shows how it’s our individual preferences and interpretations that make us paint familiar things differently, keeping things interesting both for ourselves and others. (It feels somewhat like a continuation of the topic of my last Monday Motivator of 2019: Subject Isn’t the Most Important Part.) Enjoy!

By Cathi: “A pencil rendering. I love drawing and think that pencil is so often overlooked.”

From Marion: It’s a subject that lends itself to pencil. I agree that in my enjoyment of colour I often overlook the joy of pure pencil.
By Cathi. Ink and watercolour with fabric collage.

From Marion: That quirky bit of fabric works so well — the black-line design on it echoes your ink cow without dominating; it anchors the cow whilst leading my eye across and upwards as I realise it’s not an abstract pattern but flowers.
By Erika: “1. I didn’t like the background.”
From Marion: I think the background’s too calm compared to the strong texture on the cow. Or maybe there’s just too much of it — possibly crop the top and side so the cow dominates the space.
By Erika: “2. Timid and waiting…”
By Erika: 3. Because of “artistic abuse” of canvas, the paint wanted to puddle, no matter, how much medium I used – so I let it puddle. Materials used: paper, acrylic paint and a cut-up vegetable brush.

From Marion: I think this cow is the most successful as it’s got more variation of colour in it and it feels as if it’s sitting in the landscape rather than on it.
By Eddie: “This is ten minutes with a brush and Indian ink. I decided to just go for it and see what happened.”
From Marion: Working wet into wet with ink is very much “go for it” territory, and then trying to repeat “happy accidents”.
By Eddie. Pen, brush and watercolour pencils.
From Marion: There’s a joyous energy to the pen mark making that not only creates the cows but also a sense of rain.
By Eddie: “I did try mussing up the cow’s hair as you suggested but I think the whole thing is overworked.” Pastel.
By Eddie: I went with your advice about scale changing everything. This is 65x45cm. and I like it a lot better. I was surprised to find that the background caused me more difficulty than the cow.
From Marion: It could be because you’d painted various cows just before this and had consolidated all that into what you’d do next. Love the colours, depth, and energy in the mark making.

These are the cows I painted in December:

By Marion. Oils. 8×10″. The colours got a bit murky and I might still glaze some orange over the cow’s coat to liven things up a bit.
Highland cow painting
By Marion. Oil paint applied with a palette knife over an underpainting in acrylics. I feel the right-hand horn got too wide towards the top, but the oil paint wouldn’t scratch off what is quite an “grabby” surface (clear gesso on wood) and I couldn’t overpaint it with the blue without it mixing. I might fix it once it’s dry, or I might find it doesn’t bother me when I look at it again with fresh eyes.
Highland cow painting in ink
By Marion.Acrylic ink on A2 watercolour paper. I drew horns, earsn, face, and outline of the body with a rigger brush, then used a dry flat brush to spread out some of it
Highland cow painting
By Marion. Mixed media (acrylics and oil pastel) on watercolour paper. I started this with an ink drawing, then layered on top, ultimately with oil pastel.

Monday Motivator: Skill or Talent?

Monday motivator art quotes“Being jealous of talents that are actually skills is a great way to let yourself off the hook and make yourself miserable at the same time.”
Seth Godin, One way to think about talent

“If even one person is able to learn it, if even one person is able to use effort and training to get good at something, it’s a skill.
Seth Godin, Skills vs. talents

Would you hold a cello for the first time and expect to be Jaqueline du Pré playing Elgar?

Did she ever stopped practising? Was she the only musician able to play that composition? There are many performances, all the same notes, all different.

So why pick up a watercolour brush and expect to instantly be Beatrix Potter?

Don’t deny yourself the journey that learning to paint is. The sights and sounds of the road, ups and downs, the sought-after and the serendipitous.

January 2020 Project Instructions: Iona Shore

This month’s project features a technique as well as a subject — painting with a knife, using a reference photo I took on Iona last summer as a starting point. Iona is a much-painted island with turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and jaggered dark rocks; famous for its abbey. (Click on the photo to get a larger version.)

Iona near the ferry, looking towards the Isle of Mull.

A painting knife gives quite different marks to a brush, and is ideal for mixing colours together on a painting itself to give visually intriguing results. For the sake of this painting project, the whole painting need not be created using a knife, but mark making with a knife must be evident. Don’t think knives are for oils or acrylics only; they create interesting results with watercolour too.

The fundamental technique of knife painting is the same as you use for spreading jam on bread: you pick up some jam (paint) and spread it as thickly or thinly as you desire; if there’s butter (other wet paint) on the bread, it will mix in depending on how much pressure you apply. Tapping at the surface with the knife, either flat or on an edge, gives different marks again. And if it all goes horribly wrong, you simply scrape it all off and start again.

There are many different shapes of painting knives available. My favourite has long been this one with a longish flat edge and a sharp point that is perfect for scratching into paint (in artspeak: sgraffito). If you don’t have one, a piece of stiff card or plastic will do a similar job , though a knife has the advantage of being comfortable to hold in the hand and a degree of ‘bounce’ in the metal).

The Scottish Colourists Samuel Peploe and Francis Cadell often painted on Iona in summer. Contemporary Scottish painter Frances MacDonald continues the tradition, saying on her website that “she finds delight in the juxtaposition of angular rock and white sand. Her use of the palette knife creates a dynamism and animation in each painting, She works her paint across the canvas in angular lines; her assured marks arrived at through careful elimination of aesthetic non-essentials.” For online catalogues of her paintings, see the Scottish Gallery‘s website here and here (click on ‘view catalogue’ link on the pages). Another artist to look at for knife painting is Kyffin Williams (read my blog here).

To have your painting included in the project gallery, email me a photo on
ideally with a few sentences about it (think of the things you might say when talking to a friend about it). I’ll post photos with first names only, unless you ask me otherwise.

Happy painting!

The Knife Painting of Kyffin Williams

Kyffin Williams (1918–2006) was a Welsh artist who mostly painted with a knife. Slatherings of oil paint, using a limited palette of muted colours and black outlines. His paintings range from minimalist and quite abstract to landscapes full of suggested detail as well as portraits. My favourites are his sheepdogs and seascapes, plus his stone walls.

You can browse a collection of 300-odd paintings on Art UK and many more, plus drawings and sketches, on the National Library of Wales’ centenary website.

Williams, Kyffin; Self Portrait; Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales;
Williams, Kyffin; Coastal Sunset; Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales;
Williams, Kyffin; Welsh Sheepdog; Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales;
Williams, Kyffin; The Way to the Cottages; Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru / The National Library of Wales;

There’s a BBC documentary (“The Man Who Painted Wales”) on Kyffin Williams; if you look on YouTube you might find more clips.