Monday Motivator: Is This a Stupid Question?

Monday motivator art quotes

“Asking questions means you want to learn. You want to understand and know. So where do you start? Anywhere you want. But don’t feel pressure to begin with the big questions… There is a significant amount to be learned from the seemingly mundane ones, questions that seem so basic, once we reach about age 12 we no longer bother asking them—because we either think we know the answer or are afraid of admitting we don’t.”
Farnham Street, The Power of Questions

A question is a recognition of something we don’t know. Knowing what we don’t know is crucial to learning.

How can we know what we don’t know if we don’t know we don’t know? By knowing what we know can never be complete. By remaining curious.

And asking those “stupid questions” regardless of our fear of looking stupid because we’re assuming other people already all know something, which is rarely the case. What we’re really doing is hoping the person we’re asking will be able to explain and teach us, to share in learning. That’s not stupid.

I love questions because they make me see things from different angles, increase my understanding, and help me in my writing and teaching.

Perhaps the only truly stupid question is the tautological “Can I ask a question?”.

Monday Motivator: What Green is Green?

Monday motivator art quotes

“…what we consider knowledge is more of a general social agreement on a somewhat consistent comprehension of the things before us. For example, we appreciate that the color green can be perceived differently by various people, but we organize our language based on a general understanding of the color green without worrying about the particular experience of green that any individual may have.”
— Farnham Street, “Epistemology: How do You Know that You Know what You Know?

What green do you consider your core green? For me it’s not a tube green but a mix of cadmium yellow with whatever blue I’ve been using (and I’m more likely to have used blue before I get to green when I’m painting with acrylics).

And one of my favourite colour questions: is turquoise a green or is it a blue? The in-house art critic says green, I say blue; we’ve agreed to disagree.

Vivid green seaweed

Keeping My Cool with Warm and Cool

Nearly a year on from my blog on not using warm and cool as I paint, I’ve been looking at warm and cool again, in anticipation of a portrait painting workshop I’m going on. I started on a random empty page in my sketchbook — the lefthand page — with a little of each colour I had decided to take with me:

The right-hand page is ‘thinking notes’ from when I was doing my Colour workbook.

Then I had a go at organising the colours into cool and warm by instinct, and getting it muddled by having different criteria in a what was meant to be a binary chart (eg an orange may feel cooler than other oranges but it’s always a warm):

Next the in-house art critic and I had a long discussion about which were what, over coffee. Then I found Gamblin’s comprehensive list and had another go:

It still leaves the question: why do I put cool on the left and warm on the right?

Next I’m going to have another read of colour temperature on Handprint and see if I can internalise more of it.

All of this so I can divide the colours into warm dark (for cast shadows), cool dark (for form shadows), warm light (for direct light) and cool light (for indirect light) whilst trying to paint a likeness. Time to remind myself about why it’s good to get out of our artistic comfort zone!

Painting Project Photo Gallery: Portree Harbour

One of the reasons I chose Portree harbour as the subject for September’s painting project was to motivate myself to paint it. It’s a very distinctive location, with its line of colourful buildings along the shore and the tree-covered hillside and Gathering Hall behind. It’s a complicated subject to paint because there’s so much going on, not least all that architecture. I’m sure the paintings in this photo gallery will inspire you to give it a go if you haven’t already.

First up is Robb, who I met as a painter through the projects and forum of Painting.About.com. Over the past few years Robb’s been focusing on his ceramics, but has now combined both in this pictorial tile:

By Robb: Thanks for the inspiration! My ceramic rendition of Portree on tile form. I used a mid-fire clay, creating multiple layers from the tree line to the quay. The glaze is an under-glaze, left on “over glazed” because I like the matt finish of the under glaze.

From Marion: Exciting to see you combining your painting and ceramics!
By Shirley: “It doesn’t resemble your photo project for September but at least it got me painting which I can’t find much time to do anymore.”

From Marion: “The photo is but a starting point, and the end result doesn’t have to resemble it. Just by getting you painting again, the project has done its job!
By Bee: A rather a quick attempt at September’s subject.

From Marion: A fineliner pen gives a consistent width of mark, which I think suits the subject, adding a sense of rigid, solid bricks and mortar and tile. With just enough wobble to some of the lines to give it personality.
By Bee: Watercolour and pen. Realise now I should have put more trees behind the meeting hall and toned down the end of the church.

From Marion: I agree about lightening the tone on the church and its belltower, possibly reducing the latter in size a bit. Then the trees bhind will read as having mist slowly lifting as the day warms.
By Mark: My efforts this month. I found this quite hard.

From Marion: Is is a hard subject as there’ a lot in the scene and a lot of architecture in it. I think you’ve done it justice in both your paintings!
By Mark:
By Claire: “A scene I have always wanted to paint but unable to reconcile loose and expressive with all those straights! I have tilted my painting to make the harbour appear horizontal and I would like to make the trees and large hall less dominant or more abstract. This my reworked painting, my attempt to knock back the trees and stop the Gathering hall ‘looming’ to much after Marion’s advice ”

From Marion: “I like the loose line work on the harbour wall behind the boat. It adds visual intrigue, dances my eye along, and changes the pace from the water and buildings above.”
By Eddie: Inspired by a recent watercolour plein air course I decided I had time to do a fairly quick watercolour version. It looked a bit anaemia so I decided to add some pen work as well.

From Marion: I think the addition of the pen helps bring the foreground closer, sitting well with the stronger colour.
By Eddie: Mixed media
By Eddie: Mixed media
Line drawing of Portree Harbour
By Cathy: Continuous line (almost). All that fabulous perspective so let’s make it a bit more difficult This totally supports the theory that you don’t need to be totally accurate to get a feel for the place. Lost count of the doors and windows and drew a line at including all the cars! Not sure whether to add a suggestion of the colours in the buildings or not. Think I probably will add just a hint of colour.
(See this blog post)
By Cathi, with colour added

I had several attempts, some more successful than others. This is the one that pleased me most from a “trying to do something different” point of view.

This was the end result of my first attempt (see video) after I added some oil pastel


And last, but not least, a submission inspired by August’s Tall Trees photo from Lorraine, who says she was “playing with ink”:

A Spot on My November Higham Hall Workshop

Higham Hall art workshops with Marion Boddy-Evans

A spot has opened up on my November workshop at Higham Hall due to cancellation.

It’s near Cockermouth in the English Lake District, in a characterful building with a beautiful garden. My workshop runs from 6:30pm supper on Thursday 7th November to breakfast on Tuesday 12 November.

Expect: exercises exploring the techniques I use, painting time and demos, plus open time in the afternoon if you want to explore the area or have a nap (I’ll be in the studio or garden).

Contact Higham Hall on 01768 776276. Assisted places info here.

Project Instructions: Camus Mor Rocks

Camus Mor on the Isle of Skye

For this month’s painting project we’re at Camus Mor on the northwestern tip of the Trotternish Peninsula on Skye for a scene with a foreground of large rocks, a middle distance of pebbles, and a green hillside at the back.

Camus Mor on the Isle of Skye

For me it lends itself to a composition focused on the rocks and pebbles, that lends itself to expressive mark making and textures, to abstracted with its feet in realism. The different colours, sizes and shapes in the rocks.

One of the compositional choices would be whether to include the sky and hillside at all. There’s the enticement of reflected colour in the sea — blue from the sky and greens from the hill. Plus the line of colour of the washed-up seaweed on the high-tide mark. And the echo of green between the foreground seaweed and the hillside.

There’s a lot going on in this scene, so consider whether you’re going to focus in or go wide and include it all. This is view to the right, with the whole of the hillside:

Camus Mor on the Isle of Skye

And here’s some video I took at this location. Add a soundtrack of waves lapping and pebbles rolling, and the feeling of little breeze tickling your hair.

With the greys and browns, it’s a chance to use a blue + orange + white recipe as this produces a range of interesting browns and greys that harmonize together because they’re all based on a mix of same colours. If this is new to you, maybe try cadmium orange + phthalo blue. To get light tones, you’ll need a good lump of white.

A perylene green (or black) will give you the strong darks, and mixed with yellow it’ll produce a range of earthy greens.


I’ve painted this location quite a few times over the years, most recently using granulating watercolour, which I’m enjoying for the sense of texture it gives. See:

Monday Motivator: Allow Creativity Twice As Much Time

Monday motivator art quotes

‘Leave yourself twice as much time as you think you need for a project, knowing that half of that may not look like “making” anything at all …creativity is unpredictable, and it simply takes time.

‘…When I am bird watching, a favorite pastime that is, strictly speaking, “unproductive,” I have noticed that my perception of time slows down. All of my attention is collected into a single focal point, kept there by fascination and genuine, almost unaccountable interest. This is the experience of learning that I want…’

Jenny Odell, Can We Slow Down Time in the Age of TikTok?, New York Times, 31 August 2019

Doing “nothing” is doing something.

Stuck in an Artistic Rut

Sheep by Anton Mauve

If you’ve heard of the artist Anton Mauve it’s possibly as I did, as someone who gave Vincent van Gogh painting lessons rather than for his own art. Mauve was also a cousin by marriage, which makes me wonder how much he was ‘persuaded’ by the family into doing so. He gets many mentions in Van Gogh’s letters even though their parting was acrimonious (read: letter to Theo, May 1882).

I came across this page of sheep studies by Mauve while browsing the collection of The Cleveland Museum of Art. (Yes, I really do put “sheep” into the image search on museum websites!)

Anton Mauve sheep studies
Studies of Sheep, second half 1800s. Anton Mauve (Dutch, 1838-1888). Black and white chalk, with red chalk; sheet: 32.5 x 45.5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art

Click on the photo to see the full-size image, and look for the touches of red, on noses, in ears, around eyes. I particularly like the sense of light catching through the use of white.

It’s also reminded me to paint some pages in my sketchbook a mid-tone, rather than always working from light (white paper).

My Thoughts on My Watercolour Rocks

Watercolour of rocks

As all location painting should, I started by just sitting staring out to sea. The warmer the sunshine, the longer this stage tends to last.

Sitting at the sea side

Then getting out my supplies: sheets of watercolour paper, clips to hold these down, my watercolour set, container for water, box with drawing supplies and longer box with bottles of fluid watercolour (also known as watercolour ‘ink). I’m hoping not to drop anything off the left-hand edge of the wall, because it’d be quite a scramble to get to it.

Watercolour sketching in the sunshine

My first sketch of the day was the view to the left, of the headland and the pebble beach. I was trying to get a sense of the rocks and the colours of the seaweed on it. The direction of the sea as it comes into the bay isn’t right — it doesn’t turn this sharply — but I didn’t feel like fixing it as I’d lose the white and overwork it.

Watercolour of rocks

I then shifted my focus closer to where I was sitting, the jumble of larger rocks with the puddles of green weed.

Watercolour of rocks

I was pleased with the painting above, and decided to try again with a wider view. As so often happens, I was then trying too hard, hindered by what I’d just done, and ended up with a displeasing result. It lacks the strength of the previous painting, and feels insipid, unresolved, confused. If I crop off the sides, I’m less unhappy, but I consider this a dud.

Watercolour of rocks

This was the other dud of the last, the very last painting I did, though this one might still be rescued if I add something that pulls the sea and shore together. And also crop.

Watercolour of rocks

This was my favourite painting from the session. The rocks were painted with Daniel Smith’s Lunar Black, a strongly granulating colour.

Watercolour of rocks
Watercolour of rocks

I then did a version using Daniel Smith Hematite Genuine, which goes from deep dark to browns depending on how diluted and mixed it is, plus some Lunar Black. I like the colour, but I’ve rounded the rocks as I concentrated on the colour rather than shapes.

Watercolour of rocks
Watercolour of rocks

I’ve kept the expanse of sea ‘white’ as part of my ongoing exploration of white space inspired by the little I know of the traditions of Chinese painting. It’s ever so tempting to paint colour in that space, but that’ll change it completely. Also, I find the granulating colours lift very easily, so you’ve got to have a light hand painting over them. Given I was using a stiff acrylic brush not a soft ‘proper’ watercolour brush, that’d be near impossible, thus removing the temptation to try.

Monday Motivator: Colour an Inferior Element of Art?

Monday motivator art quotes
Monday motivator art quotes

“For centuries [colour] had been considered inferior in the hierarchy of the elements of art. By the end of the eighteenth century, however, colour had become a standard element in aesthetic discourse, teaching and academic publications

“… The influence of Newton and his followers, combined with the invention of many new pigments as well as watercolours in moist cake form, had made painting with colour an exciting occupation not just for serious artists but also for a much wider audience. The colour revolution had begun.”

Alexandra Loske, in “Colour: A Visual History”, p13