Does This Painting Need “More Sunshine”?

This painting has been in “pondering mode” for a few weeks now as I’ve contemplated where to take it, whether to go further into shadow with backlit trees (more true to the location in autumn) or “add more sunshine”.? I know, artistic license and all that, but the shadows of low autumnal sunshine is one of the beautiful things about this location; then again it was the single, bright yellow tree with its autumnal leaves which caught my eye that day.

Only certainties are that the painting is not where I want it to be (yet) and that I’m inhibited by how much I like parts of it, such as the yellow tree, the river stones at the bottom. What I suspect I’m going to do:

  • Deepen the darks, using perylene green and Prussian blue
  • Add some white-rippled water in the stream, on the left-hand edges of the rocks in the water and at the edge of the bank
  • Glaze over the sky to make it feel less disjointed, wiping off the paint where it goes over the tree trunks
  • Add “sunshine” to the trunks, river bank and stones, as if sunshine is coming from the top right

But perhaps I’ll contemplate it a little more first, and rather continue on some of my other works-in-progress.

Painting In Progress: The Little Yellow Tree
Work in Progress.
Size 1x1m.

Giving Colours Names is the Artist’s Equivalent of Wine Tasting

One of the myriad of ways we can advance artistically is to increase our awareness of the colours in the world around us, to pick out individual aspects and, more importantly, to have a way of remembering them. The task is a little bit like that faced by wine tasters who have to be able to identify or critique a particular wine from the little indications they encounter in taste. They develop a special vocabulary that matches up particular flavours to names they not only can recall, but can use when talking to others.

Colour Chart Watercolour
An old colour chart of all the watercolour colours we had at the time.

The first step to gaining a vocabulary of colours is to get hold of as many Colour Charts as possible. Preferably those hand painted with the manufacturer’s actual colours rather than something printed, or worse, viewed on your computer (when last did you calibrate your screen, if ever?). Look at them regularly, and pay particular attention to where companies have used the same name for slightly different colours. The pigment information will enable you to compare like with like. You’ll need to decide for yourself which particular colour you are going to associate with what name.

Colour Chart Acrylics
A chart of Marion’s, done in the early 1990s for acrylic colours.

The next step is to use these colour names when you are looking at the world. Look at a bush and decide which colour greens. Look at the sea and the sky, and decide the particular colour blue, or grey, or green, you are seeing. The aim is to get to the stage where looking generates the names of specific paint colours in your mine e.g. “cerulean blue with a dark Prussian blue band on the horizon” rather than simply “blue sea”. (You can treat it like a game, and carry a suitable colour chart with you to check your accuracy. Holding your forefingers and thumbs together to create a tiny viewfinder will help you identify a colour in a small area.)

Finally, when you out sketching, rather than rely on colour matching with your watercolours, make a note of the particular colour you are seeing. Record how the changing light of the day causes the colours to vary; you can use this information to correct the time effects of plein air painting, or incorporate it into your choice of analogous colours when painting in with limited palette.
As you progress, you’ll find that you can differentiate between more and more shades of colour, developing a Nuanced Eye.

Know the name of the colour. Your name for that colour.

Monday Motivator: Add to the Spirit of the Landscape

Art motivational quote“Nature excites the imagination to representation. But one must add to this spirit of the landscape in order to help its pictorial quality. Your composition should indicate the more or less entire character of these trees, even though the exact number you have chosen would not accurately express the landscape.”
— Henri Matisse

Quoted in Sarah Stein’s Notes, 1908, in Matisse on Art by Jack D. Flam, page 45

Attempt to convey what interests you in that particular landscape, leave out what you haven’t paid attention to and emphasise what you respond to in it. Share the scene as seen through your eyes, your experience of it, not merely what it looks like. The latter has technical skill and information; the former has technical skill and poetry.

A (Visual) Slice of Today

The ever-changing light and weather of Skye are far more interesting than day after day of relentless brightness and heat. Today’s was no exception, and changed apace. (Forecast: gusts up to 50mph.)

Stormy December Day on Skye

Monday Motivator: Not Have Intentions, But Possibly Regrets

Monsieur P painting

Art motivational quote[The paintings] “deliberately invite viewers to slow their pace and to look closely …meaning is assembled from an unstable but fertile mixture of chance and memory”
— Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen, Head of The Courtauld Gallery


“Johns seems open to unexpected encounter, and in turn his art often provokes us to unexpected ways of seeing, thinking and feeling. …? Johns has always tried not to have intentions that act as a driving force of his art. Instead he simply begins and carries on working until something happens.”
— Barnaby Wright, curator

Quotes source: Jasper Johns, Regrets catalogue, published by The Courtauld Gallery, pages 5, 7/8

Jasper Johns’ Regrets series developed from a chance encounter he had with a reproduction in a Christie’s auction catalogue of a photo of a young Lucian Freud sitting on a bed in the Francis Bacon’s studio. I chanced upon the exhibition when at the Courtauld Gallery in London to see the Egon Schiele exhibition (more on that later this week). Like most people, I initially merely glanced at the Regrets paintings as I walked through the room where they were, intent on getting to Schiele, but am glad I did come back for a closer, slower look.

There are layers of meaning and symbolism that can be unpacked, on “themes of creativity, memory, reflection and mortality”, which the Courtauld catalogue (and I presume the MoMA catalogue) explains. About how in his process of exploring and transforming the photo in numerous experiments using oil, watercolour, pencil and ink he mirrored and doubled the original image, and in doing so, the form of a skull emerged in the centre of his new composition. This ?apparition? creates a reminder of death or memento mori at the heart of the works.

But I only found that out afterwards when I read the catalogue. What fascinated me was how the photo guided my interpretation of abstract paintings which, without this reference or anchor in reality, I probably wouldn’t have spent as much time look at. My favourite was an ink painting on plastic paper, and impact of this on the mark making which has ‘dissolved’ lines, spread shapes with soft edges. It was mesmerizing, my eyes moving from one shape to another, feeling the hand of the artist and the happy accident of the paper, getting lost in the pattern while simultaneously overlaying the photo in my mind, engaging imagination and intellect in that special way that painting does.

Studio Cat Not Impressed by Painting-in-Progress

While I’ve been working on a new big painting, 1×1 metres, studio cat Rascal has been sleeping on the storage heater. He’s a rather vocal cat who generally has a lot to say about what I’m doing (about everything, really), so it’s been blissfully quiet. The painting is inspired by the way the river in Uig turns and disappears, with the banks patterned by trees and shadows, where I was sketching again last week.

Painting-in-Progress: Studio Cat Not Impressed by Stream Progress

I’d done a few thumbnails sketches and pondered it quite a bit before I started sketching the composition on the composition. I tweaked it a bit with pencil, then took a pen to mark my final choice. (Added advantage: it also shows up in a photo! Added disadvantage: shows through transparent layers.)

Painting-in-Progress: Stream Sketch
It’s a minimal composition sketch, to serve as a reminder of an intended destination, not intended to set out the journey in detail.

Next up, lots of texture paste. I’m using Golden’s Light Molding Paste, which I like because it doesn’t shrink too much when it’s dried, it gives a more absorbent working surface and, as the name suggests, doesn’t add significant weight to the painting.

Painting-in-Progress: Stream Texture Paste
I leave texture paste to dry overnight. That way I don’t keep poking at it with a finger to see if it’s dry yet and don’t encounter the problem of painting away then suddenly hitting a spot where it wasn’t fully dry.

First colour on once the paste had dried, Prussian blue. My plan was to be painting dark to light for the first few rounds with this painting. Where it is in the top photo is where I stopped to wait for it to dry completely before resuming. Still a long way to go, but I’m pleased with the sense of the water flowing past rocks in the stream. It’s perhaps a bit too turbulent a flow, but that could be calmed down with some glazing. Tomorrow’s job is to decide whether to or not.

Painting-in-Progress: Stream Texture First Paint Colour
The dark area was painted with from-the-tube paint. The lighter blue was thinned with water and glazing medium and allowed to run down a little into the dark blue.

She Sees Trees

Coming back from Gardenstown, there was a stretch (between Fochabers and Cullen, I think; certainly before Elgin) where I felt like I’d driven into one of Klimt’s forest paintings.

Not Klimt's Woodland
Not Klimt’s Woodland

Not that a plain pine plantation can’t be inspiring too; this was taken yesterday along the path from Aros, Portree.

Light and shadow in Plantation Trees, Portree
Plantation Trees, Portree

From there I went into the woodland at Uig, and sketched alongside the river. It’s the location that inspired my “Summer Glow” painting. My fingers are now itching to paint this autumnal tree with the dark reflected trees.

Sketching the river at Uig, Isle of Skye
Reflections, ripples, autumnal colours…
Sketching at the River in Uig, Skye
My location notes

Sketchbook page from river at Uig, Skye

Monday Motivator: Focus on the Core not the Outline

Monsieur P Artiste Monday Motivator from Marion Boddy-Evans Isle of Skye art Studio

Art motivational quote“The Greeks don’t start from the outline, they start from the centres, from the cores. …

“This question — Millet draws like that too — more than anyone else — is perhaps the root of all figure painting — is extremely closely related to modelling by drawing directly with a brush — conceived totally differently from Bouguereau and others, who lack interior modelling, are flat compared with G?ricault and Delacroix, and who don’t go beyond the paint.”

— Vincent van Gogh, letter to Theo, c.28 January 1886

This week’s challenge: Going beyond what you know you can do into the as-yet-unknown yonder. Or put more plainly: try something new, whether it’s an approach, subject, or medium.

At the End of Day 5: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop

Day five of Alan McGowan‘s “Life Drawing into Life Painting” workshop saw us start with four five-minute poses, followed by three 10-minute poses, an hour pose, and the long afternoon pose. We were free to choose which medium/technique we wanted to use and what we worked on. I put acrylic onto A2 cartridge paper to use with graphite, solvent and titanium white, something I really enjoyed when we tried it on the first day.

I did all four of the five-minute poses on one sheet; it eliminates the need to change paper and as I suspected model Michael shifted from one pose to the next without a break. Tricky part is composition, as you’ve no idea what the poses may be.

Four Five-Minute Life Paintings
Four five-minute paintings on acrylic-primed A2. Worked from right to left, using graphite stick, solvent, and titanium white. (Photo is a bit too blue.)

It’s amazing how much longer 10 minutes feel at the end of week’s focused life painting than at the beginning.

Day 5: 10 Minute Painting
The drawing back in with graphite of the hand has gone a bit wobbly elongated Egon Schiele-ish.

Day 5: 10 Minute Painting

After these, an hour-long pose with a break after 30 minutes. I wanted to move away from the desaturated colours I’d been using in the long afternoon pose. Parts work for me, others not, but I was left feeling that with more time I would indeed have resolved more.

One Hour Life Painting

In the afternoon, I wanted to try another, again with more saturated colours, rather than continuing my long-pose painting from the previous afternoons. Not that I consider it finished, but I felt I could learn more by painting something else, trying things that painting wasn’t. Alan resolved the eye (middle photo), showing me (again) how to carve out the sense of the deep socket the eye sits in, the planes around the eye, nose and chin. Ever so helpful being able to watch it develop stroke by stroke, colour by colour. Another valuable thing he reminded me about was the light on the two anatomical landmarks on the arm, which help a lot in the sense of form changing direction in space. The joy of life painting: it’s all in front of you, it’s merely (!) looking and decisive placing of a brushstroke.

Longer pose life painting
The afternoon’s painting, oils on acrylic-primed (white + Prussian blue) A2 paper.

Notes to myself:
— Colour and tonal changes on planes.
— Eye sits deep in socket.
— Watch distance to farside brow.
— Drips can be problematic if running from face. Especially watch out for drip from end of nose.
— Instead of trying to paint thin tonal change on nose, paint broad and then cut back in with background.
— With a relatively dark ground, if left exposed it’ll read as an edge.

At the End of Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4
What I Found Walking Along the Seashore at Gardenstown
Wirework: Memories of a Walk on Gardenstown Beach
Lost Your Marbles?
Photos: In Gardenstown (afternoon before art workshop)
Photos: Walking on the Beach at Gardenstown

At the End of Day 4: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop

Day four of Alan McGowan‘s “Life Drawing into Life Painting” workshop saw us start with two 10-minute charcoal drawings, followed by a 20-minute one, then onto some colour theory and a painting with a palette to which magenta and cyan were added, followed by the long post in the afternoon again.

Charcoal Life Drawing
Two 10-minute drawings. First, on the left, has its moments. Second, on the right, went all angular and stiff.
Charcoal Life Drawing
Third charcoal drawing, lying down pose, 20 minutes.

I added magenta and cyan to my palette for the long pose, for purples in shadows, as contrast to the yellow light. But overall stayed with mostly desaturated colours. It’d be great to have another week to work this pose again, with the same colours on my palette but used more saturated.

Long pose life drawing
There’s a long way it could still go, and perhaps the colours and too desaturated, but I had a lot of enjoyment working on this long post painting. I’m feeling much more aware of warm/cool colours and colour (de)saturation than before this week.
My position in the studio
My position in the studio. Painting on easel is the long-pose one; on floor is this morning’s study. Palette is on a high barstool, so at a good working height.
My working oil painting palette
My palette at the end of the afternoon. Colours: burnt sienna, golden ochre, magenta, cyan, Payne’s grey, mixed titanium and zinc white. Plus a tiny dab of cadmium yellow.

Notes to myself:
— Highlights in reflected (indirect) light will never be as high in tone as highlights in direct light. The difference is crucial for getting sense of body turning in space.
— Range of colours produced by limited palette. When adding additional colours, consider what it’ll produce when mixed with what already using, whether it’s close to colours you’ve already got or opening new areas. E.g. with palette palette of muted primaries: burnt sienna (?red?), golden ochre (?yellow?), and Payne?s grey (“blue”) adding magenta introduces purples and cyan increases greens.
— With highly saturated colours, such as Matisse used, tone of the colour is still fundamental.
— Use the background to focus on negative space around the body and between sections, to carve in more accurate shapes.
— Check tone of background and put it in relatively early so it doesn’t distract the eye. (Look at “background” beneath stool above.)
— Use 50:50 mix of zinc:titanium white for a white with properties of both (transparent:opaque) akin to properties of lead white.
— Consider and cross check overall shape of figure, e.g. triangle from head to hands to feet.

At the End of Day 1: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop
At the End of Day 2: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop
At the End of Day 3: Life Drawing into Painting Workshop
What I Found Walking Along the Seashore at Gardenstown
Wirework: Memories of a Walk on Gardenstown Beach
Lost Your Marbles?
Photos: In Gardenstown (afternoon before art workshop)
Photos: Walking on the Beach at Gardenstown