The Tale of Two Allium Paintings

Sitting in friends’ garden in southern Scotland, I kept coming back to the purples in one border, particularly the alliums, which are one of my favourites. These were about twice the size of the ones in my garden.

So I moved a table a little closer and got out some paper and my watercolours.

A blank sheet of paper hold such possibilities and dreams, with the potential to go right or awry from the start, for things to flow or require persistence.

I started with mixing colours that I thought would give me “allium purples”. The darker swirly marks in the photo above are where I indented the paper with the brush handle while the paint was still wet; the paint accumulates in the dents and thus is darker.

For the foliage I used some of the greens that dry as a varied colour from Daniel Smith — Undersea Green and Serpentine Green — and again scratchd into the still-wet paint, this time to create a sense of the stems. Overall it wasn’t working for me, so I introduced some pen and then coloured pencil.

The photo below is where I stopped.

I decided to have another attempt, aiming for the sense of delicateness of alliums and the space within them. I thought splattering paint might do this, so tore a stencil in a piece of watercolour paper, hoping the rough edges would give an organic or softer edge.

I tried to avoid inadvertent pattern repositioning the stencil and not worrying about paint that flicked off the sides.

I then torn a strip to use for the edge of the stem, running the brush in a series of short sideways strokes off it.

I also flicked a little of the green within the purples, as you do see it in the flowers.

I am very happy with this second attempt, with the colour variation, the feeling of openess and movement, and even the unintended bits of purples (middle towards the bottom) don’t bother me (being watercolour I could probably remove it). It’s an approach I will try again at some point.

May’s Painting Project Gallery: Stormy Camus Mor

Moody clouds, showers darkening the sky, and determined waves marching onto the shore, that’s what May’s painting project has inspired. Thank you to everyone who’s shared their paintings and shown me a favourite part of my world through different eyes. Enjoy!

By Lynn: First one that I’ve sent. I was encouraged by your last couple of posts on being more free and don’t worry about the results. I started great, then hated it… then added too much color, then not enough and finally ended up with the final scene, which I like. There are lots of layers on this canvas! I found myself more caught up in the feelings of the sky and the feeling of the water. Thank you for all the encouragement. I updated my sky with patch of blue in top left corner, and love my painting as it is.

From Marion: Thanks for sharing your painting, and I hope it’ll be the first of many. For me it’s very much got the moodiness of the location on the day the reference photo was taken, and the layers of paint enhance the sense of the heaviness of the weather. Focusing on the enjoyment of the process and the materials I’m using is how I like to paint, heading towards an idea but not being entirely sure of the route by which I will (might) get there.
By Eddie: “I have tried to make the corrections you suggested and think they have improved the picture. I added some rain as I have heard it sometimes happens in the west of Scotland.”

From Marion: I think it’s working beautifully now, the sense of a passing shower, the movement on the water, and the houses giving a sense of scale.
By Bee: Acrylic on cardboard, I think I have got the sky a bit dark.

From Marion:I don’t think the sky is too dark, it’s stormy weather after all. What I think it wants is to come down further, to feel connected to the landscape rather than floating above it. I’d join the two semi-circles on the leftmost section of the sky, and bring a rainshower down out of the rightmost bit, angling it to the right (not vertical). Although this risks taking the viewer’s eye off the composition, it’ll git with the direction of movement in the forground vegetation and the waves coming onto the shore.
From Bee: “Here is another go at this month’s picture, ink ,and a bit of water colour, very loose or abstract.”

From Marion: Your pulling out of the essence of the scene — the colours and movement — has created a painting that I find absorbing, that encourages my brain to fill in details and anticipate the movement of the water onto the shore. The curves i.e. top right in the land, echoed by the sea and strong line of black, give a sense of the shape of the landscape, saying a lot with little. A seemingly simple painting that’s hard to do!
By Bee: I have tried this month’s picture in watercolour as well. I think It is a bit weak.

From Marion: If I look at it with the reference photo in mind, then I’d agree that it doesn’t feel stormy enough. But if I look at it as a painting on its own, and ultimately that’s how paintings are considered, then it feels like a mild autumn day at Camus Mor and not weak at all.

I had two goes at this painting project. The first was mixed media, starting with acrylics and ending with oil pastel (see this step-by-step blog).

My second painting I did because looking at the photos I took during the painting of my first I realised how much I enjoyed it at the Payne’s grey and yellow stage. It’s a long way from the stormy scene in the project’s reference photo, but would never have happened if I hadn’t done the first painting.

Acrylic ink on watercolour paper, size 60x84cm (A1)

Monday Motivator: Set Your Drawing Up For Success

“If you have only recently started to draw, then try to avoid symmetrical machine-made objects if possible, Your drawings of them will probably be inhibited, and they will tend to signal that you have failed to master their precise symmetry.

“…choose objects that are flexible, and give license to make mistakes without it making a great deal of difference.”

“Drawing Projects” by Nick Maslen and Jack Southern, page 44

As an example of not-quite-symmetrical objects, take a look at your fingers. I can, at times, get perhaps-too-absorbed looking at the differences between the two sides of a finger (looking at them with my palm down) and between fingers. The most symmetrical are my forefingers; the least my middle and there the lefthand one skews at the top joint . Ultimately a drawing of my hand just needs to feel plausible, and most of all enjoyed in the making thereof.

Photos: In Edinburgh

A chance to visit a small exhibition of Joan Eardley‘s paintings and catch up with friends, how could I resist?

Monday Motivator: Painting a Memory Landscape

“When I need a break from whatever project I’m working on, I often like to paint small. And I like to paint from memory.

“A small piece painted from memory doesn’t ask for detail. It simply asks for shapes and contours and changes in value.

“For me, as a landscape painter, it asks me to remember impressions, the way I felt in a place. I can invent the color and the way the light moves across these imagined landscapes. Trees grow where I want them to grow and I get to decide what time of day it is.”

Lyn Asselta, Saturdays at the Cove, 1 May 2021

June 2021 Painting Project: Palette of a Place

This painting project is about the colours of a specific place, whether it’s a landscape or an interior, a favourite stretch of beach, path, or corner of a city or room. It’s about observation and recording what we’ve noticed, using this to create a “Palette of a Place”.

Think of it as creating a visual dictionary or colours swatches for a place, which might be large or small. Building a palette of colours that could be used for a studio painting at a later date, but the focus right now is about slowing down and paying attention to individual elements in a place, colour mixing and note-taking rather than painting ‘the big picture’.

What to include: The colours you see, with information of what they’re found in and the paint colours you used to create a match, then anything else you feel led to include. Start with the most obvious, and work your way in to as narrowly specific as you feel inclined. For instance, I’d start with a warm yellow for a dandelion flower when viewed at arm’s length, but then looking closer I could start depicting the differences between the top and bottom of a petal. You might do it entirely as painted colour, or you might stick in ‘bits, or you might see if something will give you a colour or mark (eg ‘draw’ with a stone or soil).

There’s no set or “right” way to do this. Depending on your personality, you might draw a grid on a sheet of paper or in a sketchbook and fill in each, or you might do it scattered across the page letting each element or thing dictate its own size. You might do a little on multiple days or spend a day at it.

If you’re stuck for where to start, you might choose a photo from one of the previous painting projects, but ideally do it from life. It was an Instagram post of Weymouth-based artist Frances Hatch that got me started on this; she describes herself as a “site responsive plein air artist”. So the aim is to respond to a place by more than picking up pebbles.

As always, you’re invited to share your results with me for inclusion in the project’s photo gallery and a reminder that Project Subscribers via Patreon get 1:1 feedback. Don’t forget to include a few sentences about why you chose what you did, and how you feel about the results.


My Place Palette: I’ve made a start on the colours of the walk from my studio to the post box down the road. There are multiple yellows, including a dandelion and gorse (and the inside of the little daisy), the textures of a bit of sheep wool and the feather. There’ll also be the dark greys of the tar road and the bright red of the post box.

This is what I had in my hand when I got back from walking to the post box.
Here I’d arranged them by colour and texture, and started to draw/paint.

Monday Motivator: Don’t Think About the Outcome

“You can’t make your best work when you’re concerned about success or failure.

“The very act of thinking about the outcome creates an anxiety that holds you back from a daring move, that makes you afraid to touch a good-bit, or more likely, unwilling to stop when it’s truly great.

“… We’re training our hand skills by running this marathon, but we’re also training our judgement. The more pieces you do in a row, the more shots-on-goal. The more likely you’ll learn to recognize when it’s time to push something – or – when you need to stop and let something stand as you’ve made it.

Marc Taro Holmes, “Sketch vs. Painting

If you never overwork a painting, you’re stopping yourself from discovering what else you might achieve. Dare to stop later and later.

If you never underwork a painting, you’re stopping yourself from discovering what you might convey with less. Dare to stop earlier and earlier.


My Stormy Camus Mor Painting

I took these painting-in-progress photos whilst having a go at this month’s painting project: Stormy Camus Mor. It’s on a sheet of A1 watercolour paper, 350gsm, using acrylic inks, tube acrylics, and oil pastel. I have been thinking about this painting since I wrote up the project, it’s just taken me a while to settle down to do it.

Starting point: Payne’s grey acrylic ink. It was hot in my studio so the ink was drying quite quickly — on the right-hand side you can see some dried lines beneath the ink that I’ve spread with a wet brush. It becomes a fun juggle with speed of painting and speed of drying.
Enter some lemon yellow, using the same brush. It’s not really that big a brush if you consider how large the sheet of paper is.
Looking back through my photos, part of me wishes I’d stuck with using only the grey and yellow. Being able to see a photo of it at this point and ponder it is a good reason to take quick snaps as I paint. While I was doing it, I didn’t think about stopping at this point at all as I was already adding the other colours in my head.
Some of the paint is applied by brush, some by splattering. The latter technique means I can add colour to the surface without disturbing what’s already there, whereas applying it with a brush will mix the new and existing together. As I’m painting vertically, gravity gets involved too, pulling down fluid paint and mixing things as it happens. Spraying with some water encourages this, as you can see bottom right in the next photo.
Adding transparent orange
Adding blue to the sea, and then the sky
A bit of magenta added to the sky, to mix with the blues and create purples. Then I mixed what was on the brush with the leftovers on my palette and added this “murky dark” to the shore. Sprayed with water to encourage it to run and drip, propping the board the paper is taped to up at an angle so the drips happen at an angle. Yes, that is the tub of magenta paint that I’m using for this.
Looking at a painting from the side so it catches the light shows me where areas are still wet. Sometimes it’s really obvious, other times less so.
Sometimes it’ll only be a small area, or single drip, that’s still wet. Dabbing a finger into the paint will, of course, also tell me, but it does irreparable damage to a drip.
After everything had dried for a bit, I added some white to the sea. I’m using Schmincke’s SupaWhite acrylic ink, which is fabulously opaque.
If you’re thinking “that’s not a Schmincke dropper”, you’re be right, it’s a Daler-Rowney FW one, which I prefer as it’s got a sharper point
I’ve sprayed some of the white acrylic with water to encourage it to spread.
Need to keep an eye out for unwanted drips and effects; it’s a dance with the unpredictable, unwanted and desired, chaos and control.
Letting colours run together on the painting can create beautiful “happy accidents” with an organic feel. Painting water by literally letting the water run.
Too much can be a bad thing though! Here drips from the sky have run into the sea contradicting the direction of movement in that area. Something to be fixed before it’s dried. Responding to what’s happening is all part of the excitement of this approach to the painting.
It’s time for a two-jar propping of the board, with pthalo turquoise joining the magenta.
One thing about this approach to painting is that I can’t be too protective of any area, no matter how much I love it. If I am desperate to preserve it, then it’s time to swap to more controllable technique.
To change the direction of the drips of paint in the sea, I turned the board 90 degrees, then sprayed it with some water.
In the bottom left corner of the painting (when it’s vertical!), the drips weren’t co-operating, so I intervened with a brush to get them to go in the direction I wanted.
This is the painting vertical again, left for a bit to ensure the paint dried. When I came back to it, I decided it wasn’t where I wanted it to be yet and that I would add some oil pastel to it. Swapping mediums is a change of pace, as well as type of mark.
Detail showing how the oil pastel catches on the ‘bumpy’ texture of the watercolour paper.
I had started questioning the half sky to half land/sea composition, so only added oil pastel to the lower part of the sky, to where I thought I would crop the painting.
This is the stage the painting was at when I took it to show the in-house art critic.
At Alistair’s suggestion, I brought the rain down further, using white oil pastel. I may still work on the rain a bit more, possibly seeing if some acrylic paint will stick between the streaks of oil pastel, or maybe with some oil paint. I have cut off the top of the sheet just above the masking tape in this photo, so that composition change is decided.

Monday Motivator: The Paint Becomes the Weather

[Joan] Eardley, the high priestess of bad weather, was drawn to rough seas … her broad urgent handling fashions an equivalent for what she has seen: the paint becomes the weather.

“… The paint is often wildly applied but controlled, its energy corralled into offering an equivalent to the thing seen.

” … Her work is courageously non-naturalistic and yet firmly anchored in her experience of elemental nature, its harshness and power.”

Andrew Lambert, in “Jeremy Gardiner: South by Southwest“, page 26

Paint can be calm weather too, of course, though perhaps stormy weather is easier to imagine in terms of brushstrokes and piling on paint thickly. But a gentle breeze tickling leaves could be little flicks of paint created by running the very tip of a rigger through still-wet paint.

Joan Eardley Paintings in McManus Museum, Dundee

Studio Painting From a Location Study

At Staffin there’s no shortage of boulders, but there’s one that’s become a particular favourite, sitting on an eroded slab with a gap beneath it that you can see the sea through. If the tide is in, it’s surrounded by water; at low tide the bigger rock slab emerges. I first painted it on a gloriously sunny day in May 2019 while my Ma plein-air knitted (see My Pebbles Got Bigger). On that occasion I used ink and watercolour on paper; this time (a sunny day in April) I used oil paint on wood panel.

The tide was going out when I arrived, and I knew from previous visits here that the water closest to me disappeared fairly quickly. In anticipation of it doing so, I took the photo below as a reminder, once I’d decided where I was going to position myself to paint.

I found a convenient rock to sit on to paint, because I know standing on loose pebbles can be hazardous if I get too absorbed with painting.

This painting had a different starting point for me, with a darkish ground (some Payne’s grey acrylic ink over the white non-absorbent primer of Michael Harding), and my initial lines plotting the elements done in orange. A lot of my previous seascapes have started with an orange ground (orange and blue being complementary colours).

The lack of inbetween photos is because I got absorbed in what I was doing and forgot to take any!

9×12″ oil on wood panel

I was pleased with the result: the colours, the mark making getting looser to the foreground to move the painting into a slightly more expressive feeling, leaving some of the ground to show through.

A few days later the location was still bouncing around my brain, and I decided to have a go at painting a larger version in my studio, which was also something new for me as I don’t usually do direct studio versions of on-location pieces. I used the same colours except for black, which I felt had muddied the colours somewhat. Instead I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, thinking this might give me the darks I was after. I sprayed it with some water when it was partially dry and held it vertical to let the ink run.

And once again there’s a lack of photos between it at this stage and where I stopped.

“Balance”, 59x84cm (A1 size, approx 23×33″), oils on wood panel
The studio painting and the plein-air