Does Destroying a Painting Mean You’re Giving Up?

Don’t pull the plug too quickly

The short answer: No.

The long answer: No, it means you’re recognising that it isn’t worth spending more time or effort on that particular painting. Not every painting is going to be successful and it’s unrealistic to expect it, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

A line I’ve remembered from the book “Art and Fear” is ”The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.” (Looking it up, I see it was 2005 I reviewed it; read review here.)

I think destroying paintings becomes problematic only if you’re consistently stopping at the same point, never trying to push past it and find out if you might resolve it. It’s already not working, so you don’t have to worry about ruining it.

I also don’t think something should be destroyed on the same day it was created, or you stopped working on it, because once there’s a bit of time between making it and reviewing it we can be more objective. I go through my paintings on paper two or three times a year and sort out the ones to keep, the ones to be torn up, and the maybe ones who get another look before I decide.

Monday Motivator: One of the Gifts

Monday motivator art quotes

“One of the gifts of being a writer is that it gives you an excuse to do things, to go places and explore. Another is that writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around.”
— Anne Lamott, from introduction to “Bird by Bird”

Substitute “painter” for “writer”.

Remember that “places” need not be far away, nor unfamiliar (think Monet and his pond).

A few days in the year, the view from my studio has snow in the foreground, not only on the hilltops of Harris, changing the dominant colours. And then it’s gone, thanks to the Gulf Stream, though it sometimes lingers in the sheltered field between the trees.

Confidence in Your Own (Artistic) Potential to Find (Art) Solutions

Sign that reads this path is dangerous

I was skimming an article on “feeling the fear but doing it anyway” on Entrepreneur when I was stopped by the words s the words: “Confidence comes when you’ve accepted your own potential to find solutions“. It felt like an explanation of what’s at the core of painting intuitively.

You have a repertoire of art techniques and materials to hand, and select from these to create potential as well as solve problems of your own making in a painting. You trust you’re not a one-trick pony and can reproduce an effect more often than not because practice underpins it. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but helps us continue.

When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may influence the outcome. Embrace the uncertainty and see if you can find the ride intriguing. Do something and see what results, respond to that, and to that, and to that. That’s painting with intuition.

Sign that reads this path is dangerous

I’m curious about how you define painting intuitively? Leave a comment on my blog and let me know.

November’s Project Instructions: Derelict Croft House

The derelict croft house that is the subject of this month’s painting project is down the road and on a bit from my studio. I’ve walked past it many times though I’ve never ventured inside, partly because the ground around it is very water logged and partly because it feels like it wants to be left alone. I have, however, taken many a photograph of it in various lights and weather conditions. If the sun’s in the right spot, that gangly tree casts intriguing shadows on the wall.

Ruined Croft House on Skye with corrugated iron roof
Click on photo to see the biggest version of it.

In this photo, the sky has been blown out white by my camera. Judge how clear or cloudy the sky would have been by the shadows in the photo (or the lack thereof), as well as the colour of land in the distance and the sliver of sea in the distance on the right beneath the hills of Waternish Peninsula. To my mind the answer is: it’s partly cloudy, with cloud over the building but sunshine in the distance.

COMPOSITION: I would leave out the other houses to the left of this one because they’re more modern don’t match the ruined building. They’re just a distraction, as are the pine tree and electricity poles.

Whether to include the fence of not is a harder choice. It adds location and character, but doesn’t want to distract from the bulding. Certainly you don’t want it heading neatly into a corner as it in the photo. (Have you noticed that this pole is round and goes above the top strand of barbed wire, whereas the other fence posts are square? It’s because it’s a more substantial pole found at a gate or the corner of a fenced field.)

The roof windows are also something I would consider leaving out, because I enjoy the colour and pattern of the corrugated iron roof so and they interrupt it. The wooden pallet across the doorway is to keep sheep and cows out; you’ll need to decide whether it’ll make sense in a painting or not.

FORMAT: The photo is in landscape format, and this is probably how I’d paint it but that’s because I’ve taken numerous photos and from those selected this one. So in some way I’ve already consider possibilities even though I haven’t drawn thumbnails. I think a horizontal format echoes the horizonal length of the building, and the horizonal bands of colour to the right. The broken wall on the right-hand side feels to me like it’s having a conversation with that part of the scene, like it’s inviting it in or trying to escape into it. (I do realise there’s a bit of overactive imagination going on there.)

COLOURS AND STYLE: This scene lends itself to all sorts of possibilites, from realism with the enjoyment of painting the details and textures (possibly with a close-in crop), to expressive conveying a sense of the emotion and character of the building, to collage and even abstract, where you might reduce the building to shapes of colour and lines echoing its decline.

You might use only black and white to give a sense of sombreness, perhaps sepia and white. You might use realistic colours or you might exaggerate colour for dramatic effect. You might use corrugated cardboard for the corrugated iron roof on the building (in the style of contemporary painter Pete Monaghan) and texture paste for the stone walls.

SUBMISSIONS TO THE PROJECT PHOTO GALLERY: As always, you’re invited to email me a photo of your project painting to include in the photo gallery. This can be first name only, under a pen name, or under your initials if you prefer, just let me know in your email. I look forward to seeing your results!


The photo below was taken a little further up the road from the house, in summer which is why it’s all so green. I’m including it here to give you some other views of fences and fence posts, as well as an idea of what the road past the house looks like.

Royal Mail Van Skye Scotland
Complementary colours: red and green

Timelapse Video of My October Project Painting

This is a timelapse video of me creating a painting for October’s painting project of part of the bay at Camus Mor. It’s acrylic and oil pastel on watercolour paper.

NOTE: Be warned, the light in the video flickers somewhat as the camera tries to deal with my moving around. I might just have to do video on overcast days only. And, yes, at one point Studio Cat Ghost is riding on my shoulders (around 03:51)

If you’re not seeing the video above, this link will take you to it on my Vimeo channel.

You’ll see I initially sketch the cliffs to far to the right, but don’t bother erasing the incorrect lines as I know I’ll be painting over these with opaque colours. Then I start covering all the white, or blocking on areas Colours used: cadmium yellow, quinacridone gold, phthalo turquoise, cadmium orange, magenta, Prussian blue, perylene green, titanium white. Plus oil pastel. Medium and small flat brush; rigger brush.

The phtalo turquoise is a bit intense; my thought was that I didn’t want too dark a dark at that stage and that a green-blue would give a sense of the green on the hilltop and reflected in the sea. After I’d done it, I then worked at subduing it hrough layers without obliterating it

At 04:44 i’m using oil pastel to fix the edge where I’d torn it taking off the tape (I really should be more patient and careful doing this!).

When I looked at the painting the day after with fresh eyes, I realised I’d aligned the sea horizon with the edge of the headland, and that the sea was pouring off to the right. I used some oil pastel to move the horizon up a bit and straighten it. The yellow-orange in the foreground could be more golden, and I might still glaze some quinacridone gold over this.

Monday Motivator: Find Concentration Through Dissatisfaction

Monday motivator art quotes

Monday motivator art quotes

” Concentration is so hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain for hours. The key for me is to solve one set of problems at a time. I try to maintain a constructive level of dissatisfaction, and to hang in there until I really feel it can’t be improved.”

James Gurney, Your Questions about Painting

Note his words “constructive level”. None of that sweeping “it’s all rubbish” defeatist thinking.

Flavour what you’re doing with both spice and sugar, pessimism and optimism, not-yet-achieved and achieved.

Eliminating the Variable of Time

Clock with hands drawn in with a pen
Clock with hands drawn in with a pen

Instead of letting a painting take however long it takes, what happens if you eliminate the variable of time? Instead of when a painting might be finish being open-ended, time becomes a known entity.

It’s the norm when figure painting or drawing for the model to have 10 or 15 minutes break every 30 or 45 minutes. It makes you take a break too, gives you time to assess what you’ve been doing and consider what you might do next knowing that at a predetermined point your opportunity with that model will end.

It’s also happens when the in-house art critic comes into the studio and says it’s 15 minutes till supper.

For me, knowing there’s a time limit becomes a motivation to become more decisive, to stop second guessing and considering multiple possibilities, to pick something to do and see where it leads. And literally to paint faster to get more done in the time. It’s those one-minute get-the-whole-figure-down warmup drawings from life-drawing class extended to a longer timeframe.

Set a timer and see if it increases your concentration. If it increases your stress more than it helps focus you, don’t give up until you’ve tried a few times. Like so many things, practice helps.


The clock in the photo I saw at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, a reminder that time is a construct. I wrote this blog on the day clocks went back an hour; yesterday sunset was at six and today it will be at five. (Why not move it by half an hour and leave it be?) Another reminder that time is a theoretical entity.

When is a Portrait Painting Finished?

Walking around the Scottish National Portrait in Edinburgh with a friend recently, it was interesting seeing which portraits caught our attention, which we both liked and disliked. We do enjoy similar things in art — expressive over tight realism, bright colour over gloom — and it’s fun to share and compare without getting too serious.

This self portrait by Scottish Colourist Cadell caught my eye for how much of it is “unfinished”. Notice how he’s painted his features and his painting behind him, leaving the rest as unimportant but still a hint of colour still on his palette. His pipe melds inextricably into the still life. The shadow from the ornate frame is annoying, and you can see a better photo on the gallery’s website (here) that you can zoom in on .

Monday Motivator: Stop Negotiating With Yourself

Monday motivator art quotes

“Figure out what you want to commit to doing ahead of time. When it comes time to do it, your brain will start using that classic addict’s tactic of bargaining. Don’t let it negotiate. You decided already, no questioning that decision. Just do it. Let yourself revisit that decision later, after you’ve done it and when you’re in a place to decide, not when you’re facing discomfort and wanting to get out of it.”

Leo Babauta, Zen Habits, Oh, the Rationalizations Your Brain Will Dream Up!”

Facing that “why did I think this was a good idea” moment when all I want to do is run away screaming silently, lasting through it, and coming out the other side more often than not pleasantly surprised that what had originally prompted me was right after all.

Such as my standing in for an artist friend who’d volunteered to do stone painting with kids at a charity stand at a big local summer event but then had a family emergency. I’d watched her Facebook post where she’d asked but no-one was offering (several people who might have were already doing something) and in the end I messaged her to offer. I didn’t tell anyone beforehand other than the in-house art critic so friends didn’t turn up just to see the unprecedented scene of me and a bunch of kids (or to find that anxiety had won and I’d left already).

As it turned out, it was an inspiring day. The kids who wanted to do the activity preselected themselves as interested in painting, and I persuaded most of their accompanying adults to have a go too. The latter’s joy in reconnecting with painting and making was infectious. I suspect many a set of acrylic paint markers were bought soon thereafter.

painted pebbles
My practice pebbles done the day before in the sanctity of my studio

A Miniature Surprise

In the library of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, there are drawers you can pull out to see some exquisite miniature portraits. Amongst the historical portraits there’s this modern one, which felt like a reward for being curious enough to open the drawers:

That’s if you ever get past the central mural (tip: go up the stairs for a less neck-twisting, closer look).