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

What I’m Reading: Colour A Visual History

Marion reading Tate Colour Book

An illustrated tome on the history of colour theory that also follows the development of printing is my kind of coffee-table book! I’ve been reading Colour: A Visual History, published by the Tate gallery, in what I think of as “National Geographic reading”: first you look at the images, then you read the captions, and then you start absorbing the text. (Buy book , affiliate link)

The American edition is published by the Smithsonian and has a longer, mouthful of a title: Color: A Visual History from Newton to Modern Color Matching Guides.

It’s packed with reproductions of colour charts and theories, with well-written, accessible explanations of the who, what, when of each.

I’ve stared at this music-colour chart for ages, with do-re-me running through my head. Here’s the contents list:

Monday Motivator: Mark Making

Monday motivator art quotes

“A day spent painting or drawing en plein air is an all-encompassing experience of fluctuating light, weather and comfort levels. These conditions, along with an intense focus, result in work that tracks a dialogue between observation, memory and abstract mark making. Mark making is key — the ability to describe both emotional intent and observation in one mark.”

Tim Allen, Immersion exhibition catalogue, 2019

Brushmarks in orange

September Painting Project Submission: Portree Harbour in Continuous Line

All that fabulous perspective so let’s make it a bit more difficult by doing it with (almost) continous line,” laughed Cathi when she told me about her painting of this month’s project. “My painting totally supports the theory that you don’t need to be completely accurate to get a feel for the place.”

Cathi continued: “I lost count of the doors and windows, and drew a line at including all the cars! Superb fun doing it. 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.

My response was that I love how it poetically captures the feeling of the location, pulling my eye along the dance of doors and windows up and around. Poetry in line. And at no point does it make me feel like I want to count the doors and windows to check it against reality; it feels right.

Whether it wants a touch of colour or not is is tricky decision, because it’s beautiful as it is, yet the colour is so part of this location that how can one not? Maybe use watercolour, then you could lift or lighten the colour easily (except for staining pigments).

Cathi decided she would add colour, sending me a new photo saying: “The sketch paper I used grabs the colour,  unforgiving, but for a sketch I like it.

The next day Cathi sent me another photo, as she’d decided to “make the greens darker so the houses pop out more.

I think it works really well. I also like the negative space of the sky and sea, the former being delineated by a near-constant line, the latter broken up by that dancing line that tells us there’s water in the foreground. It’s also inspired me and made me wonder why I haven’t tackled this with continuous line yet. Thanks Cathi!

Monday Motivator: Paint the Background Last

Monday motivator art quotes

“With the development of landscape painting, there came new ways of seeing. Instead of always painting from the back to the front (such as sky, mountains, and then trees) the artist began to see that many times the backlight popping through and around an object forms the object.”
Stephen Quiller, “Color Choices”, p111

Perhaps the easiest example of this is painting blue dashes of sky over the greens of tree leaves, rather than leaving gaps between leaves to let blue from a background show through.

Photo Gallery: Tall Trees Painting Project

It’s been a joy seeing what paintings have come from August’s tall trees photo, and hearing from people how one painting has sparked another. There’s a reason artists such as Monet and Van Gogh painted series! Scroll down and enjoy!

By Mark: Acrylic paint and some black (and white) acrylic ink.

From Marion: I like the use of white space for the sky, gives it a Chinese painting feel. Delighted to have you sharing to a project gallery for the first time!
By Gail: “My rendition of the August project, which I enjoyed very much. Acrylic on paper with a little ink drawing.”

From Marion: I like the depth and distance created by the strong darks in the trees and the light blue mysteriousness that lies beyond the trunks.
By B: ” Not very happy with this the ink got a bit out of control. The red is little red riding hood among those big scary trees, can you find the wolf?”
By B: “Second attempt, largely water colour, quite a bit of negative painting and no little red riding hood. I think this was more successful.”

From Marion: I agree that this is more successful. There’s a lot going on for the eye to wander around, unpicking the trunks and branches, shapes and patterns, with breathing space. White space for a change of pace and a visual pause/rest. The calm forest after the wolf has left…
By Eddie: ” I have done a lot of these because trees are definitely my thing. Most, as Marion pointed out, were very brown and green. She suggested I do two more with no brown or brown mixes and no tube green, one using bright colours and the other muted. I found this difficult but very rewarding. I started both with the same or very similar under painting, then added thicker paint. This, in case you can’t guess, is the bright version.”

From Marion: Full of colour that reveals itself the more you look but still strongly rooted in realism. I’m hard pushed to choose a favourite between the two.
By Eddie: ” This is the more muted version.”

From Marion: In midwinter there’s a lot of purple in the stands of trees along the road to Inverness; this feels like those.
By Eddie: “Inspired by the “no-brown “ trees I decided to add bolder colour to a brown pastel version which improved it no end.”

From Marion: It feels like late afternoon sun hitting the trunks in autumn.
By Claire: ” Here is my quick first attempt. In watercolour, acrylic ink and a touch of pastel, wet in wet . Il’m not happy with it as the colours ended up dull ad overall it looks dark and brooding.”

From Marion: Nothing wrong with dark and brooding, though it’s frustrating to end up there when you’re not aiming for it
By Cathi: “Ink and watercolour, with ink wet on wet, waiting for it to dry then adding the bright green leaves with ink coloured with watercolour. I have found a lovely pearlised white ink which readily accepts watercolour.”

From Marion: The splash of yellow-green feels like the tailend of autumn where a sheltered tree has managed to hold onto its leaves. For me it has the perfect balance between abstract and realism, interesting mark making that pulls me in and rewards close looking, with subtle colour to add to the intrigue. Imagine in real life with the pearlised white ink it’s even more so.
By Cathi: “Using watercolour on my canvas paper giving a much softer effect.”

From Marion: Such a different feel, gentle overcast morning light.
By Cathi: ” Monochrome ink on Khadi paper. I love the effects with this combination and want to try other ideas using them. The ‘over-drawing’ at the end was probably a mistake but I’m still experimenting!”
By Sarah: “My second go, haven’t finished it yet, but the month has come to and end so here it is. Thoroughly enjoyed working with the orange background.” From Marion: I like the orange, it adds a warmth and autymnal feel, as well as giving the fun when painting of interacting with other colours. I think this is looking good, and hope you will continue with it.
By Erika: “Forest Whisper in D-flat Minor “. I found this to be a tough one — so many options, so many trials — a small piece in the puzzle of learning more about art and myself and the eternal search for happiness in the results.

From Marion: My favourite section is the blues on the left, the light between trees, with the suggestion of pine branches or leaves in the lines above, which could also be a record of the movement a conductor’s baton during a performance.
By Erika: I’m much happier with this painting “Owling at the Moon”. Collage with tissue paper and golden wrapping of chocolates….it took many wrappings to find the right one!

From Marion: For me the tissue paper creates a beautiful sense of silver birch trees on a full moon night,

Inspired by July’s photo:

By Gail: Enjoyed this one too. It is done in acrylic and ink. I liked the challenge of the dark sky and the sunlit houses.

From Marion: Absolutely feels like a Scottish beach with the sun playing against the clouds rolling in.
By Claire: ” I have taken liberties with Findhorn beach (I didn’t want to put lots of grass in the picture and I wanted to open up the beach) but I hope it still works! My perspective is a little wobbly but I decided it was better to leave it! Translating pencil to paint in small areas proved difficult.

From Marion: I like the contrast between the strong graphic diagonals of the rocks, sand and sea against the softer diagonals billowing clouds. It creates depth, pulls my eye up and in, with different visual rewards in each section.

My thanks to everyone who’s shared their paintings for us all to enjoy and learn from. You’ll find a list of all the projects here. It’s never to late to do any of these, and if you email me a photo of your painting it will join whatever the next photo gallery is.

And, finally, a reminder that if you become a project subscriber, you can get feedback from me on your painting either by email or in the project community, plus access to exclusive project-related content.

Video: My First Attempt at Painting Portree Harbour

One of my reasons for selecting Portree harbour as the subject for September’s monthly painting project was to get me past the point of merely thinking about painting it and to give it a go, all that perspective in the buildings or not. The video below is of my very first attempt at this subject.

I regard it more as an exploratory study than an resolved painting, there are bits that I like and bits I don’t. Most of all it’s a painting that has got me past my fear of the subject, made me study the scene, and motivated me to try again.

I have since changed the building that shouldn’t have been pink to yellow using acrylic paint, but otherwise am not going to ‘fix’ this painting. Its job is to help me create other, future paintings. I think there’s too much black on the hillside, and some of the ink work is too messy rather than linear. My favourite bit is the water, and that I did it at all.

The non-photo blue pencil I started theoretically is easy to eliminate from photos; I like it for its soft colour that gives me a round of sketching before I get to graphite. I used a propelling pencil with 2B because it means I don’t have to stop to sharpen a pencil.

I’ve moved to the advert-free Vimeo for my videos. You can follow my channel here.

Monday Motivator: Rename the Colors in Your Palette

Monday motivator art quotes

“… there is nothing stopping you from giving your [paints] new names to suit your own outlook. And doing so may not only shift how you see them, it may change how you use them, and in effect how you see the rest of the colors around you when you take the time to pause, observe, and consider.”

Jess Greenleaf, Inventing Color

The names Undersea Green, Moonglow, Shadow Violet, Lunar Black, Sleeping Beauty are poetical, generating a smile and evoking my imagination as I reach to dip my brush into them (and all actual watercolour colours by Daniel Smith).

I have mental images rather than words for some of my standard colours: cobalt blue is the colour of a snow shower on the sea, Prussian blue is a heavy rain shower, cadmium and lemon yellow are daffodil (separate but always together).


September’s Painting Project: The Instructions

Portree Harbour, Isle of Skye

This month I’ve chosen a subject that’s got bright colour and lots of architecture, the harbour in Portree. It’s a wide scene with a lot going on: buildings, boats, sea, shore, trees, a bit of reflected colour in the sea. I took the photo from the roadside on the other side of the bay, which looks down at the scene; the distant view is hidden by cloud.

Portree Harbour, Isle of Skye

The building with a point at the back is a church, as you probably suspected. The long brown building in front of this to the left is the Skye Gathering Hall. The left-most section of the pier is full of the less aesthetic elements of a working seafront such as fuel storage, which I’d probably leave out.

You could look at all this detail and start panicking about getting it all right, or you could relax and think that with all this variation in real life, some more variation in your painting or drawing will fit just fine. For me it’s foremost about getting the feel of the location, the poetry of the place, not about accurate perspective, which we can all do if we spend enough time learning and practising.

Emotion first, analytical second. Have a go, then compare and analyse, then go over it, perhaps with another medium, or have another attempt. Remove the unrealistic expectation of getting it all ‘right’ the first time, and instead treat it as a painting in which things may move or be repositioned as it develops.

When you’re looking at the row of colourful buildings, notice that:

  • The green building’s roof windows have flat tops rather than pointed and the central one isn’t aligned with the windows on the floor below.
  • The right-most blue/yellow building has roof windows that have tile below them and there are two shades of yellow/orange.
  • The left-most pink building has two roof windows but three windows on the floor below, as does the white building next to it.
  • The left-most white building has a gable end and chimney over the two central windows.
  • Some windows are single, others are double.
  • Some buildings have chimneys, others don’t.

The first decision is how much to include, and how much to leave out. Part of that decision lies in the format of your composition, whether it’s landscape, portrait, square. For me if you’re going to include the whole row of buildings, then landscape. I’d crop off the buildings on the right and the left.

You might decide to focus on a small part of this scene. After I painted the whole scene, I found myself entranced by the chimneys on the right hand side. This became the subject of my second painting:

Buildings at Portree Harbour with multiple chimneys

As always, medium, size and format are up to you. I look forward to seeing what this inspires. If you’ve done a painting in response to a project, whether the current month or any earlier one (see list of painting projects), do email me a photo to put in the photo gallery so we can all enjoy it. Happy painting!

Studio cat Ghost enjoyed helping me with my first attempt at painting this. He also features in the video of this painting (which I will post later this week) and the one of my doing composition thumbnails (which will be available to project subscribers).

Monday Motivator: The Goal is Not to Perfect

Monday motivator art quotes

“The goal is to master painting –- not to perfect every painting.”

Bill Inman, “Transitioning from a Good Artist to a Master Artist (Part 2)”


Take the pressure off yourself by regarding every painting (or, perhaps more realistically, most paintings) as part of the journey to mastering painting rather than every single piece having to be a completed journey by itself.

It’s not failure to stop working on a painting or drawing. It’s like setting out on a walk and then turning back when it starts pouring with rain rather than the hoped-for light showers; you just didn’t do it that day.

Rainbow Rain Cloud Skye Scotland