More Rocks with Fluid Watercolour and Ink

Before the kelp-and-rocks watercolours I did (see video and blog here) I had sat in the sun looking at that big dark slab of rock that’s such a favourite of mine and done a few paintings. The session didn’t have an auspicious start as, when I turned from watching the waves over the sea wall, I dropped my pencil box with the bottles of watercolour; fortunately none broke.

I started with a line drawing using Payne’s grey acrylic ink, then used a wet brush to spread some of this around.

I added some hematite genuine and Luna black watercolour, and a bit more ink to re-establish the lines at the back.

I then wanted to add a little of the yellow lichen and greens on the rocks, and ended up overworking it (and I’m not showing you!).

I decided to have another go, this time starting with colour and adding the ink line afterwards, once the watercolour was dry. But that didn’t go quite to plan as I knocked over the bottle of ink. Splat.

I managed to pour some of the ink back into the bottle, and attempted to wash off as much of the ink as I could and dabbing at it with a piece of paper towel, without loosing the watercolour beneath. It ended up looking like this; I could possibly still rescue it with some opaque acrylic and/or oil pastel ( I didn’t have those with me).

I had another sheet of paper already taped along the edges and used the piece of paper towel I’d dabbed at the spilt ink to make the start of a third attempt. There’s a little inadvertent pattern (the same mark from stamping down on the surface without changing the angle of the paper towel, or varying the distances between marks) but I thought it a hopeful start.

I left it to dry and then added line using Lunar black watercolour (if you zoom in on the photo you can see the line is granulating, fragmented not smooth). I really like the result, and one out of three isn’t bad going in my book.

Here’s a view of the slab from the ‘other end’. When the tide is in, much of this is covered.

Video: Painting Kelp & Rocks with Fluid Watercolour

My aim was to capture a feeling of the washed-up kelp lying amongst the rocks on the shore at Camus Mor, glowing oranges in the sunshine. I used narrow masking tape to divide a sheet of A3 watercolour paper into four, and some DIY fluid watercolour (or watercolour “ink”). This video is in real time, and you’ll see I’m not spending very long on this. I think it’s essential with this approach to work quickly and just keep going, so you don’t second-guess yourself. Some attempts will work better than others.

(If you don’t see the video above, you’ll find it on my Vimeo channel here.)

Starting at the left:
My first sheet of four drawings, with the masking tape removed and stuck onto the second sheet
My pencil box of various liquid watercolours I’ve made up
Water to rinse brush
The colours I intended to use
The second sheet of drawings; the top right one got too wet and I was waiting for it to dry
A bit of waterproof padding for sitting on
My daypack with waterbottle
Plastic ziplock bag for used paper towek
My other pencil box with graphite and coloured pencils

365 Days of Word Prompts for Drawing etc.

Word Prompts chart March by Marion 2

Whether you use it for a daily little drawing or painting, a word to use in a micro-story or a poem, I hope my free printable word prompt charts from a couple of years ago (see this blog) might be an enjoyable distraction amidst all the uncertainty and social distancing.

The printable monthly sheets: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December.

If you’re on Facebook, I’ve revived my “Painting with Marion Group” as somewhere to share your word prompt drawing, talk about art, and ask questions. As always, feel free to chat to me via email too.

Word Prompts chart March by Marion

Monday Motivator: Paint with Jazz-like Improvisation

Monday Motivator quote
Monday Motivator quote

“Stevens likes to compare his creative process to that of a jazz musician: He thrives on improvisation.

“I make a mark, a shape, or an application and then respond to it, like how a jazz trio might improvise and respond to each other … I look for ways to repeat or vary the elements, gestures, patterns, or rhythms in the marks and textures.’”

Rick Stevens, A Cosmic Dance, Southwest Art magazine 8 January 2020

Being able to improvise requires you to have a repertoire of marks and materials to pull from. Options, to put it succinctly.

It may appear to be pulled from thin air or imagination, but it’s acquired knowledge and experience mixed with impulse and openness to possibilities. Sometimes is discordant, sometimes harmonious. You’ve got to play to see where you allow yourself to be taken.


Photos: Rock Watching, Again

The location: Camus Mor, Isle of Skye (again)
The time: Mid-afternoon, low tide (felt like it was the lowest I’ve seen the tide here)
Supposed to be doing: Painting some magnificent seascape in oils (always approach a painting with optimism!)
Actually doing: Being distracted by the patterns in the rocks and listening to the waves (never gets old)

Black and grey and yellow and green and blue
I didn’t get a photo with a “nice wave” crashing on the shore, so you’ll have to imagine it
Didn’t get very far with this painting; will try again another day
Not the eyes of a monster trapped in the concrete
Built vs Nature
I see your dark cracks and raise you a thin white stripe

When Is Size Not a Dimension? (Clue: Paper)

Deckled Edge paper

When is size not a dimension is the art version of the riddle “When is a door not a door?”

When we’re talking about paper, size does mean how big a sheet of paper is, but also what stops a sheet of paper reacting like paper towel when you add paint to it. It’s what makes paint sit “on” the surface to some extent rather than immediately soaking in and spreading. Most Western paper is internally sized, meaning it’s mixed in during the making of the paper, rather than externally sized (“painted on top”) or unsized.

Manufacturers use the terms “watercolour” / “acrylic” / “mixed media” / “drawing” paper to help guide us amidst the overwhelming array of choices. Typically:

  • Drawing paper is very smooth, allowing for fine detail, and usually a lighter weight.
  • Acrylic or oil painting paper is sometimes textured like canvas, sometimes smooth, and sometimes already primed with gesso.
  • Watercolour paper has three finishes and comes in the biggest range of weights
    — hot pressed, smooth
    — not = not hot pressed; slight texture
    — rough = bumpy
  • Mixed media paper is typically slightly textured and a little heavier so will take some wet but not too much.
  • Pastel paper has a textured surface, sometimes a sandpaper-like surface, to help hold pastel.

But just because it’s sold as “watercolour paper” doesn’t mean “thou shalt not adulterate this sheet of paper with acrylics, it’s made for watercolour and nothing but watercolour”. We can use any medium on any paper, though the results obviously depend on the surface of the paper and its weight (thickness), i.e. the characteristics of that individual sheet

You can draw on watercolour paper, you can use watercolour on drawing paper; you can use acrylic and oil paint on watercolour paper; you can use water on pastel paper to turn the pastel into paint. But you cannot expect thin paper to handle paint in the same way thick paper does. You can’t expect pencil to behave on a textured paper in the same way as it does on smooth paper.

You don’t need to gesso (use primer) paper to use acrylic on it, you can use it as is, with thick or thin paint. Adding gesso seals and changes the surface and gives a different effect to plain paper. A layer of not-too dilute acrylic on paper or acrylic medium seals the surface too, stopping it giving watercoloury effects. Gessoing paper before using oil paint stops the oil leaching out into the fibres.

If a painting dries buckled, you can flatten it by spraying the reverse to dampen the sheey and letting it dry between boards.

There isn’t a right or wrong side to most paper as it’s internally sized, but there is a difference to the surface of each side, sometimes minimal, sometimes obvious.

If the paper you’re using is balling up and tearing, switch to a thicker paper or use less liquid as that’s the surface of the paper being damaged. Heavier weight paper as it takes more working and buckles less, and dries less quickly than thin as the core retains moisture.

Thicker paper may be more expensive but you can usually paint on both sides so you get two goes with it. If you’re using watercolour as you even can put it under a tap and wash the paint off; while it won’t be as good as new and you can damage the surface if you’re aggressive, it’s good for experimenting.

Deckled Edge paper

My Colours for Painting with Acrylics

Six Primary Colours

Marion's paint coloursThe array of colours you can buy can be overwhelming and you definitely don’t need them all! I believe it’s best  to start with a few and get to know them well. I would start with two blues, white, a yellow, magenta (not red) and an orange (which must be a single pigment not a mixture). After this, perylene black and a lemon (cool) yellow. Plus a red if you’re missing it.

Acrylics are inter-mixable between brands. Buy the best quality you can afford without feeling inhibited about using it. What you’re paying for in artist’s quality paints is the pigment loading (the amount of pigment in the tube)and the wider range of pigments (colour choices, with series 1 colours being less expensive than series 2,3, etc.). The consistency of the paint is stiffer too, so holds brushmarks more.

The artist’s quality brands I use are the most are Schmincke Primacryl and Golden Heavy Body, and for mid-price Amsterdam Expert. The student-quality paint I use in workshops is Seawhite. I use Seawhite/Amsterdam for the initial blocking in of a painting on a large canvas (“getting rid of the white”) and painting the edges.

WHITE: Titanium white (PW6).

BLUE: My favourites are Prussian blue (PB60 / PB15:1 / PBk7 Schmincke), which I often use instead of black, phthalo turquoise (PB15:4 / PG7 Golden or PB16 Schmincke), and cerulean blue (PB15:3 / PB16 / PW6  Schmincke). I also use all sorts of other blues but almost never ultramarine blue.

YELLOW: Two yellows, one darker/warmer and one lighter/cooler, like the different yellows you get on a daffodil. My favourites are cadmium yellow (PY35) and lemon yellow (PY3).

RED: I use quinacridone magenta (PR122) instead of a red for colour mixing, except when I’m painting something that’s definitely red, such as an apple. Magenta mixes with blues to give the heathery purples typical of Skye. It also produces “interesting pink-greys”, whereas when I’m mixing with a red (or sienna) I find I end up at boring browns too easily.

ORANGE: To get the range of “interesting greys and browns” that comes from mixing orange + blue + white, it needs to be a single-pigment orange not a yellow+red mixture in a tube (the latter will give unwanted greens). My favourites are cadmium orange, PO20, and transluscent orange (PO71 Schmincke).

BLACK: The one black I use is PBk31, which has green undertones, making it ideal for landscapes. It’s sold under different names by different manufacturers including Perylene Black, Perylene Green and Atrament black (Schmincke); look for Pbk31 on the label. Mix with yellow for earthy greens.

PAYNE’S GREY: This is a mixed colour, not a single pigment, and what’s in it differs between manufacturers. I use Payne’s grey acrylic ink a lot for continuous line drawing, specifically FW Artist’s Ink by Daler Rowney (note: not DR System 3). It contains PBk7 / PB15, so is a blue-black.

Remember: Cadmium pigments are toxic, but then paint isn’t meant to be eaten. And don’t lick your brushs to get a nice point.

If you’re interested in paint colours, I recommend Bright Earth by Philip Ball, and the Handprint website which although written about watercolours is relevant as the pigments in all paints are the same.

I mostly buy art supplies from Jackson’s as their prices are good and they don’t have ridiculous shipping costs for the Highlands and islands. If you use this link or click on the photo below, I’ll earn a small affiliate commission on your purchases.

Six Primary Colours

Six Primary Colours

Monday Motivator: Collect Shells, Experience Waves

Monday Motivator quote

“The painting is what remains after we’ve completed the act of creation, to stare back at us, like shells washed up on a beach. Sometimes we collect beautiful shells, but we experience waves.”

Stephen Berry, I’m Looking For an Experience

That the act of painting, the doing thereof, the brush into paint and onto paper, needs to be rewarding in itself, disconnected from the need for a satisfying end result,hard as this is, is something I struggle to explain. This quote filled that gap for me as I instantly related to how I interact with waves on a beach compared to pebbles (shells, sea glass).

I might take photos of waves, but they’re eternally ephemeral. I don’t have thoughts other than to watch and enjoy (okay, and to stay out of reach of them). Pebbles I can pick up and hold, turn over in my hand, feel the weight and texture, walk with for a while until I encounter another that I want to touch.

We experience painting every time, but don’t collect a painting every time.

Painting Project Photo Gallery: Woodland Pond

The reference photo of the pond and reflected trees for February’s project (see instructions) was a complex scene, with a lot going on. It’s been very interesting seeing how different people have approached it, and the finished paintings. Enjoy!

By Asif: “In the reference photo provided,  reflection of trees in the water looked interesting to me.  So I focused to paint only the trees and the pond area.”

From Marion: I like how you’ve included the building in the distance; I hadn’t even realised it was visible in the photo until I saw your painting! It’s beautifully painted, but have another look at the angles of the reflected trees, which you’ve straightened as you painted them. if you can, find a pond or pool in real life and look at how things are reflected, or set up a still life version at home with a bowl of water and a few bottles or vase of flowers. It’s easier to study in real life than a photo because you can see how things shift as you change position.
By Sarah: “Thoroughly enjoyed this.”

From Marion: I like the extreme vertical format, which echoes the long narrow tree trunks and emphasies the vertical movement of the composition. There’s a complexity to the colour in this that is enticing and beautiful.
By Cathi: ” The first is a representation of what I saw/imagined when I first saw your photograph. I actually love this one, it makes me want to keep looking at it, imagining what lies under the glassy surface. A4.”

From Marion: I like the strong shapes and how you’ve turned the subject into an intriguing abstract. (Keep imagining as having been here when the water had drained away, I know reality is uninspiring and slimy.)
By Cathi: “My second attempt was so dreadful, no one will be allowed to see it, but the third is much better. Done mostly from memory/imagination as I forgot to take the photo to our painting group but had the dreadful picture with me to give the tree placement. Both are done in acrylic but used much thinner than I normally do. This one is A3.”

From Marion: I love the composition, which breaks the so-called rules by placing the band that is the focal point in the centre. My eye is then pulled up and down by the tree trunks, getting a different story in each section. It never would have occured to me to do this because I’m so focused on the grasses that are in the foreground of the project photo.
By Eddie, ink pen.
By Eddie, pastel.

From Marion: I like the tall composition, which gives room for the trees to dominate and stretch but also for the foreground reeds which feel like I’m standing up against them. The shapes of the land/water lead the eye in and up, to the distant stand of trees. Lovely light/shadow.
By Eddie: ” Gouache, ink, acrylic with various mediums and oil pastel. It took around ten days in which I laid a wash, made collage trees with tissue paper, added mediums, added more partial washes, glazes and scumbling. I stopped after each process and let it dry while I considered the next step. Finally I put in the smaller branches with acrylic ink and used oil pastel in patches and over the ridges of the medium to form the reeds. This is it after Marion’s suggestions.”

I’ve had three goes at painting this scene, two of which I regard as finished and the third as a problematic work-in-progress. This was my first painting (do not adjust your eyes: the photo isn’t sharp). My favourite part is the lower two thirds, the sense of water behind dried grasses.

Mixed media on A2 watercolour paper. Acrlic ink and paint with oil pastel.

My second painting was done on location; see my blog Painting That Puddle in the Woodland.

Uig Woodland Puddle painting
Oil paint on 9×12 inch wood panel

My third painting is still unresolved, and has been through a lot of changes. Whether I will ever get to it to a satisfactory point is debatable. This is what it currently looks like after I once again added dark to it. (Project subscribers can view a video of me working on this here.)


As always, if you have a go at this month’s project or any of the previous ones, I encourage you to share a photo of your painting by emailing it to me on art(at)marion(dot)scot. Participation in the monthly painting projects is open to all and free; if you’d like help working on your painting or a critique, this is available to project subscribers via Patreon.