Monday Motivator: The World Needs Compassionate Creativity

“The world needs more and more compassionate creativity to solve difficult problems confronting us. Creative people do not have answers, but they habitually question the status quo and think about alternatives and improvements. They discover and invent possible answers. They habitually ask better questions. They have optimism. When combined with empathy and compassion, creativity is bound to be a force for good. Teaching creativity to everyone is vitally important if we desire a good life for all.”

Marvin Bartel, Teaching Creativity (2 June 2014)

We need to stop buying into the lie that creativity is a talent you’re born with or not, that it can’t be learnt and developed. Too many people are taught that they’re not creative, believe it, and lead smaller lives as a result. Socialised into fitting into the polite little box called “being a good girl” and “ladylike” and “don’t do it like that” and “bright colours aren’t suitable for winter”. Cue: The Logical Song and Warning.

Thanks Ma!

It’s Mother’s Day in the UK, which entails squishy sentiments, flowers and chocolates. My Ma is all the squishy stuff, and then some. She may never have instilled her love for laboratory chemistry in me, but the many things I did get include curiosity, a love for reading and finding out, to knit and sew (by machine, not hand), paints/paper and letting me put up art exhibitions in the house, pyromania, cheating at board games, choosing a road simply because you haven’t yet been along it, going to see what was over the next hill, to laugh at yourself, and to prioritise coffee and cake.

That’s my Ma on the right, and her sister on the left. Edinburgh Castle above, Eilean Donan below. Neither shot was posed.

Project Photo Gallery: Shoreline in the Style of Van Gogh

Looking at the drawings and painting and reading the comments, it’s clear a great deal of creative fun and energy was found channelling our inner Van Gogh! (You’ll find the project instructions here and the list of all the projects here.) Also that using the drawing to guide your mark making in the painting can work well, like a roadmap for brushstrokes. Thank you to everyone who’s shared their pieces. Enjoy!

By Caryl D: “The first ink drawing was done with a dip pen and ink. Then I added chalk, gouache and watercolor to the drawing surprising myself when the ink let loose, thinking somehow I was using permanent ink. I had seen a drawing of Van Gogh’s where he used those mediums over his ink sketch.”
By Caryl D
By Caryl D: “Acrylic on canvas board. The paint is a little thin and I don’t like my composition especially how it goes off the left corner in such a straight line. But I like the textural effect. Great exercise and I enjoyed the challenge.”

From Marion: It’d involve a lot of repainting to fix the composition heading into the corner, but you could cut the canvas board before framing to fix it, or possibly peel off the canvas and restick it once the board’s cut. I particularly like the sense of texture on the “hairy rocks”.

By Cathi: Pencil study on A4 mixed media paper
By Cathi: Acrylic on A3. I have had fun trying to simplify impressionistic colours.

From Marion: The blue and yellows feels very Van Gogh to me, not to mention your brushwork in the sky that echoes his famous Starry Night. The swirls in the foreground echo the sky, creating a unity across the composition. I think you should channel your inner Van Gogh more often, especially when you’re thinking you’re working too tightly.

By Gail: “I did this sketch with the idea that I would work from it alone to create the painting since Van Gogh would probably have worked the same way if he could not go back to the beach to complete the work but would have to rely on memory and notes.”
By Gail: “The finished painting doesn’t much resemble the photo but is done from my memory of the photo. It is done in acrylic since I don’t generally work in oil. I laid the paint on thickly as Van Gogh might have done and used black outline in areas. I used directional strokes on the sea weed on the rocks and in the ocean and added the clouds to give the painting a sense of distance as many of Van Gogh’s landscape paintings have a “sky” in them. I really enjoyed this work and it made me appreciate how quickly Van Gogh worked as I did this painting as quickly as I could and had it done within about three hours all together with interruptions and so forth.”

From Marion: I think the drawing serves as a roadmap for a painting, the first stage in translating a scene into paint, getting what’s interesting about a subject. I think it makes painting for more fun too, because we’re not being restrained by consulting the reference photo. That said, I think your painting feels true to the location.

By Karen
By Karen: “I couldn’t find anywhere to slot in a cheeky crow or two but I really enjoyed this project. Nothing like I would normally do but I loved the freedom to throw a bit of paint around! I found the rocky beach difficult but I found a use for the lava paste and liked how it ran when I sprayed water on it.”

From Marion: Delighted you enjoyed yourself! I think working in thicker paint is fun, the way it moves under the brush, the creation of strong brushmarks. You’ve retained a freshness to your colours, rather than moving it all around so much you end up with murky mixtures, which is one of the dangers. There’s a distinctness to the various elements in the composition, which is what I was hoping this project would generate.

By Eddie, ink: “I like to paint in gouache, pastel and oils. I have tended to paint in one medium for several weeks or months then change. I have found that doing this requires a learning curve with each change. From the new year I have done things differently by painting the same picture in each of the media on consecutive days. So far it’s going well and this is what I have done with February’s challenge. The oil might have been easier if I painted in layers but I am also trying to increase what I can do alla prima.”

From Marion: Don’t forget to count ink amongst the mediums you used for February’s project! I have really enjoyed looking at the versions in the different mediums, how each has its own characteristics and types of marks. I’d be hard pushed to pick as favourite as each has something I particularly like.
By Eddie,gouache
By Eddie, pastel
By Eddie, oils

By Sarah: “Interesting morning. I started with the Ink drawing, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Then added the acrylic Ink , not so great . So ended up cutting it apart and put it back together again. Still happier with the Ink drawing.”

From Marion: I think that, much as we’d like to be always on a forwards growth with our art, it’s more circular, that we regularly go backwards and around, gradually going forward. Some pieces won’t work to our satisfaction, but once we let go of the fristration at this (easier said than done), we do learn from it. In this case, how much you enjoy a drawing with just ink.
By Sarah

By Bee: Ink on paper

From Marion: I think I’d crop in tighter to reduce the amount of negative space, which I feel unbalances the composition, in from the left to where the rocks start, and in from the top to beneath the ink lines in the sea. Try it with a piece of card first, before you cut it.

By Julie: “I was deliberately tight in this drawing as I plan to try to use it as a basis of a print. It is controlled and each mark consciously made, and with an attempt to use different marks to represent various textures and shapes. I used a pen with a nib, dipping it into undiluted and diluted sepia ink. I tried to vary the shapes of the marks by varying the pressure and angle on the nib.”
By Julie, dry-point print: “I did three prints of the Van Gogh-style shoreline drawing I completed earlier. I have done very little print making, but It was a fun exercise, and much learned. They are dry point prints made by using a plastic etching plate, so I was able to see my drawing underneath. I would have liked to have controlled the plate tone a little better, as well as making more marks to create darker areas.”

From Marion: I think there’s a greater fluidity in the lines in your print than your drawing, a freedom that’s come from having already decided what’s important in the reference photo and where what kind of mark is to go. Printmaking has a magic all of its own, not least that moment you lift up the sheet of paper to see the result!
By Julie, dry-point print
By Julie, dry-point print

And because it’s never too late to submit photos for any of the projects, here’s one for January 2021 Eggshells project.

By Barbara H: As a novice, I tried to keep it simple. I used watercolors, charcoal, and a dab of acrylic. I enjoyed the process of studying the cracked shells and getting them on paper.  I call this “Eggshell road”.

From Marion: I did several versions, both ink drawings and paintings, some more successful than others. I’m not sharing the total dud, though I haven’t ripped it up just yet.

Black ink. I like this drawing most because I’ve got varied mark making but also lighter and darker marks created by changing the angle of the pen.
Marion Boddy-Evans, mixed media on A3 watercolour paper. This was the loosest of my paintings. I like it because it’s verging towards abstract, leaving a lot to your imagination to fill in.
Marion Boddy-Evans Oil paint over Payne’s grey acrylic ink on wood panel (A1 size, or 594x841mm). These two were the last ones I did, developed out of all the previous attempts, and I am very pleased with them. I like the combination of line and colour, and that I managed to retain the colour and grain in the wood in areas. Also that I did decide to not include a horizon line (to eliminate the sky), so it’s a composition about what I see when I’m looking down.

Monday Motivator: Intuition vs Logic in Painting

“When dealing with art, intuition is best, but knowledge of physical phenomena enables us to work in a more reasoned fashion. Be tempted to learn about colour. Find out how to gain control of your palette. And then, once you have discovered the advantages of this logical approach, empty your mind and let yourself paint.”

Jean-Louis Morelle, “Watercolour Painting”, page 8

I see “intuitive” as making choices without thinking much about them, making choices without worrying overly what the outcome might be but just to see what happens, and moving forward with whatever does result. The more materials I have to hand when I paint, the more intuitive the choice can be. The more knowledge I have of what my materials do, how they work and interact with one another and different surface, the more intuitive I can be.

If you struggle to make a choice when trying to work intuitively, try this: whenever you hesitate, then it’s time to change medium or technique. Continue working where you were but swap from say watercolour to coloured pencil or graphite, acrylic to oil pastel, using a brush to a palette knife, applying paint to lifting it.

Gaining “control of your palette” is rooted in knowing what the colours you’ve got on your palette do when mixed together. How to get a mixed colour again, and again, as well as avoiding unwanted results. The fewer colours you’ve got, the easier it is to learn this. Then add in another and learn what it does.

A few weeks ago I started using a violet on my oil painting palette, and I’ve had such fun exploring the results of mixing this with my favourites. But it’s done whilst wrapped in the security blanket of my known colours, that any new colour I mix I want to recreate comes from the violet plus one of those.

Detail. Oil paint on wood panel.

My thanks to Sarah W for sending me this quote and a bit about the book it’s from.

Drawing with Dots

I have been thinking about the patterns in the sand on the beach (see my blog Photos: Seashore Abstracts) which led to thoughts about what a pattern transfer wheel might do, how it might give a line of dots in a painting on paper. These photos are from my first experiments with this idea, starting in my sketchbook and then on 350gsm watercolour paper.

Pricking holes in a drawing is a very old technique used to transfer a drawing onto another surface by making tiny holes in it and then dusting chalk or charcoal through the holes. In artspeak it’s called pouncing. (And another bit of art trivia: a full-sized drawing used for pouncing is called a cartoon. ) You can do it with a pin, but that’ll test my patience.

I tried running the wheel across the paper before I painted and while the watercolour was wet. The latter was more successful, possibly because the damp paper indented more. It “works” by the pigment collecting in the holes, making them darker in colour. (If you don’t see the short video below, click here to see it on my Vimeo page.)

Going back and forth, whilst rotating to the side, created a pattern that fanned out. Perhaps a little regular, but that would be easy to resolve by lifting the tool and repositioning it slightly.

Pressing hard resulted in holes in the paper in my sketchbook. Well, it is what the tool’s designed to do! This wasn’t unexpected, and opens up different possibilities (think: drawing with holes rather than dots).

After playing in my sketchbook for a bit, I decided to have a go at a ‘real picture’ and got out a piece of 350gsm paper. Being quite a thick paper, I was able to press quite hard without making holes through the paper.

I used it both before and after I applied the watercolour, and it definitely works better afterwards. The colour I’m using for the sand is a granulating watercolour, so it’ll dry ‘dotty’ anyway. What the pattern wheel has done is introduce pattern into it that I can control.

Watersoluble ink and watercolour
Studio cat helped, but fortunately his paws were dry!

The above was done on a piece I cut from an A3 sheet of watercolour. Last year the in-house art critic bought me a fabulous safety ruler that eliminates the worry of the knife slipping and my cutting my fingers. (When we were living in London many moons ago, the in-house art critic once offered to cut a cardboard mount for me which ended up with a trip to ER on the bus, and stitches.) He also bought me a beautiful orange craft knife, because being in love with your tools makes them easier to use, and a sharp blade is safer than a blunt one.

March Painting Project: Pebble Portraits

This month’s project takes the idea of a grid of small paintings from last May (details here and gallery) and uses it for pebbles to create a grid of little pebble portraits. Whether you include the whole pebble or part of the pebble, with or without drawn boxes, is up to you. Another option would be to paint the same pebble from different angles, and/or in different mediums.

I encourage you to paint from life, a pebble you can hold in your hand, view from different angles, watch the light fall on it and any shadows. Get to know a pebble as an individual, its specific characteristics rather than merely a generic pebble.

If you don’t have pebbles, take a small vegetable such as a mushroom or onion, something with pattern and texture that looks different from various angles. Cutting it in half, and sections, would be another series of views.

I appreciate that not everyone has access to a beach or river with beautiful pebbles to borrow for a bit, so here are closer-up photos of each of the nine pebbles in my grid. Click on a photo to get the biggest version of it.

Doing it as a monochrome, using black ink, charcoal, or pencil has potential too.

For my first attempt at this project, I used a pen with black ink and watercolour, on a page in my sketchbook. The ink is water soluble, so the lines softened a little as I brushed watercolour over them; how much varies on how thick the line was and how long it had dried.

I initially wasn’t going to add a background to my grid, but leave the pebbles against the white. However studio cat Ghost had other ideas: if you look at the bottom right image, to the left of the middle pebbles on the right, you’ll see the remants of a pawprint where he’d stood on my watercolour set and then neatly printed his paw on my painting. I tried to lift it, but the colour was one of those that stains the paper, so instead I added a background of hematite genuine, a granulating colour that works well as ‘sand’.

As always, to have your painting included in the project photo gallery, email me (on art[at] a photo along with a sentence or two about it. For individual help with your painting and extra project-related content, become a project subscriber on my Patreon. Remember, it’s never too late to do any of the projects!

Monday Motivator: Do Not Rub Out

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote
Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote

“Do not rub out, if you can possibly help it, in drawings that aim at artistic expression. … it has a weakening effect, somewhat similar to that produced by a person stopping in the middle of a witty or brilliant remark to correct a word.

“If a wrong line is made, it is left in by the side of the right one in the drawing of many of the masters. “

Harold Speed, The Practice and Science of Drawing, page 269

When is a mistake not a mistake but part of the piece?

I’ve found that using pen rather than pencil has helped me focus on moving forward through and along with ‘mistakes’, because erasing isn’t an option. Not that it always ends up in a satisfying place, but it’s taught me to work with what’s happening rather than changing my mind and starting a bit again as happens when working with an eraser.

Photos: Seashore Abstracts

A set of photos taken at Staffin beach as I narrowed my attention to small sections. Pattern, texture, and colours. I took these after I’d walked along the beach and back; I don’t get to a beach and ignore the wide views and sea to focus in on smaller things immediately.

Stacked Perspective

The Sagami River woodcut by Hiroshige has seven 'curtains' or layers in its composition

A stacked perspective is when, rather than relying on a vanishing point as in one- or two-point perspective (“the railway lines thing”), elements are piled (stacked) one above another in the composition to give the illusion of depth and distance. Or to put it in art speak: when objects are placed higher on the picture plane to create spacial illusion.

It’s easier to understand by looking at an example than reading about it. In the book “Japanese Prints : The Collection of Vincent van Gogh” I came across a fabulous example of stacked perspective in a print by Hiroshige. Van Gogh copied this print into the background of his “Portrait of Pere Tanguy” painting.

In the photo of the print below, start counting the stacks or elements with the white heron at the bottom, or Mount Fuji at the top. Then look at how the elements overlap, linking the parts of the composition whilst creating the sense of some things being behind others.

The Sagami River woodcut by Hiroshige has seven 'curtains' or layers in its composition
The Sagami River, from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. Edo, fourth month 1858, Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858). Colour woodcut on Japanese paper, 36.4 cm x 25.5 cm. In the collection of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Hiroshige’s composition is extremely sophisticated, involving a stacked perspective of seven ‘curtains’, starting with the white heron in the foreground, and ending with Mount Fuji in the distance.” [Quote source: “Japanese Prints : The Collection of Vincent van Gogh” by Chris Uhlenbeck, Louis van Tilborgh, and Shigeru Oikawa, 2018, p. 108]

Calling the elements or layers “curtains” and imaginging transparent shower curtains with images printed on them, really works for me in terms of understanding “stacked perspective”.

  • The Van Gogh Museum website has a section on the Japanese prints that Vincent van Gogh collected, here.
  • To see sample pages of the book, go to Thames & Hudson’s website

Monday Motivator: Agitation is the Signature Mark

“It’s all very well to talk piously about the painstaking act of seeing; the painter has to translate those pieties into a practice.

In place of Cézanne’s rectangular, latticed strokes, [Lucian] Freud composes with a strongly handled, shield-shaped mark—emphatic swiping enforced with a persistent diagonal rhythm, so that each sharp mark runs jagged to the next, like the tracks of skis.

White highlights, meanwhile, are nakedly laid on, not modulated from within the shade but splashed down impulsively.

Agitation is the signature mark, and angst the signature emotion.”

Adam Gopnk, “Lucian Freud and the Truth of the Body“, New Yorker, 1 February 2021