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!

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.

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).

Art FAQ: Will It Lead to Better Results?

Venn Diagram Artistic Growth

“I can see how experimenting and letting go of the outcome can increase the joy of painting but how does that square with the desire to improve continually and do your best work? Does one just have to trust that experimenting will lead to better results in time? ” — Eddie


My short answer is “yes”.

My longer answer starts with seeing the journey as circuitous and tangential not linear, much as it would be easier if it were.

Being open to trying new things, materials, subjects, approaches simply to see what happens, to see where it may lead you. Taking the bits you find interesting and intriguing further on the journey (not necessarily the same as the bits you like or others regard as successful) whilst shrugging off what turned out to be hideous, discarding that which was unenjoyable. Always remembering, some things may be a matter of wrong place, wrong time; it’s not necessarily a never again situation. Then mixing the new with the existing, the familiar and the favourites.

Happy accidents become familiar by deliberately trying to repeat the result. Even with not entirely controllable techniques predictability increases with repetition as you acquire knowledge of the range of possible results, and how you might respond to these.

Spending time looking at what you’ve done, pinpointing what you like and don’t, what you might try again and won’t, is part of the journey. Don’t throw things out too soon, in the emotion of the moment. Do it dispassionately at a later date.

It should be like pure science, research to see what happens and to learn, driven by curiosty, rather than applied science, driven by a desired outcome. Intertwined but with different approaches, hopes and expectations, for different times and projects.

Paint, play, ponder, paint, that’s my path.


In an interview I read earlier today, author Susan Steinberg describes her writing process in a way that I think fits painting and drawing too, of it emerging not coming out fully formed first time:

“There are several writers who have told me that they assume that when I sit down to write, that I write a sentence and then I don’t move on until that sentence is perfect. And then I write the next sentence and that’s how I write. And when they find out that that I make the biggest mess you can imagine. I just write and write and it doesn’t always make sense and I go really far out there and then pull back and start to pare it down.”
(source: Susan Steinberg on the Value of Writing an Ugly Draft by Diane Cook, Literary Hub, 23 August 2019)

Video: Tall Trees Painting

This video shows me painting on the middle of my trio of tall trees from yesterday’s blog. I used an unfinished seascape with texture paste, starting with yellow acrylic ink which I knew was transparent enough to turn the blues to greens. I had the canvas sideways so I could easily reach edge to edge, rather than having to stretch across it.

The in-house art critic asked how I decide where to put the “blobs of colour”. The answer “I know it’s only to go on the trunk and just random” is inadequate, apparently, so I’ll be trying to figure it out more and put it into words.

Photo Gallery for July’s Painting Project (Beach Huts)

I’ve had fun looking through the paintings done in response to July’s painting project, the number and colours of the huts, the imaginations applied to the scene, and the depictions of the weather (knowing as I do that it was threatening to rain as I took the reference photo). Scroll down and enjoy the paintings!

By Lorraine: Beach huts Borders style!

From Marion: Enjoying the splashes of colour in the foreground, in the grasses and washing, against the calm expanse of a sandy shore that invites you to walk along it.
By Erika: “Tried something different this time by combining both subject matters (cabins/people) in one painting with lots of quiet space in between. Since I’m not a quiet-type person, I feel it needs more (kites flying, dogs in the foreground, at least some sgrafitti) but for now it shall be left as is.”

From Marion: I like that your figures are dressed for a typical Scottish summer! The composition works well for me, with the bands of calm top and bottom containing the central diagonal where everything is happening. And the line of white dancing across the sky pulling the eye across whilst adding visual interest into the dark sky; it feels like lines drawn by two birds who flew across. The pebbles enhance the connection of the main focal point and the secondary.
By Bee: I used oils which I have done very little of and enjoyed it , I find I keep fiddling in oils in a way I don’t in other mediums.
By Sarah W: ” After much fun and learning thank you Cathi and Marion, this outcome I throughly enjoyed and learnt a lot about perspective and horizon line . In Inks and watercolour after tracing .”
By Sarah W: Its been a let’s finish morning , playing , looking and knowing it is not as the photo represents. I have thoroughly enjoyed the learning on perspective and playing with a result I didn’t expect until I stood back. Sorry the beach dissappeared in my project.

From Marion: ” Sometimes paintings take on a life of their own and I believe it’s important to see where this leads because it can be to interesting, unexpected places. You can always go back to your original idea another time.”
By Barbara R: I enjoyed the dramatic skies and the challenge of trying to get the perspective right on the beach huts. Mixed media (watercolours, inks, Brusho, collage on the pebble postcards).
By Barbara R.
By Barbara R
By Barbara R.
By Cathi: I toned down this painting of beach huts from where it was, and think it looks better being less fussy.
By Cathi: Then I titivated the texture paste lone hut. I think it looks as if it is floating on top of the beach but didn’t know how to “anchor” it.

From Marion: Adding a little darker shadow beneath the hut and glazing a little of this out onto some of the pebble sand may well be all it needs to anchor it. The sense of rain shower from the sky created with the drippy paint is very effective.
By Cathi: This is my watercolour on canvas paper version which has a much more subtle feel to it. Something a bit old-fashioned about it and the ochre splodge in the sky almost disappeared!
By Cathi: My “spontaneous” ink version which I think it is my favourite, though I do like the watercolour above.The paper has curled so the perspective looks way out, I know the middle hut is ‘dancing ‘ a bit!

From Marion: I found myself looking back and forth between this painting and the previous. I like the strong ink mark making on this one (hardly a surprise) but also the gentle colour of the previous.
By Cathi: The shed in the wood, with door and step. Ink, spray water, kebab sticks… the lot.

From Marion: For anyone wondering where the trees suddenly came from, I spent a day painting with Cathi and Sarah which saw me doing mostly trees inspired by what I could see through the windows as well as painting the beach hut scene. Towards the end of the day Cathi combined the two, and we were all doing mixed media.
By Cathi. Digital drawing.
By Eddie: This is my attempt at the sheds, after a few corrections suggested by Marion. I thought the huts were too regular so decided to move one out of line.
By Eddie: “I couldn’t resist trying the pebbles. I put a random brown and cream wash with a palette knife on acrylic paper. I then made washes on watercolour paper using granulating pigments and, when dry, I cut out pebble shapes and stuck them on to the acrylic paper. I added shadows on the shapes with a 6B pencil and decided not to add cast shadows on the ground. I covered everything with gloss medium to make sure the shapes were stuck down and protected. Finally I put on a thin blue unifying glaze.”

From Marion: Just as in real life I find myself mesmerized by the shapes, colours, patterns, trying to decide which are my favourites, which one I would pick up.
By Eddie: “Another version using the same process. I don’t often do collage and doing these reminded me why I don’t. They took a long time and I was in danger of developing blisters or repetitive strain injury while cutting out the shapes (not helped by using thick watercolour paper). Despite this it was a lot of fun.”
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.

Of the various attempts I made at painting this scene, my first remains my favourite. You can see three versions (including the failed one) here. I also had a go at the pebbles using acrylic ink, on a wooden board primed with clear gesso. I started with the hope that the continuous line in Payne’s grey would work for the shadows without painting them in painstakingly. (Video of me painting this for project subscribers here.)

Wearing my new shoes that are supposed to not get near paint!

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.

Video: Four Of My Attempts

This video is a speeded up version (eight times faster than real life) of four of the paintings I’ve done with this month’s Tall Trees painting project as the starting point. I’m using acrylic ink (no prizes for guessing it’s Payne’s grey) and DIY watercolour “ink” (hematite genuine and undersea green, both distinctive Daniel Smith colours).

If you’re a Project Subscriber, you should already have received the link to the real-time video of the first of these paintings, or go here. As a celebration of summer (or the thought of summer if you’re in the southern hemisphere), I’ve set the real-time video so that If you become a patron today via Patreon, including at the $2/month level, you’ll be able to watch this.

Which do you prefer? Speeded-up or real-time, a bit of both or speeded-up a little? Post a comment and let me know.

August’s Painting Project: The Instructions

Stand of very tall pine trees for painting project

This month I’ve chosen a photograph which I’m hoping will inspire you to experiment painting wet-into-wet, to worry less about a perfect outcome but relax into enjoying the technique knowing that lack of control is part of it. (You can, of course, also paint it using any other technique; just because it inspired me in a particular direction doesn’t mean it’s the only way.)

At first glance it may seem like an unimposing stand of trees, mostly pine at that, and at second glance that there’s so much going on it may feel overwhelming. The aim is to paint the poetry of the scene, not every twig and leaf. In deciding what to include and what to leave out, you might think about what strikes you most (perhaps close your eyes as you think about it).

Stand of very tall pine trees for painting project

For me the two things that stand out are the bright green splash and the strong darks of the shadowed trunks against the bright light. There’s further appeal in the pattern of light and dark, the sharp verticals interlaced with the diagonal branches reaching upwards, overlaid with greens.

Suggestions:
Less is More: How minimal can you be and still create a painting that reads as a stand of trees? Aim to leave lots of the paper white and use only one or two colours.

Wet-into-Wet: With clean water, brush multiple trunks onto a sheet of paper, then add paint. Work wet-into-wet, letting the colour flow freely, rather than on dry paper with tightly controlled paint. How warm it is, and thus how quickly things dry, and how fast you work add an element of the unpredictable to the painting, which can be serendipitous. Heavier paper (I use 350gsm) dries out a bit slower than thinner as it’s got a ‘core’ to hold moisture; you might also spray the back of the sheet.

Acrylic ink: Use the dropper from the bottle or a stick dipped in the ink rather than a brush as it reduces control and gives a more organic result (watch video). Spraying over a line of acrylic ink with water makes it do interesting, spidery things.

Pastels: Try brushing water onto dry pastel or working onto wet paper.

Watercolour: Try a granulating watercolour for the tree trunks, which as an uneven colour giving a sense of texture. My current favourite is Daniel Smith’s Hematite Genuine which I’ve put into a dropper bottle. For the foliage, try one of Daniel Smith’s watercolours that dry into multiple colours, such as Undersea Green, or work wet-into-wet with a couple of greens/yellow unevenly mixed. (Watch video of a granulating watercolour drying vs ‘normal’.)

Texture Paste: Tree trunks also lend themselves to texture, so dig out that jar and apply it with a palette knife, or glue down some tissue paper.

Layered Colour: If you’re in the mood for lots of colour, take a look at the tree paintings by Klimt (less known than his figures), and contemporary painters Wolf Khan (bright colours) and Rick Stevens (layered colour).


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!


It’s not a subject that’s new to me (see my tree paintings and my blogs on painting trees), but one I have come back to again in the past few weeks, this time using ink and watercolour on paper rather than acrylic on canvas. I’ll be posting some photos and videos of my paintings, but here’s a taster:

Trying (and failing) to Rescue a Painting

This is the story of my second attempt at July’s project. Plot spoiler: It does not have a happy ending.

I wanted to create a painting with more interesting mark making on the huts than than my first attempt at this scene, which was this:

A3 watercolour paper. Acrylic paint.

Sometimes it feels like a painting goes from a promising start to bad to worse to give-up-now. I try to remind myself it’s also an opportunity to push it past the usual point of stopping, to attempt things and see what happens. It’s already not working, so it’s not as if I will ruin it; at worst I just won’t succeed in rescuing it and use up some time and materials.

First I tried adding some oil pastel. Helped a bit, but felt I was just faffing at it not resolving things. So, frustrated and irritated, I put the painting flat on the floor and poured some acrylic ink over it. (Payne’s grey, though it looks black in the photo.)

Splat! Take that you troublesome painting!
Spreading the ink around with a piece of paper towel. The oil pastel of course repels the water-based ink.
All a bit dark now, and the oil pastel lines too basic. So I put it back up on my easel and started adding more acrylic paint.

This video is a sequence of photos taken as I painted this, except for the bit where I worked on the floor adding the ink.

I’ve since had a third go, and although it lost the plot in terms of perspective and shadow direction, it has an energy I like. I might still add some coloured pencil or thin acrylic over the too-dark shadows. Or I more likely I’ll leave the painting to fester in the pile of also-rans and focus on sorting out August’s project instead.

A3 watercolour paper. Acrylic paint and ink plus oil pastel.

If you’ve still to have a go at this project, here’s a ‘starting point’ for the beach huts courtesy of Cathi and Sarah, done as we painted together recently. Note the horizon for the sea will be below the top of the huts.