As sometimes happens, I lost the plot. I was doing a little studio study based on my sketches and previous paintings of the River Rha, and at some point I lost too much of the dark and ended up with mid-tone mediocrity and brushwork blended to blandness.
I’d started on a sheet of dark-charcoal pastel paper* that could’ve served as the dark , but painted out too much of it. (*Full disclosure: it wasn’t a carefully considered choice but simply the sheet of A2 that came to hand in a portfolio bag of mixed papers.) I was frustrated with myself, with what I’d done with a brush, so instead of continuing to paint I decided to change mediums, which can be a bit like changing gears. I reached for some oil pastels to redraw a layer of line and hopefully reinvigorate the painting.
Once I’d re-found the joy in the piece, I painted the stream a bit more. I don’t consider it a finished piece as there’s a disconnect between the stream and the rest. But I know where I would go next if I do decide to continue working on this: a layer of paint over the rocks and background, add a suggestion of stream to the right, bit more water-colour that isn’t white to the stream and a flick of splatter.
Why might I not continue with this painting and finish it? Well, it was a warmup, an excuse-for-playing-with-colour moment, a do-something-so-you-feel-productive piece. It might take a little to resolve it and it might take a lot. It might already have served its purpose. I left it taped to the board for now.
“Imagine a fly walking on a surface. If the fly walked across a line and disappeared by going around a corner, then that line should be heavy. If the fly walked across a line which marked a change in material in the same plane then it should be light.” Brian Ramsey, “Trade Secrets”
Or if flies give you the heebie-jeebies, perhaps imagine an ant.
Or a caterpillar, though not a very hungry one like Eric Carle’s.
The Rule of Odds in art runs along the lines of “whatever odd thing you do, people will put it down to your being arty”.
No, wait, that’s the Rule of Oddbods.
The Rule of Odds in art is that a composition will be more dynamic if there’s an odd number of elements in the composition, say three or seven, rather than an even number, say two or six. The reasoning is that having an odd number means your brain can’t pair them up or group them as easily, that there’s somehow always one thing left over, which keeps your eyes moving across the composition.
Why do we pair things up naturally? Perhaps it’s because our body is designed in pairs: two eyes, two ears, two hands, two feet, and so on. (Okay, only one nose, but it’s got two nostrils!) Whether we’re painting apples, apple trees, or apple-eating creatures (aka still-life, landscape, or figures), the same Rule of Odds applies.
Take a look at the brushes in the jar in these two versions of a painting.
If I asked you to count the brushes in the left-hand photo, you’d likely be able to do so quickly — once glance and you’ve taken it all in. Whereas in the right-hand version you’d have to spend a little more time and you may, ultimately, be uncertain because some brushes are hidden behind others — you’re spending longer looking and engaging with the composition.
It’s the Rule of Odds in action. That I painted this scene at all, well that’s the Rule of Oddbods.
Last June the water in the river at Sligachan was so low I sat under the new bridge to sketch the old (see: Being a Troll). Sitting nearby was the USA-based artist Michael Chelsey Johnson, who has now turned his small gouache sketches from Slig in a larger studio painting, described in his blogpost Sligachan: The Story Behind the Painting.
Michael says he decided “to treat it as a picturesque landscape, where there is little indication of man and much of raw nature.” Have a read of Michael’s blogpost to follow his choices and reasons, and see how his painting developed here.
For yet another view of this location through an artist’s eyes, have a look at the paintings of Skye-based plein-air painter David Deamer.
My last studio painting inspired by Sligachan was this one, influenced by sitting here on sunny summer days:
For the first of the monthly painting projects, I thought we’d start with one of the iconic locations on Skye, Talisker Bay. With its dark sand, masses of pebbles, and sea stack, it’s a very paintable location, and a favourite of mine.
This is the January 2019 painting project’s reference photo, to be the inspiration for a painting. The style, medium, and size of painting are up to you. Click on the photo to get the largest version of it or go here.
When you’ve finished your painting, email me a photo on art(at)marion(dot)scot for inclusion in a photo gallery at the end of the month, ideally with a few sentences about it (think: things you might say when talking to a friend about the painting). I’ll post photos with first names only, unless you ask me otherwise. Seeing what different people have done from the starting point is interesting, intriguing and inspiring.
What would be my starting point? Thumbnails considering options. Then choice of medium. For me this location lends itself to continuous line drawing with ink, but also to texture paste and acrylics. Also to a limited palette of Prussian blue, burnt umber and white, which together give a beautiful range of greys.
The two paintings in the photos above I did once I decided which photo to use for January’s painting project. Studio cat Ghost said he couldn’t decide which he liked most and went to sleep on my lap. The one on the left is done with acrylics, working with opaque colour, mostly dark to light. The one on the right with acrylic ink, working in transparent layers.
You can become a Project Patron and view the exclusive project content when it’s published here. It also includes the option of a short critique of your painting if you wish.
Continous line is as it sounds, drawing a line without stopping. I think of it as a line tracking what my eyes are looking at, done at the speed I am looking.
You don’t close your eyes when you look from one part of a subject to another. So if you’re creating a drawing that’s foremost about looking rather than representation, then the line should be continous, not broken (though it could get lighter).
If you’re using pencil, where you don’t have to stop for a while before you “run out” (i.e. need to sharpen it), things can get really interesting as you loose where you are on the sheet of paper (and you didn’t stop to reorientate yourself). By interesting I mean abstracted and distorted. It’s worth doing a few times, giving yourself a taste of the freedom that comes when you’re concentrating on looking, not on the results nor perspective nor representation.
I had a search through my photos but can’t find an example from my own drawings, which doesn’t really surprise me as I don’t often do it with pencil except in a life-drawing session. Have a search online for “blind continuous line”, but be sceptical about all the ones that look like perfect contour drawings.
What I like doing most is continuous line with quick checks keep the drawing achored in reality, regardless of what medium I’m using. An ink bottle pipette lends itself to this as the ink runs out regularly. When I stop to dip the pipette back in the bottle, I look down at my drawing, then back at what I’m drawing, decide where I’m going to look/draw next, position the pipette at a suitable point, then draw again. As I’m drawing I occasionally glance down, to check what I’ve done and where I am and whether I’ve run out of ink, but mostly as looking at what I’m drawing.
This video shows what I mean. I’m look at the outlines and cracks in a slab of rock on the shore at Camus Mor, north Skye (see this blog post and this one for more photos, from the day before I took this video):
I do it with both my left and my right hand, especially working in the A3 landscape sketchbook I’ve been using the past few weeks.
This is what it looked like when I’d finished the line drawing, with a section of rocks I was looking at behind it.
This time, after I’d done the ink line drawing, I then used a small, flat brush and water to turn some of the still-wet line into ink wash. Plus some paper towel to lift off excess ink and create pattern.
There’s a risk to doing this, a risk of messing up a drawing I was pleased with, not least because how much of the ink is still wet is an unknown factor. On a cold winter’s day I know it’ll be more rather than less, though the wind does still dry thinner lines quite fast. It would be more sensible to let the acrylic ink line dry completely and then add a layer of watercolour, which could be lifted and changed without moving the dry ink. But I spend too much time being sensible, logical, responsible, practical (cue: Supertramp’s Logical Song).
That moment when everything flows, everything works, it feels effortless and the results, when you stop, surprise you. That Zone of Creativity, ever-elusive, ever-desirable.
I don’t have a fool-proof recipe for how to get “in the zone”. I do, however, know how to guarantee that I won’t, and that’s by desperately wanting to and trying too hard. The harder I try, the more I second-guess what I’m doing, and things go from bad to worse to dire.
It’s only by thinking less about the overall outcome, by worrying less about whether something is right or wrong, by allowing myself to trust that I’ll be able to fix mistakes as they happen and work through and over them, by not stressing about ‘wasting’ materials and time if I don’t because I can start again, make another attempt, that I begin to create the conditions for being in the zone. (And, yes, that is a ridiculously long sentence; welcome to the inside of my head.)
A pristine new page in a sketchbook holds so many hopes and possibilities. The moment you make the first mark, you’ve narrowed those. But if it becomes dissatisfactory, you simply turn the page and start again.
With the ink drawing I did this time, it flowed right from the start. It felt effortless doing it; I was delighted with the result. But it wasn’t the first sketch of the day, it was the second. And the day before I’d also been sketching at this location (see photos). I swapped from pencil to ink, I narrowed my focus to a specific element that fits with line, and I’d just munched some ginger biscuits with a warming cup of peppermint tea. Which of these was the magic ingredient? All and none.
My intention was to capture a sense of the rock, the solid slab and the vertical cracks. I started on the left, and did it by looking at a specific point, drawing until the ink ran out, then dipped the pippette back in the bottle, focused on a new bit of rock and drew again. I didn’t worry about exactly where I stopped and starting, I wasn’t trying to get an exact representation of the rock, so it didn’t matter if I skipped a bit or made them the wrong size or shape. Ultimately the drawing stands alone, not in comparison with its source.
I was thrilled with it. Now the question becomes: what will happen the next time I try to draw on this location? To Infinity and Beyond!
It happened to be low tide when I went out with my sketchbook yesterday, extra low as it’s spring tide. Even more of those enticing rocks to sketch, but which viewpoint would I choose, where would I sit? I wandered out a bit, further than ‘normal’, awkwardly as the rocks were rather slippery, getting distracted by pattern and colour.
This slab of black rock has become a favourite, and against the sun I was mesmerized once again. But beautiful as this was, I can’t sit with my back to the sea, even when I know it’s hours until high tide.
These are not fossilized dinosaur brains:
This is not where I spilt yellow paint:
Justification/evidence for adding lines of colour amongst my rock drawings:
There’s something about a pile of old rope:
Nature vs built environment. This is my favourite photo from the day but it also makes me wonder why I’ never noticed this juxtaposition before; perhaps because I usually sit on the wall rather than stand looking up at it:
Eventually I did pick a sketching spot, against a big stone that broke the breeze:
Then a rain shower snuck up behind me. Suffice to say, watercolour isn’t a wet-weather medium.
“I have a question regarding acrylic paint in tubes. When the lid breaks, as it so often does on a new tube, is it okay to keep the paint in a small glass jar and should I add water to it to keep it from going solid.” — Lyn
Yes, and if the lid is airtight you shouldn’t have to add water to it. You’ll easily tell if it’s drying though, and then a little water does the trick, just don’t leave it for weeks before you check! If in doubt, put a piece of clingfilm over the top before screwing on the lid for a tighter seal.
It’s worth saving caps from used-up tubes as spares (in wherever you put your tubes, not in a never-to-be-found-again safe place). Also check the size of other things with caps, starting with your toothpaste, as often while the cap itself is bigger overall than a paint tube’s but the screw thread is the same size.
If you’re in a hurry, invert the tube in a container with a little water, enough to cover the broken cap.