Project Photo Gallery: Bluebells

Here are paintings inspired by June’s project, in an array of styles all the way from botanical to abstract. Enjoy!

By Bee: “My attempt at bluebell woods in acrylic, using leaf prints. I was worried I had gone a bit dark and got a bit too enthusiastic with the leaf prints.”
From Marion: Really like this! The sense of cool shade, how it leads the eye up to the bluebells and sunlight.
By Bayberry: I gave this one a shot but it is more about birches than bluebells! From Marion: For me it’s got a real sense of walking in the cool shade of Uig woodland, seeing the sunny field of buttercups through the trees.
By Eddie: Having done a couple of small studies I decided to go large. I found it difficult to know how big to do the flowers and started off far too small since I wanted them to be front and centre. I have used watercolour, gouache, inktense, acrylic and soft pastels. From Marion: Your bluebells are definitely front and centre, immediately dominating the composition and demanding we look at them. That they decrease in size as they go into the background adds a sense of depth and location. The layers on the bluebells give them form, colour, and visual intrigue. They feel as if I could touch them with my finger and they’re dance about.
By Katherine: But by following the links on the Higham newsletter I’ve found your monthly projects, and this is my first effort. I’ve combined it with a challenge that my local art teacher to produce something using 3 ‘wet’ colours and 3 ‘dry’ colours so this has been created using 3 loosely applied watercolours and 3 chalk pastel colours. It also had to be done within 30 minutes (not including drying time).
From Marion: Delighted you found the project, and hope you’ll be joining in more.
By Helen R: My go at a bluebell wood.
From Marion: It reminds me of the bluebells growing in the grounds at Armadale Castle on the south of Skye, where they outgrow the other greenery.
By Sarah: . I started with Ink, then I went back to practice more in watercolours. I thoroughly enjoyed this.
From Marion: I’ve enjoyed watching your progress on Facebook with your botanical art studies, and it’s a special thrill that this month’s project prompted you to do a bluebells. A beautiful painting of a deliate flower, and a reminder to me of how it’s time well spent to slow down and look closely.
By Cathi: ” After much doodling and playing around I came up with two totally different pics. Watercolour and ink.”
From Marion: I love the freedom in this, the loose expression of the colour constrained with just a touch of line. So deceptively simple!
By Cathi: “After much doodling and playing around I came up with two totally different pics. This, the second, at last, is going away from the “must look like what it is”! Watercolour and ink.”
From Marion: If it weren’t for the theme “bluebells” I wouldn’t be making the connection, so in your aim to get away from it “looking real”, you’d certainly succeeded. Conversely, having “bluebells” in mind gives me a path into the painting, a way to interpret and make it intriguing rather than merely mysterious. I find myself wondering what a version with curved cut lines rather than straight would feel like, vs the strong straight lines.

By Marion. Mixed media. (See this blog post)

July’s Painting Project: White Daisies

This month’s project features one of my favourite flowers, white daisies. A challenge to use this reference photo with a small colour range (white, green, yellow) and a lot of repeated shapes (the circles of the flowers and lines of the stems) to compose and create a painting. Remember, a refernce photo is a starting point, not the finish point. See where it takes you, in any medium you choose.


  • Simply the composition: There’s a lot happening in this reference photo, so start by thinking about what you would leave out and narrow down what you might include in a composition. Doing thumbnails would be time well spent, tiny drawings with the basics of a composition. (I would crop off the right-hand half and a sliver off the bottom of the photo, a composition with an area top left where there aren’t daisies to give breathing space.)
  • Focus on shape: Daisies have a very distinctive shape, the central splash of yellow with slivers of white dancing around. Growing as they are in the reference photo, we see them from all sorts of angles as well as some older flowers where the petals are drooping. A second level of shape is the wiggles of the stems.
  • White: The ‘white’ of the petals isn’t the same across the whole flower. Think “interesting whites” not “tube white”. Add a bit of blue or purple to areas in shadow, and yellow to areas catching the light. If you use the same blue(s) and yellow(s) to paint the greenery, you’ll have a colour harmony in your painting.
  • Shadows: If you’re using acrylics or oils, think about painting from dark to light, put the shadow areas in first and add opaque colour on top, rather than trying to add shadows afterwards. Or let the painting dry so you can add the darks by glazing.
  • Sky: That little sparkle of sky in the top lefthand corner, maybe continue that across the top of the composition to give an extra colour and relieve all that green.
  • Think in layers: Create a list of layers you could have, mediums and colours and mark making. It’s a bit like a recipe, all the decisions made before you start, leaving you to focus the painting.
  • Do blocks: Taking inspiration from April’s projects and create a composition with little blocks of daisies (as I did with my Dozen Daisies).
  • Supersize: Take a detail and make it fill a composition, a “supersized” or giant daisy or three. Like the Edinburgh-artist Lucy Jones has done here and here.

This is what my list of layers might look like, using mixed media on paper (as I did in my Concertina Daisies):

  • Pencil to mark the initial composition, especially the position of the flowers. This could be lightly done so it doesn’t show, or used as the first layer of line.
  • Line drawing of the flowers and stems, using acrylic ink (because once it’s dry, it won’t lift).
  • Yellow ink or watercolour onto centres of flowers, and a little random yellow onto the areas of greenery (to create colour variation once I start painting the stems more deliberately).
  • A darkish watercolour green applied with stems in mind to give a linear feel to it, but not too carefully.
  • Another watercolour green,similarly applied, to give variation.
  • While I wait for the greens to dry, do another layer on the flowers with a light blue ink for “shadow petals”, knowing these will have a layer of white over the blue to ‘subdue’ it.
  • Another layer on the stems and foliage, a brighter more yellow green that’s and more opaque too so it pulls forward. Applied with a little more precision to tighten up shapes and give definition to stems.
  • Add some light blue ‘sky’ colour along the top, encouraging it to drip and run down. I’d first try with watercolour, but if it’s too lost then I might repeat the layer with a slightly opaque acrylic (adding white to any blue, then making it fairly watery).
  • Use white to define the petals. This could be a drawn line with acrylic ink or using a flat brush (which if you twist it as you pull it gives a nice ‘petal’). Watch out for it being too uniform a white — having bits that are still wet that you hit and mix on the paper, or having stray bits of colour on your palette can help. Or mix a bit of ‘interesting’ white and use this first before ‘clean white’ as the top layer.
  • Reinforce the yellows of the flowers.
  • Check if the darks need to be reinfored.
  • Leave it overnight, look again with fresh eyes, and decide if anything else needs doing.

If you’d like to have your painting included in the project gallery, simply email it to me (and for any of the other projects, whenever you might do them). If you’d like help whilst working on your painting and feedback on the finished painting, this is available to project patrons. Have fun!

Painting Daisies in a Concertina Sketchbook (with video)

If you’ve not met one before, a concertina sketchbook has one long zigzag page that folds up between the covers. How many pages it has and what type of paper depends on the brand; the one I’m using in this video is from Seawhite and slips into a case. (If you don’t see the video below, click here to go to my Vimeo channel.)

I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, then watercolour in a dropper bottle (including two granulating greens), watercolour from my set using a brush, acrylic paint (cadmiun yellow light and medium), a mixed blue-grey acrylic ink (the masking tape on the bottle tells me it’s a colour I’ve mixed), white acrylic ink (Sennelier’s super-opaque white), and ultimately a touch of orange acrylic ink to deepen the yellows in the flower centres.

The decision as to how many pages to do was intuitive, a feeling for how many would be manageable across the width of my table (and off a bit) and would probably not be totally dry by the time I got back to the start with a new colour. I’m drawing daisies from a mixture of memory and the ones in the jug in front of me, which I turned around at various points so I was seeing ‘new’ daisies.

The colours initially are a bit gloomy, but when I add the bright green these become “background shadows” and everything turns brighter. I had visualised this brighter layer of green before I started, I just didn’t know exactly when I would do it. I’ve got a list in my mind of what layers I’m going to do (colours/materials) but if you’re new to working like this it’s worth taking the time to draw up a list, and having everything to hand, so when you’re painting the decisions are already made and you can concentrate on painting.

What will I do with the rest of the pages? At the moment my thought is to continue with flowers, probably the pink foxgloves that are flowering now too, but I’ll see what I feel like when I start again.

This is only the second concertina sketchbook I’ve used; the first has a watercolour of the sea/weather from my studio on every pair of pages, with a consistent positioning of the horizon line across the pages (drawn in with a pencil before I started). I’m sure there will be more, not least because I have a little Sennelier one with thicker paper I won in a competition and the Moleskine one the in-house art critic gave me last Christmas to try.

Project Photo Gallery: Abstracted Grids

An email from a friend reminded me I hadn’t done the photo gallery for May’s painting project yet (nor June’s newsletter). Apologies for keeping you waiting; June has rather slipped away from me, but pulling this photo gallery together this morning has reminded me of how much fun there is to be had with grids. So without further ado, here they are for you to enjoy:

By Bee: “windows on my work room. Fun with a fountain pen.”
From Marion: ” Each is intriguing by itself, and then together create a story, a sense of location.”
ByEddie: “This is a tour around my studio with a pencil. Good luck with recognising anything here.”

From Marion: My first thought was “I bet I can recognise things” and sure, there are a few, brushes for instance, a mannekin and clock. Possibly a tape dispenser. And a boat, but is it a model or a painting if a boat? It becomes absorbing, unpicking a puzzle and finding the strands of the story.
By Eddie: “Cutting up failed paintings is a fun way to use them.”
By Eddie: “I liked the cut up technique interesting but found the small size a bit limiting. This an abstract which I tore up to use the back of the paper. A bit of cutting and rearranging was fun.”

From Marion: It’s intriguing how a cut-up piece takes on a new life and becomes more than it was before. The tidier side of my personality keeps wanting to nudge the ones that are just a little out of alignment, though I realise this would make the composition more rigid and it’ll feel different.
By Eddie: “I am a little concerned that this could become addictive but it’s a great use for failed watercolours.”

From Marion: “If you find yourself deliberately messing up a painting so you can do this, then you’ve become addicted! It’s like each little block is a chapter and together they create a story. Each time I allow my eyes to circle around the blocks a different one grabs my attention.
By Eddie: “If I do this again I will use larger squares (these are 2cm, pastel) as I found them pretty difficult.”
By Cathi: As usual the “must look like what it is” side of me won over. I have ended up with lots of little quick sketch ideas of my garden. 2” squares giving an A2 finished size.
By Cathi, watercolour on A3: “This is a more abstract version of the previous one. Spot the bluebells.”
By Cathi, pastel

May’s project led me in several directions:

This was created looking at a bunch of roses in a yellow jug. The closer-up details that are more abstracted and intriguing work better for me, but I also like the blocks that combine line and colour (second row, second from the right).
See Blocks of Abstraction: Two Cut-Ups
It becomes quite mesmerising shifting little sections of a failed painting around as it transforms into something new
This is my favourite from the various pieces May’s project led me to doing. See A Dozen Daisies

The details of June’s painting project (bluebells) can be found here. And a reminder that if you’d like to help with your project paintings, the way to do this is to become a project subscriber via Patreon (now with £, $ and Euro options; I use Patreon because the site deals with the VAT paperwork for me).

Video Painting Demo: Bluebells

Watch over my shoulder as I paint using the reference photo from the painting project for June as my starting point inspiration (along with my visual memories from the times I’ve been in the Uig woodland and seen bluebells). I’m using an A2 sheet of 350gsm watercolour paper, with watercolour, coloured pencil, and oil pastel.

At one point I take the masking tape off to try to stop myself overworking it; the next day when I continued I taped the edges again, cropping a bit at the top. You’ll see quite a bit of my putting down paint and then lifting most of it off with a piece of paper towel; I was worried about getting too dark too soon, but may well have hesitated too much. The video is at 10x speed, except for the bit where studio cat comes to inspect (at 06:41).

June’s Painting Project: Bluebells

Bluebells transform a landscape into dance of purple-blue amidst all sorts of greens. The flowers are a distinctive colour, blue that leans strongly to purple but isn’t any of the straight-from-the-tube blues available to us, so gives an excuse to spend time colour mixing with all our possible colours. (See: My Watercolour Recipe for Bluebell Blue.)

Scottish bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) have flowers mostly on one side of the stem, pulling it over in a stoop, curls on the petals, and narrow leaves, about 1cm. It’s Spanish blubells that are more upright, plus all the variations that come with hybrids (which means there’s leeway for artistic licence).

The project for this month is to do a painting using this reference photo as the starting point:

A painting about the woodland floor, the patterns of colour and shape, light and dark, soft edges and hard, the layers of foliage. Painting style can be anything, it could be realism enjoying the details, impressionist enjoying patterns of colour (e.g. Renoir’s Path in the Wood) and brushwork (like Monet), or abstract as in this Hommage à Klimt. You might divide it into a grid of little pictures in the style of last month’s project.

For my own painting I’m visualising something in the style of Gustav Klimt’s forest paintings e.g. his Birch Forest but in blue-greens and with flowers not fallen leaves. A bluebells version of my Listening to Trees painting (from 2013) less abstracted than my Listening to Bluebells painting.

Tips: If it feels like an impossibly complicated scene, start by reducing it to its main shapes (e.g. rectangles of tree trunk, triangles of ferns/leaves, dancing curls of bluebells). This will give you the building blocks for a composition. Look at where the lightest lights are and the darkest darks (maybe ignoew the sliver of light across the mid-ground). Do some colour mixing for shades of green and your bluebell blue. Think of painting it in layers rather than from blank canvas/paper to finished in one go, working from main shapes towards detail, what can be suggested and what must be described.

Here are some additional reference photos to provide extra information and inspiration:

Maybe your painting take a mouse’s eye-view?
This a bit of a “spot the bluebells” photo when viewed small, but it gives a sense of the edge of a bit of the Uig woodland where bluebells thrive. The bluebells had been out for a bit when I took this photo and the “other stuff” has grown up, hiding them.
How about including some dandelions?

As always, if you’d like to have your paintings included in the next photo gallery, email a photo to me or send through social media. If you’d prefer for it to be shared without your full name, just let me know.

My Watercolour Recipe for Bluebell Blue

Yesterday I sat on a tree stump in the Uig woodland amongst the bluebells, with my watercolours. My aim was to try the various blues I have and see if I could crack “bluebell blue”. Looking at the options I had for shifting blues towards purple, I decided to try Imperial Purple (a Daniel Smith mixture of PV19 quinacridone rose and PB29 ultramarine blue) and mixed it with my favourite blue, Prussian (PB27). And just like that I had my recipe, andnow I can tick “paint bluebells in the woodland” off my to-do list.

This is the tree stump I sat on whilst painting bluebells. It was one of the trees cut down by the woodland trust last year because they were damaged or rotten.

Seaside Sketching in the Sun

With a forecast for temperatures in the twenties and covid19 lockdown moved to phase 1, I dug out the tube of sunscreen and drove to my favourite bit of shore with paint and paper.

It took me a few moments to realize what the unexpected shapes at the bottom of the slipway were. Never seen seals here before; not long thereafter they all took to the water, and after a while disappeared.

I mostly used watercolour (granulating black and haematite plus a few others) and Payne’s grey acrylic ink, but did also have some coloured pencils with me.

My first piece
Four little paintings (15x15cm) and four clips to stop them blowing away
Two more after moving north a bit. Coloured pencil used on the left. The blue on the right-hand one doesn’t meet the black of the rocks because this was still wet and I didn’t want it bleed; I might still ‘fix’ this and strengthen the touch of green.
Spot the bird.
Hokusai’s Great Wave reinterpreted as a performance piece!

Project Photo Gallery: Found & Visual Poems

April’s project was something quite different, and it’s been heartening to receive comments about how much it’s been enjoyed and the directions it’s taken people. Here’s an assortment, starting with blackout poems and moving onto more visual. Enjoy!

By Eddie: “Not so much a poem as a progress report.”
By Amanda: “I enjoyed it I may remove more words but I will go onto page 2 next I may also try with a newspaper or magazine page.”
By Amanda
By Issie: “Really enjoyed the challenge. Kept it in black and white. People with dementia only have a bit of light filtering through the darkness.”
By Lorraine: “Really enjoyed this exercise and find myself doing it all the time when reading articles has lots of possibilities.”
By Lorraine
By Lorraine
By Cathi: “I do like it but I think it is quite dark and a bit depressing.”

whispered voices / tested on tongues /
applied improbably chance / in a different weight /
The night closed over / swollen membranes /
in out / the breath of the river
By Cathi
By Mungo, from a Terry Pratchett book:

straining sales / the roar of the wind /
the burst of electric storm light / cold light /
My lord? /
The captain looked terrified /
fizzing tongues / edged with blackness /
wizards magic
By Chrissie:

Tons of blossom / pigeons quietly pick asparagus /
I am going to go and compost food / Oh well /
It was quite a socially distanced / chap on the door
Pacman desperately / holding their breath as they / Organised /
how many days should pass before we know / the worst day
the snake wrapping more than half way /
Inside perspex shields /
and gates at each end /
I have been trawling and even tiny mills have no flour
By Cathi: I have had fun; not going to win prizes but I do hope it makes you smile.

The sheep year starts
When the tups go out
Balancing things
Looking around
Usually I appreciate what surrounds
They make me smile
Singing and
Chattering, especially at dawn and dusk
All signs of a balanced ecosystem
By Sarah: The monthly project took me to some usual feelings and places starting off with Simon and Garfunkels “The Sounds of Silence”.
By Sarah:

And finally, a page of daily word prompt drawings from Amanda (you’ll find the downloadable templates here):

From Marion: Looking at 5, I guess we all now know your favourite food!

This one of mine I’ve called “Pep Talk to Self”:
good good your idea / go for it
mind hand / fresh vital
artistic expression / artistic feeling
beautiful person / witty brilliant
right / great / fearlessly going