Project Photo Gallery: Highland Cows

I think this project photo gallery really shows how it’s our individual preferences and interpretations that make us paint familiar things differently, keeping things interesting both for ourselves and others. (It feels somewhat like a continuation of the topic of my last Monday Motivator of 2019: Subject Isn’t the Most Important Part.) Enjoy!

By Cathi: “A pencil rendering. I love drawing and think that pencil is so often overlooked.”

From Marion: It’s a subject that lends itself to pencil. I agree that in my enjoyment of colour I often overlook the joy of pure pencil.
By Cathi. Ink and watercolour with fabric collage.

From Marion: That quirky bit of fabric works so well — the black-line design on it echoes your ink cow without dominating; it anchors the cow whilst leading my eye across and upwards as I realise it’s not an abstract pattern but flowers.
By Erika: “1. I didn’t like the background.”
From Marion: I think the background’s too calm compared to the strong texture on the cow. Or maybe there’s just too much of it — possibly crop the top and side so the cow dominates the space.
By Erika: “2. Timid and waiting…”
By Erika: 3. Because of “artistic abuse” of canvas, the paint wanted to puddle, no matter, how much medium I used – so I let it puddle. Materials used: paper, acrylic paint and a cut-up vegetable brush.

From Marion: I think this cow is the most successful as it’s got more variation of colour in it and it feels as if it’s sitting in the landscape rather than on it.
By Eddie: “This is ten minutes with a brush and Indian ink. I decided to just go for it and see what happened.”
From Marion: Working wet into wet with ink is very much “go for it” territory, and then trying to repeat “happy accidents”.
By Eddie. Pen, brush and watercolour pencils.
From Marion: There’s a joyous energy to the pen mark making that not only creates the cows but also a sense of rain.
By Eddie: “I did try mussing up the cow’s hair as you suggested but I think the whole thing is overworked.” Pastel.
By Eddie: I went with your advice about scale changing everything. This is 65x45cm. and I like it a lot better. I was surprised to find that the background caused me more difficulty than the cow.
From Marion: It could be because you’d painted various cows just before this and had consolidated all that into what you’d do next. Love the colours, depth, and energy in the mark making.

These are the cows I painted in December:

By Marion. Oils. 8×10″. The colours got a bit murky and I might still glaze some orange over the cow’s coat to liven things up a bit.
Highland cow painting
By Marion. Oil paint applied with a palette knife over an underpainting in acrylics. I feel the right-hand horn got too wide towards the top, but the oil paint wouldn’t scratch off what is quite an “grabby” surface (clear gesso on wood) and I couldn’t overpaint it with the blue without it mixing. I might fix it once it’s dry, or I might find it doesn’t bother me when I look at it again with fresh eyes.
Highland cow painting in ink
By Marion.Acrylic ink on A2 watercolour paper. I drew horns, earsn, face, and outline of the body with a rigger brush, then used a dry flat brush to spread out some of it
Highland cow painting
By Marion. Mixed media (acrylics and oil pastel) on watercolour paper. I started this with an ink drawing, then layered on top, ultimately with oil pastel.

January 2020 Project Instructions: Iona Shore

This month’s project features a technique as well as a subject — painting with a knife, using a reference photo I took on Iona last summer as a starting point. Iona is a much-painted island with turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and jaggered dark rocks; famous for its abbey. (Click on the photo to get a larger version.)

Iona near the ferry, looking towards the Isle of Mull.

A painting knife gives quite different marks to a brush, and is ideal for mixing colours together on a painting itself to give visually intriguing results. For the sake of this painting project, the whole painting need not be created using a knife, but mark making with a knife must be evident. Don’t think knives are for oils or acrylics only; they create interesting results with watercolour too.

The fundamental technique of knife painting is the same as you use for spreading jam on bread: you pick up some jam (paint) and spread it as thickly or thinly as you desire; if there’s butter (other wet paint) on the bread, it will mix in depending on how much pressure you apply. Tapping at the surface with the knife, either flat or on an edge, gives different marks again. And if it all goes horribly wrong, you simply scrape it all off and start again.

There are many different shapes of painting knives available. My favourite has long been this one with a longish flat edge and a sharp point that is perfect for scratching into paint (in artspeak: sgraffito). If you don’t have one, a piece of stiff card or plastic will do a similar job , though a knife has the advantage of being comfortable to hold in the hand and a degree of ‘bounce’ in the metal).

The Scottish Colourists Samuel Peploe and Francis Cadell often painted on Iona in summer. Contemporary Scottish painter Frances MacDonald continues the tradition, saying on her website that “she finds delight in the juxtaposition of angular rock and white sand. Her use of the palette knife creates a dynamism and animation in each painting, She works her paint across the canvas in angular lines; her assured marks arrived at through careful elimination of aesthetic non-essentials.” For online catalogues of her paintings, see the Scottish Gallery‘s website here and here (click on ‘view catalogue’ link on the pages). Another artist to look at for knife painting is Kyffin Williams (read my blog here).

To have your painting included in the project gallery, email me a photo on
ideally with a few sentences about it (think of the things you might say when talking to a friend about it). I’ll post photos with first names only, unless you ask me otherwise.

Happy painting!

My First Steps with Plein-Air Oils

Painting on location in a part of the world where the weather forecast is often “changeable” and “occasional showers” has meant I have, at times, had Nature add to a painting. Unfortunately, with watercolour or ink it’s invariably not a “happy accident” result. More like a “washed that off” result.

I’ve been thinking more and more about having a go with oil paint on location as rain won’t have an impact, and being outside means solvent won’t be a problem. It still leaves keeping wet paintings out of reach of the ever-inquisitive studio cat Ghost while they dry, but that isn’t unsurmountable with small paintings.

Cue the arrival of my first pochade box a few weeks ago, one with space for keeping two wet paintings safe as I stumble along a rocky shore. After a week of staring at it, I tried it out in the safety of my studio, then a few days later ventured out. This is me grinning like the Cheshire cat after putting the very first bit of oil paint on a panel (with orange acrylic for a coloured ground).

Bit further along on that first painting, when the sun came out and changed all the colours.

The point at which I stopped. Not too shabby for a first anxious attempt, I thought. Size 8×10 inches.

My second attempt with it was in the Uig woodland. I’d hoped the Little Tree That Could would still have some autumn colour on it, but it didn’t. I’ve also painted at the Rha waterfall, and at Camus Mor a few more times, enjoying myself immensely, albeit with mixed results. (And, no, I won’t be sharing photos of the dire ones! Just think “overmixed muddy colours”.)

Painting of Rha River rapids
Painting of Rha River Double Waterfall
plein air seascape painting

This is the painting I like best, so far. It’s 30x30cm on wood panel primed with clear gesso (rather than white).

step by step seascape painting

Using a shallow plastic container for a palette has contained the paint and made cleanup easy, the lidded metal container for solvent hasn’t leaked, I’m nowhere as anxious about it all, I haven’t dropped a painting, and Ghost hasn’t walked over a still-wet painting, yet.

Photo Gallery: Derelict Croft House Painting Project

Croft House Painting Project

It’s a dark and stormy day as I pulled together the photos for the November painting project (instructions here) gallery, the kind of weather Eddie has in his pen and brushed-ink painting:

Croft House Painting Project
By Eddie, pen and brush with ink. “I don’t usually use such bold marks, especially on very wet paper, but it is something to explore.”
From Marion: I think it’s an evocative use of ink well suited to the subject.
Join the discussion on Patreon here…
Croft House Painting Project
By Eddie: “This pastel is huge (for me) at 65x45cm but doing it has challenged me and inspired me to the extent that I intend to keep exploring the possibilities it throws up. I was surprised by the amount of creative energy generated by such a simple change.”
From Marion: If it’s the larger scale that’s brought you to this point, then keep it big!
Join the discussion on Patreon here…
Croft House Painting Project
By Asif, watercolour: “I realized that land between the house and water is too flat without details.”
From Marion: A tiny touch of variation in the land  to suggest vegetation will solve this without distracting from the foreground.
Croft House Painting Project
By Barbara.
From Marion: I like the softness of the land, with the few tufts of grass adding interest that pulls your eye upwards towards the building. The suggested texture on the building pulls me in for a closer look, enticing my eye to linger as it sees more, interprets and fills in detail.
Join the discussion on the community section of my Patreon page here
Croft House Painting Project
By Erika: “Party time at the Croft”. This six stages of this painting: excitement – play/fun – despair/anger – banning it from being seen – coaxing it out from the darkest corner – joy.
From Marion: I find the result imaginative, intriguing and invigorating, inviting me in to interpret and connect, as well as connect to the starting point reference photo. . The use of corrugated cardboard for the roof is something I want to try too!
Croft House Painting Project
By Cathi: A good learning trip, trying different ideas.. This was using my mini roller and I love the sky effect.
Croft House Painting Project
By Cathi: But then, having added the red roof (texture paint) I decided I wanted to go greyer rather than blue… then I totally spoiled the whole thing by being too heavy handed so I started over again.
Croft House Painting Project
By Cathi: This time I began with a good orange base to make the colours less flat, and added the tree. I think this is my best effort.
Croft House Painting Project
By Cathi: Thinking I was reverting to being too “fussy/detailed”, I did a really quick one to finish up on, which I quite like as well.


I had a few goes at painting this myself, with mixed success. But as it’s a building I’ve walked past even since we moved to Skye, even my failed paintings of it are more than I’d managed previously and so I should count them as victories.

Croft House Painting Project
By Marion: This was my last attempt, and my favourite. A5 in size, acrylic and ink. I think it conveys the character of the ruined house with enough suggested detail to make you engage with it. (The photo is slightly out of focus.)
Croft House Painting Project
By Marion: I did the lower of these two paintings first. It’s a painting that wasn’t where I wanted it to be but that would merely become an overworked mess if I continued so I started again. The top painting still has issues of composition in terms of the house and the left-hand edge, but I like the looser mark making, the use of dark ink to create tonal contrast and drama.


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December 2019 Painting Project: Instructions

Highland Cow painting project reference

To end the year, I’ve chosen a subject that’s iconic: the long-hair, long-horned Highland cow. Their long hair covers a coat of shorter, helping to shed rain in a wet climate. Most Highland cows I see are rusty-earthy-orange-brown, but their colours range from black-brown to blonde-white.

Highland Cow painting project reference

The photo is intended to be a starting point, open to various composition possibilities, rather than being a photo that presents you with a perfect composition, lighting, etc. Will it be more of a portrait of a single cow, or will you include them all and a suggestion of location? Might you include more grass rather than the bare earth around the feeder? Make a note of your first thoughts or impulses, then push the ideas a bit further with thumbnails to see it leads.

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.

Suggestion: do versions in different mediums.

  1. Pencil (with an eraser)
  2. Pen (as you can’t erase you have to work through/past mistakes)
  3. Black ink (with a brush not a pen)
  4. Pastel, soft or oil (the scale of the painting should suit the size of mark a pastel makes; don’t work too small)
  5. Coloured Pencil (don’t work too big or you’ll be at it all month)
  6. Watercolour (transparent colour)
  7. Acrylic or oil paint
  8. Collage (torn or cut)
  9. Mixed media

So far I’ve ticked 2, 3 and 9 from the list (though the later did start out as a watercolour), aiming for a ‘portrait’ of a cow rather than a ‘landscape with cows’ painting.

Highland cow sketch in ink
Highland cow in ink
Black ink: started by ‘painting’ with water only, then touched a little ink into this.
Mixed Media Highland Cow
Mixed media: Watercolour, acrylic ink, coloured pencil and after that oil pastel

Freezing Watercolour

frozen watercolour

It was such a beautiful, windstill morning I couldn’t resist painting outside despite the temperature struggling to get to 0°C. I don’t know that I would recommend it, but having ink and watercolour freeze as I used it was intriguing. It certainly “sparked joy” as ice crystals gathered on the tip of my brush.

Ending up with paint frozen on the surface of the paper made for something very tactile, inviting my fingers to slide across it. Of course, as soon as the painting was moved to a slightly warmer environment (i.e. indoors), it melted and the paint behaved like “normal”; the paper was cold-damp to its core across the entire sheet and took a little while to dry through.

This was my favourite painting from today, a slice of loch shore, started on location and finished indoors.

Watercolour on A2 paper 350gsm

Painting “The Little Tree That Could”

There’s one little tree in the Uig woodland that wears its autumn colours later and longer than the rest. I call it the “The Little Tree That Could” (context: the children’s book The Little Engine That Could with the lines “I think I can, I think I can … I knew I could“) and first painted it in 2014 (see this blog). On Monday I went to say hello again, taking my watercolours and some acrylic ink (video link if you don’t see it below).

My first painting, watercolour on A3 paper
My second painting, which I like more than the first
With the second I added a bit of background colour first
Third painting, liquid watercolour and Payne’s grey acrylic ink. There was a bit too much ink andnot enough orange, but overall I think it worked.

This video was taken when I started moving the colour around with a rigger. (It goes a awry for a bit as I open a bottle to add more orange, just skip that bit. Video link)

My fourth painting is my favourite, ending up a bit like Moses’ burning bush. Watercolour only.

I was sitting on a convenient rock next to the stone wall.
1 = Watercolour set.
2 = Painting drying.
3 = A bit of waterproof padding to sit on.
4 = Plastic folder with paper that also serves as a ‘drawing board’.
5 = Inks and fluid watercolour in plastic box.
6 = Water bottle (for me before my brushes)
7 = Backpack with raincoat, biscuits etc.

Photo Gallery: October Painting Project (Camus Mor Bay)

It’s so interesting to see a landscape familiar to me through other people’s paintings. For this project we were at the bay at Camus Mor, somewhere I often go, sometimes sketching, sometimes watching the waves. When the sea is calm, it takes on all sorts of reflected colour from the hillside, which Eddie has conveyed beautifully:

By Eddie: “Acrylic, with pumice gel, clear granular gel and light moulding paste and lots of glazing. This is my attempt after corrections suggested by Marion. Compared to the original I have reshaped some hills and shadows and made the rocks more colourful.”

From Marion: “Just the right level of reworking, not losing what was working whilst moving it that bit further.”
By Bee: Ink and watercolour.

From Marion: I love the delicateness and understatedness of the colour, the strong shapes that are quite abstract if considered individually yet together read as landscape.
By Bee, in acrylic Those cliffs have got a sense of imposing grandeur, dominating an ancient landscape of dark volcanic rock.
By Cathi: From sky down to sea, there is a tissue paper underlay, giving some fabulous textures. My masking tape was very old and because it was on the paper for over a week it shredded the paper when I lifted it….. but I like the ‘happy accident’ where a rock broke the base line.

From Marion: That’s a very happy accident indeed — it looks deliberate!
By Cathi: “This entirely ink. I love the granulation produced by Indian ink diluted with water.”

From Marion: The granulation gives a lovely sense of texture through suggestion, engaging my imagination. I like how close looking reveals the fine pen lines, and the use of negative space for the sea with just a hint of colour.
My project painting: the colours on the seaweed in the foreground are a bit too yellow-orange and I might still glaze over this with a quinacridone gold or something. You can watch a timelapse video of my painting this here.

Does Destroying a Painting Mean You’re Giving Up?

Don’t pull the plug too quickly

The short answer: No.

The long answer: No, it means you’re recognising that it isn’t worth spending more time or effort on that particular painting. Not every painting is going to be successful and it’s unrealistic to expect it, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

A line I’ve remembered from the book “Art and Fear” is ”The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.” (Looking it up, I see it was 2005 I reviewed it; read review here.)

I think destroying paintings becomes problematic only if you’re consistently stopping at the same point, never trying to push past it and find out if you might resolve it. It’s already not working, so you don’t have to worry about ruining it.

I also don’t think something should be destroyed on the same day it was created, or you stopped working on it, because once there’s a bit of time between making it and reviewing it we can be more objective. I go through my paintings on paper two or three times a year and sort out the ones to keep, the ones to be torn up, and the maybe ones who get another look before I decide.

Confidence in Your Own (Artistic) Potential to Find (Art) Solutions

Sign that reads this path is dangerous

I was skimming an article on “feeling the fear but doing it anyway” on Entrepreneur when I was stopped by the words s the words: “Confidence comes when you’ve accepted your own potential to find solutions“. It felt like an explanation of what’s at the core of painting intuitively.

You have a repertoire of art techniques and materials to hand, and select from these to create potential as well as solve problems of your own making in a painting. You trust you’re not a one-trick pony and can reproduce an effect more often than not because practice underpins it. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but helps us continue.

When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may influence the outcome. Embrace the uncertainty and see if you can find the ride intriguing. Do something and see what results, respond to that, and to that, and to that. That’s painting with intuition.

Sign that reads this path is dangerous

I’m curious about how you define painting intuitively? Leave a comment on my blog and let me know.