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]marion.scot) 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!

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

February 2021 Painting Project: Shoreline in the Style of Van Gogh

This month’s painting project is to create an ink drawing and a painting of the reference photo working in the style of Vincent van Gogh, who has long been one of my favourite artists. In both mediums his style involved strong mark making and direction, individual strokes rather than smooth blending together. The drawing will help you with the painting as it’ll give you a map for brushmarks.

I took the reference photo in Uig Bay at high tide. For me the appeal is the contrast between the different textures and the strong lines. The smooth bigger rocks against the “hairy rocks” (which the in-house art critic says look like the heads of Highland cows without horns), the small pebbles against the dark sand, the gentle ripples in the water against the line of foam at the water’s edge. I’m still undecided as to whether I prefer it as a horizontal (landscape) or vertical (portrait) composition, so here are both photos.

For the ink drawing, use something that will give you a variable width line, such as a dip pen or stick, not a fineliner pen which has a consistent width. If you haven’t got anything suitable, use a soft pencil, at least 2B, or a piece of charcoal.

For the painting, you might using a limited palette, (e.g. only white, yellow, and black or Payne’s grey), like the dark colours of the earlier paintings of Van Gogh. Or use exuberant, exaggerated colour as in his later paintings, with or without his distinctive black outline.

For examples of Van Gogh’s drawings, take a look on the Van Gogh Museum’s website, which has them divided into early and later drawings. Similarly for his landscape paintings. I suggest choosing one drawing that appeals to you, and then copying it as there’s no better way to get a close feeling for the mark making.

GET MORE: Additional articles and other content supporting my painting projects available exclusively to Project Subscribers on Patreon. This also includes feedback on your finished painting, and help as you’re working on it, if you wish it. Sign up here…

PROJECT PHOTO GALLERY: When you’ve finished your painting(s), 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). Alternatively, send it to me on social media. 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.

This was my first attempt at an ink drawing, in my sketchbook. A little squashed in on the right-hand side, looking at it; I should have started drawing on the left-hand page of my sketchbook and then I would have had space to continue it.

Lines of Gold

Gold Lines on seascape painting

The backstory to this is my ongoing interest in the use of line in paintings, my little pile of wood panels with plein-air oil paintings that aren’t resolved for one reason or another, plus the thought of using wood-carving tools to cut lines into the wood panel. Enter a basic set of woodcarving tools, several weeks of them sitting staring at me while I pondered, then a few goes to see what kind of mark I might get, a bit more pondering, and I set about carving “rock lines” in the foreground of this panel.

With the thought that acrylic paint would (theoretically) stick only to the bare wood and not the oil paint, I then brushed over some Payne’s grey acrylic paint, thinking a dark line might work. But the painting still felt lacking. So I carved some more lines (trying to destroy some of the inadvertent pattern I’d created), brushed some fluid gold acrylic paint over the whole painting and wiped it, with it sticking to the areas of bare wood.

If you don’t see the video above, click here.

Gold Lines on seascape painting

I think the result has definite potential. The hardest thing was not following lines in the painting, but to ‘draw’ another fresh layer of cut marks on top of the area. Next I need to dig out my printmaking books to read up on woodblock carving and learn to use the tools better.

January 2021 Painting Project: Eggshells (or seeing the potential beyond the obvious)

This project is about going beyond the obvious in the everyday and finding the potential in the familiar, about the visual interest in the ordinary and changing how you’re looking at something. The subject is one I’m thinking many of us have in our hand regularly, an eggshell. The challenge is to get past the “it’s just an eggshell who’d want to paint that” and “I hate still life” reactions, and realise the potential in this seemingly simple subject.

IMPORTANT: Your painting or drawing should be done from life, not a photo (unless you’re allergic to eggs or can’t get hold of any). The reason for working from life is that you have do set up the arrangement of the eggshells yourself, figure out and decide a composition, and then ensure that you’re positioning yourself when you’re painting it so you’ve a consistent viewpoint. Submitted paintings for the project gallery should ideally be accompanied by a photo showing your still life setup.

TIPS: Use some poster putty or tape to hold the eggshells in position. If you put the eggshells on a piece of card, you can turn this around and see the setup from different angles.

COMPOSITION; With this relatively small object, a small shift in the angle or height at which you’re looking at it will change what you’re seeing quite a bit. In the three photos below, the eggshells haven’t moved at all, it’s my viewpoint that has, giving three quite different options.

But before I got to this, I had to decide how many eggshells I would have (three fitting the Rule of Odds) and decided to place them in a straight row. Part of the joy of still life painting is in the setting up of the subject, exploring the arrangement, looking at the light, deciding on a background and a viewpoint. The fun and challenges are not just about painting the thing.

COMPLICATED WHITE: Like snow, the white of an eggshell isn’t all straight-from-the-tube titanium white. It’s that range of colours that are are off-white or not-quite-white. If you’ve strong light, there’s the possibility for reflected colour too (light bouncing colour off a surface onto the subject), such as this orange from my bottle:

TAKING IT INTO ABSTRACTION: Besides painting this subject realistically, I think it invites explorations of pattern and shapes of colour. You might focus on the negative space around the eggshell. Or cut a stencil of the shapes of the eggshells and use this for layers of colour and pattern. Or create a grid of closeup details as in the Blocks of Abstraction Painting Project.

To have your painting included in the project gallery at the end of the month, email me a photo on art(at)marion(dot)scot 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.

I’ve also set up new Discord forum to share and dicuss paintings here. It’s open to all readers, and also a good place to ask question. Feedback from me on project paintings is available to my Patreon project subscribers.

Happy painting!

Project Photo Gallery for November & December

Being a bit late with November’s painting project photo gallery, I thought I’d be a bit early with Decembers and do them together. Enjoy!

By Mark: “A great challenge!”
From Marion: “Delighted you enjoyed it. Lovely painterly result.”
By Cathi
By Bee: “A very quick pastel with some felt tip pen”.
By Eddie
By Erika: “I felt so intrigued by the wall behind the buoy and also the foreground, all fun to do with drywall paste. But then, after having fun, artistic disaster struck. I wanted to keep this very minimalistic but nothing seemed to work. What we see here, is not the end result. I messed up so royally that I didn’t want to take a picture of it.”

From Marion: “Thanks for sharing the photo of it at this stage Erika. Whilst you may not have got a result you were pleased about, I always find it intriguing where your imagination leads you, and I know others do too, as you’re able to take it to regions we can only dream of getting!”
By Eddie, oils 16×12”.
By Bee: oil painting
By Bee, watercolour
By Mark

These are my two paintings:

By Marion, mixed media, A2 size. The photo is a bit dark and a bit bluer than in real life.
By Marion, mixed media, A2 size. You’ll also see I’ve a new pair of studio shoes, as yet without any paint on them.

Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s projects, and a special thank you to those who’ve shared photos of their paintings for us all to enjoy and project subscribers on Patreon. Here’s to 2021 being another creative year for us together!

December’s Painting Project: A Dark Foreground

This month’s reference photo was taken in southern Scotland on a crisp November morning with the sun relatively low in the sky, backlighting and silhouettting a scattering of autumnal leaves and branches. It’s is an excuse to get out yellow, orange, sienna, as well as explore strong darks. The challenge lies in the dark foreground: having it dark enough to have dramatic impact but still pull you into the painting.

In the dark foreground there’s a stream, path, bench, and autumnal leaves covering the ground. If you click on the photo to get the full-size version you’ll see these more clearly.

You might choose to mix a chromatic black (the darkest mix you can create, typically a blue/green/red) rather than use a tube black because it’s a richer dark. It’s also easy to create gentle variations in it by varying the proportions of the colour in the mix and/or by not mixing the colours completely before you use it.

I’d be telling myself to not go too dark too early but to also not be afraid of the dark. Better to need to glaze or add another layer of dark later on in the painting’s development, than to have a black hole. But not to be half-hearted about committing to having a dark foreground.


  • The tree isn’t right in the centre of the composition. The base of its trunk is to the right of centre and then stretches across the centre. Its branches lead your eye up and across. The tree on the right echoes this whilst providing a dark ‘frame’ on the right to keep your eye in the composition.
  • Use branches to lead the eye across the composition, not worrying to replicate them exactly as they are in the photo but for the photo to be a starting point.
  • Notice in the top left corner all the small branches going off the side and top edges in an open, lacey pattern. It’s not a single branch going into the corner, which would lead your eye in and off the edge.
  • The green hill runs down in an improbably straight line, creating a very hard edge that’s distracting. I would change it to a more irregular line, putting a curve into it. Just because it’s in the photo and like that in real life doesn’t mean it should be like that in the photo if it doesn’t work for the painting.
  • Put the houses in the distance or not? They give a sense of scale, and add to the story, but are they a distraction?
  • Consider the format: might you crop it to a square or a vertical rectangle rather than horizontal? The photo is a result of compositional choices I made when taking it,and I like the horizontal format with space for the branches to stretch out into, but that doesn’t mean it has to be this.

If you’d like to see your painting included in the project gallery, simply email it to me. And remember, it’s never too late to do any of the monthly painting projects or share your paintings of any of these. For some extra project-related content and one-to-one help, become a project subscriber on my Patreon here.

Happy painting!

Painting Project Photo Gallery: The Little Mouse

It’s clear the little mouse from October’s painting project generated great inspiration! Enjoy!

By Mark
By Mark

From Marion: A lovely sense of fur texture without over-describing it, and of it being the same mouse from two angles (essential to book illustration). A tweak I’d consider making is to add a few more whiskers to the side with four only.
By Eddie: my take on the mouse. Scraperboard 9×6”.

From Marion: The scraperboard works ever so well, the white pops from the dark background.
By Eddie, pen and ink.
By Karen: “I painted it using acrylic paint and ink using just my new 0 rigger. It’s painted on a sample of flooring. I loved doing this; as you know I like intricate detail.”

From Marion: “Brilliant idea to paint on a flooring sample! Very beautifully and delicately painted. Positioning of it in relation to the knot in the wood is perfect.”
By Karen: Mouse number two.
By Erika: “The little mouse…. taking it out of context…. this one had bigger ‘fish to fry’, not just morsels in a cat bowl! It looks a bit sinister with the cheese knife which I didn’t want to. And maybe it wants to express a certain love/hate relationship with those rodents: on one side they are very cute – but when they attack your flour and oats in a time or place when you depend on it, that changes the nature of things. 12×9″, acrylic on canvas/collage, mouse fur is real fur.”

From Marion: I do love that reference photo has taken you to this imaginative place, even as the splatter of red makes me wonder is that another mouse which has met it’s demise, or from the person wielding the knife? It left me with “Three Blind Mice” playing in my head.
By Cathi
By Cathi
By Cathi

From Marion: Really enjoying this combination of loose and expressive (the drips) with the detail, as well as the use of black negative space at the top vs the white in the bottom.
From Julie-Ann: “Looking through the projects I saw this cute mouse and he looked so easy to do. Best of all it’s my first ever real drawing of an animal and I think it turned out great.”
From Marion: “It certainly did!”

Marion’s paintings: I had great fun with this project, trying it in pencil, watercolour, and acrylic on watercolour paint. A friend sent me a concertina album book she made, which by happenstance was the perfect size. I also did a couple in acrylics on wood panel with a gold ground, which make me smile when I look at them as they’re so different from what I mostly paint.

Little Mouse paintings

Project instructions can be found here, and the list with all the projects and related content here. Remember, it’s never too late to do a project, nor submit a painting to share. Happy painting!

My Harbour Sketches

Following on from my blogs with photos of the little harbour in the Scottish Borders I was at last week (She Sees Seaside and Harbour Details), here are some photos of what happened when I got my paints out. Having multiple days of sunshine in November was a real treat.

The first day I walked about taking lots of photos, then ended up sitting at a picnic table watching birds you can’t see in the photo, including some swans. I got out my sketchbook telling myself that making just one quick sketch would be fine, to not worry about how ‘good’ it was as it’s impossible to do everything on single trip to a location.

Pencil first, then watercolour

The second day I got out my oil paints and had a go at a composition that’d been bouncing around my head all night. Yes, I could have done thumbnails and studies first, all that preparatory work that does help produce pleasing results, but my fingers were itching to paint this. So I jumped in at the point that was appealing to me, knowing that I might not do it justice but that it’s worth a try anyway.

The low winter sun of November means the hill behind me casts its shadow over the harbour from quite early in the morning. I was sitting on this convenient little wall running alongside a bit of road.

Below is the point at which I got cold and stopped painting. It has a few things I like about it, such as the sense of chain on the wall, the curved corner, and the green on the nearer harbour wall, and things I don’t. Mostly I am pleased I had a go at it, and I regard it as a “good learning painting” or study. The next morning I walked around a bit here having a closer look at elements of this composition, such as the width of the nearest wall (which is narrower at the top than the other walls, having a stepped top to it).

Oil paint on wood panel. 9×12 inches.

The next day I got out my favourite Payne’s grey acrylic ink and did some ink and watercolour paintings. The fishing shed with its row of colourful doors, the view through the harbour entrance to the old cottages, the stacks of creel nets. And, no, I never did get around to the boats themselves.

I stopped at this point because the shadow from the hillside caught up with me, and I moved to a new spot in the sunshine.
First attempt
Second attempt. The narrower format works better, I think.

The last day I spent using pencil only, making sketches with notes about things that had caught my eye. Information gathering for a studio painting.

When might I start creating some studio paintings based on these sketches? I don’t know. It may convert into something soon, it might sit and simmer, it might be never. I don’t have a plan for it, I was simply enjoying being in a very paintable location, with a friend who was also painting.