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.

November’s Project Instructions: Derelict Croft House

The derelict croft house that is the subject of this month’s painting project is down the road and on a bit from my studio. I’ve walked past it many times though I’ve never ventured inside, partly because the ground around it is very water logged and partly because it feels like it wants to be left alone. I have, however, taken many a photograph of it in various lights and weather conditions. If the sun’s in the right spot, that gangly tree casts intriguing shadows on the wall.

Ruined Croft House on Skye with corrugated iron roof
Click on photo to see the biggest version of it.

In this photo, the sky has been blown out white by my camera. Judge how clear or cloudy the sky would have been by the shadows in the photo (or the lack thereof), as well as the colour of land in the distance and the sliver of sea in the distance on the right beneath the hills of Waternish Peninsula. To my mind the answer is: it’s partly cloudy, with cloud over the building but sunshine in the distance.

COMPOSITION: I would leave out the other houses to the left of this one because they’re more modern don’t match the ruined building. They’re just a distraction, as are the pine tree and electricity poles.

Whether to include the fence of not is a harder choice. It adds location and character, but doesn’t want to distract from the bulding. Certainly you don’t want it heading neatly into a corner as it in the photo. (Have you noticed that this pole is round and goes above the top strand of barbed wire, whereas the other fence posts are square? It’s because it’s a more substantial pole found at a gate or the corner of a fenced field.)

The roof windows are also something I would consider leaving out, because I enjoy the colour and pattern of the corrugated iron roof so and they interrupt it. The wooden pallet across the doorway is to keep sheep and cows out; you’ll need to decide whether it’ll make sense in a painting or not.

FORMAT: The photo is in landscape format, and this is probably how I’d paint it but that’s because I’ve taken numerous photos and from those selected this one. So in some way I’ve already consider possibilities even though I haven’t drawn thumbnails. I think a horizontal format echoes the horizonal length of the building, and the horizonal bands of colour to the right. The broken wall on the right-hand side feels to me like it’s having a conversation with that part of the scene, like it’s inviting it in or trying to escape into it. (I do realise there’s a bit of overactive imagination going on there.)

COLOURS AND STYLE: This scene lends itself to all sorts of possibilites, from realism with the enjoyment of painting the details and textures (possibly with a close-in crop), to expressive conveying a sense of the emotion and character of the building, to collage and even abstract, where you might reduce the building to shapes of colour and lines echoing its decline.

You might use only black and white to give a sense of sombreness, perhaps sepia and white. You might use realistic colours or you might exaggerate colour for dramatic effect. You might use corrugated cardboard for the corrugated iron roof on the building (in the style of contemporary painter Pete Monaghan) and texture paste for the stone walls.

SUBMISSIONS TO THE PROJECT PHOTO GALLERY: As always, you’re invited to email me a photo of your project painting to include in the photo gallery. This can be first name only, under a pen name, or under your initials if you prefer, just let me know in your email. I look forward to seeing your results!


The photo below was taken a little further up the road from the house, in summer which is why it’s all so green. I’m including it here to give you some other views of fences and fence posts, as well as an idea of what the road past the house looks like.

Royal Mail Van Skye Scotland
Complementary colours: red and green

Timelapse Video of My October Project Painting

This is a timelapse video of me creating a painting for October’s painting project of part of the bay at Camus Mor. It’s acrylic and oil pastel on watercolour paper.

NOTE: Be warned, the light in the video flickers somewhat as the camera tries to deal with my moving around. I might just have to do video on overcast days only. And, yes, at one point Studio Cat Ghost is riding on my shoulders (around 03:51)

If you’re not seeing the video above, this link will take you to it on my Vimeo channel.

You’ll see I initially sketch the cliffs to far to the right, but don’t bother erasing the incorrect lines as I know I’ll be painting over these with opaque colours. Then I start covering all the white, or blocking on areas Colours used: cadmium yellow, quinacridone gold, phthalo turquoise, cadmium orange, magenta, Prussian blue, perylene green, titanium white. Plus oil pastel. Medium and small flat brush; rigger brush.

The phtalo turquoise is a bit intense; my thought was that I didn’t want too dark a dark at that stage and that a green-blue would give a sense of the green on the hilltop and reflected in the sea. After I’d done it, I then worked at subduing it hrough layers without obliterating it

At 04:44 i’m using oil pastel to fix the edge where I’d torn it taking off the tape (I really should be more patient and careful doing this!).

When I looked at the painting the day after with fresh eyes, I realised I’d aligned the sea horizon with the edge of the headland, and that the sea was pouring off to the right. I used some oil pastel to move the horizon up a bit and straighten it. The yellow-orange in the foreground could be more golden, and I might still glaze some quinacridone gold over this.

Eliminating the Variable of Time

Clock with hands drawn in with a pen
Clock with hands drawn in with a pen

Instead of letting a painting take however long it takes, what happens if you eliminate the variable of time? Instead of when a painting might be finish being open-ended, time becomes a known entity.

It’s the norm when figure painting or drawing for the model to have 10 or 15 minutes break every 30 or 45 minutes. It makes you take a break too, gives you time to assess what you’ve been doing and consider what you might do next knowing that at a predetermined point your opportunity with that model will end.

It’s also happens when the in-house art critic comes into the studio and says it’s 15 minutes till supper.

For me, knowing there’s a time limit becomes a motivation to become more decisive, to stop second guessing and considering multiple possibilities, to pick something to do and see where it leads. And literally to paint faster to get more done in the time. It’s those one-minute get-the-whole-figure-down warmup drawings from life-drawing class extended to a longer timeframe.

Set a timer and see if it increases your concentration. If it increases your stress more than it helps focus you, don’t give up until you’ve tried a few times. Like so many things, practice helps.


The clock in the photo I saw at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, a reminder that time is a construct. I wrote this blog on the day clocks went back an hour; yesterday sunset was at six and today it will be at five. (Why not move it by half an hour and leave it be?) Another reminder that time is a theoretical entity.

Keeping My Cool with Warm and Cool

Nearly a year on from my blog on not using warm and cool as I paint, I’ve been looking at warm and cool again, in anticipation of a portrait painting workshop I’m going on. I started on a random empty page in my sketchbook — the lefthand page — with a little of each colour I had decided to take with me:

The right-hand page is ‘thinking notes’ from when I was doing my Colour workbook.

Then I had a go at organising the colours into cool and warm by instinct, and getting it muddled by having different criteria in a what was meant to be a binary chart (eg an orange may feel cooler than other oranges but it’s always a warm):

Next the in-house art critic and I had a long discussion about which were what, over coffee. Then I found Gamblin’s comprehensive list and had another go:

It still leaves the question: why do I put cool on the left and warm on the right?

Next I’m going to have another read of colour temperature on Handprint and see if I can internalise more of it.

All of this so I can divide the colours into warm dark (for cast shadows), cool dark (for form shadows), warm light (for direct light) and cool light (for indirect light) whilst trying to paint a likeness. Time to remind myself about why it’s good to get out of our artistic comfort zone!

Painting Project Photo Gallery: Portree Harbour

One of the reasons I chose Portree harbour as the subject for September’s painting project was to motivate myself to paint it. It’s a very distinctive location, with its line of colourful buildings along the shore and the tree-covered hillside and Gathering Hall behind. It’s a complicated subject to paint because there’s so much going on, not least all that architecture. I’m sure the paintings in this photo gallery will inspire you to give it a go if you haven’t already.

First up is Robb, who I met as a painter through the projects and forum of Painting.About.com. Over the past few years Robb’s been focusing on his ceramics, but has now combined both in this pictorial tile:

By Robb: Thanks for the inspiration! My ceramic rendition of Portree on tile form. I used a mid-fire clay, creating multiple layers from the tree line to the quay. The glaze is an under-glaze, left on “over glazed” because I like the matt finish of the under glaze.

From Marion: Exciting to see you combining your painting and ceramics!
By Shirley: “It doesn’t resemble your photo project for September but at least it got me painting which I can’t find much time to do anymore.”

From Marion: “The photo is but a starting point, and the end result doesn’t have to resemble it. Just by getting you painting again, the project has done its job!
By Bee: A rather a quick attempt at September’s subject.

From Marion: A fineliner pen gives a consistent width of mark, which I think suits the subject, adding a sense of rigid, solid bricks and mortar and tile. With just enough wobble to some of the lines to give it personality.
By Bee: Watercolour and pen. Realise now I should have put more trees behind the meeting hall and toned down the end of the church.

From Marion: I agree about lightening the tone on the church and its belltower, possibly reducing the latter in size a bit. Then the trees bhind will read as having mist slowly lifting as the day warms.
By Mark: My efforts this month. I found this quite hard.

From Marion: Is is a hard subject as there’ a lot in the scene and a lot of architecture in it. I think you’ve done it justice in both your paintings!
By Mark:
By Claire: “A scene I have always wanted to paint but unable to reconcile loose and expressive with all those straights! I have tilted my painting to make the harbour appear horizontal and I would like to make the trees and large hall less dominant or more abstract. This my reworked painting, my attempt to knock back the trees and stop the Gathering hall ‘looming’ to much after Marion’s advice ”

From Marion: “I like the loose line work on the harbour wall behind the boat. It adds visual intrigue, dances my eye along, and changes the pace from the water and buildings above.”
By Eddie: Inspired by a recent watercolour plein air course I decided I had time to do a fairly quick watercolour version. It looked a bit anaemia so I decided to add some pen work as well.

From Marion: I think the addition of the pen helps bring the foreground closer, sitting well with the stronger colour.
By Eddie: Mixed media
By Eddie: Mixed media
Line drawing of Portree Harbour
By Cathy: Continuous line (almost). All that fabulous perspective so let’s make it a bit more difficult This totally supports the theory that you don’t need to be totally accurate to get a feel for the place. Lost count of the doors and windows and drew a line at including all the cars! 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.
(See this blog post)
By Cathi, with colour added

I had several attempts, some more successful than others. This is the one that pleased me most from a “trying to do something different” point of view.

This was the end result of my first attempt (see video) after I added some oil pastel


And last, but not least, a submission inspired by August’s Tall Trees photo from Lorraine, who says she was “playing with ink”:

Project Instructions: Camus Mor Rocks

Camus Mor on the Isle of Skye

For this month’s painting project we’re at Camus Mor on the northwestern tip of the Trotternish Peninsula on Skye for a scene with a foreground of large rocks, a middle distance of pebbles, and a green hillside at the back.

Camus Mor on the Isle of Skye

For me it lends itself to a composition focused on the rocks and pebbles, that lends itself to expressive mark making and textures, to abstracted with its feet in realism. The different colours, sizes and shapes in the rocks.

One of the compositional choices would be whether to include the sky and hillside at all. There’s the enticement of reflected colour in the sea — blue from the sky and greens from the hill. Plus the line of colour of the washed-up seaweed on the high-tide mark. And the echo of green between the foreground seaweed and the hillside.

There’s a lot going on in this scene, so consider whether you’re going to focus in or go wide and include it all. This is view to the right, with the whole of the hillside:

Camus Mor on the Isle of Skye

And here’s some video I took at this location. Add a soundtrack of waves lapping and pebbles rolling, and the feeling of little breeze tickling your hair.

With the greys and browns, it’s a chance to use a blue + orange + white recipe as this produces a range of interesting browns and greys that harmonize together because they’re all based on a mix of same colours. If this is new to you, maybe try cadmium orange + phthalo blue. To get light tones, you’ll need a good lump of white.

A perylene green (or black) will give you the strong darks, and mixed with yellow it’ll produce a range of earthy greens.


I’ve painted this location quite a few times over the years, most recently using granulating watercolour, which I’m enjoying for the sense of texture it gives. See:

My Thoughts on My Watercolour Rocks

Watercolour of rocks

As all location painting should, I started by just sitting staring out to sea. The warmer the sunshine, the longer this stage tends to last.

Sitting at the sea side

Then getting out my supplies: sheets of watercolour paper, clips to hold these down, my watercolour set, container for water, box with drawing supplies and longer box with bottles of fluid watercolour (also known as watercolour ‘ink). I’m hoping not to drop anything off the left-hand edge of the wall, because it’d be quite a scramble to get to it.

Watercolour sketching in the sunshine

My first sketch of the day was the view to the left, of the headland and the pebble beach. I was trying to get a sense of the rocks and the colours of the seaweed on it. The direction of the sea as it comes into the bay isn’t right — it doesn’t turn this sharply — but I didn’t feel like fixing it as I’d lose the white and overwork it.

Watercolour of rocks

I then shifted my focus closer to where I was sitting, the jumble of larger rocks with the puddles of green weed.

Watercolour of rocks

I was pleased with the painting above, and decided to try again with a wider view. As so often happens, I was then trying too hard, hindered by what I’d just done, and ended up with a displeasing result. It lacks the strength of the previous painting, and feels insipid, unresolved, confused. If I crop off the sides, I’m less unhappy, but I consider this a dud.

Watercolour of rocks

This was the other dud of the last, the very last painting I did, though this one might still be rescued if I add something that pulls the sea and shore together. And also crop.

Watercolour of rocks

This was my favourite painting from the session. The rocks were painted with Daniel Smith’s Lunar Black, a strongly granulating colour.

Watercolour of rocks
Watercolour of rocks

I then did a version using Daniel Smith Hematite Genuine, which goes from deep dark to browns depending on how diluted and mixed it is, plus some Lunar Black. I like the colour, but I’ve rounded the rocks as I concentrated on the colour rather than shapes.

Watercolour of rocks
Watercolour of rocks

I’ve kept the expanse of sea ‘white’ as part of my ongoing exploration of white space inspired by the little I know of the traditions of Chinese painting. It’s ever so tempting to paint colour in that space, but that’ll change it completely. Also, I find the granulating colours lift very easily, so you’ve got to have a light hand painting over them. Given I was using a stiff acrylic brush not a soft ‘proper’ watercolour brush, that’d be near impossible, thus removing the temptation to try.