After I found a sheet on which I’d at some point* printed with bubble wrap pressed into paint, I wondered if I could use this to create a sea shore painting by starting with the negative space around the rocks. The video below shows what evolved.
(If you don’t see this video, click here. There is not any sound on the video.)
Below are a couple of close-up photos of the painting, as well as one of the painting at the point at which I stopped.
Being on paper, the white ink that was the last layer I applied did sink on a bit as it dried. That’s something I allow for and if need can always add more white paint or oil pastel to it. The unpredictability of exactly how it’ll dry is part of the fun of the technique, coming into my studio the next day to see what it looks like when totally dry. I particularly like the way it’s sunk in around the texture of the paper towards the top.
*I think it dates back to meeting of my art group on Skye!
A combination of low tide and mild weather (for February) saw me sitting next to the coastal path between Gardenstown and Crovie with some paper, acrylic ink, watercolour, and coloured pencils.
I think I’ve found a new favourite perch, a large flat rock with enough space for me and having my supplies within reach. Bonus is that there aren’t deep cracks for pencils and brushes to fall down never to be found again.
The headland isn’t as far away in real life as it seems in the photo, and the ruggedness of the rocks caught my attention.
But I felt an obligation to first have a go at the houses in the village, because it would be rude to ignore the postcard view wouldn’t it?
So I got that out of my system with a quick sketch of the wide view, and was reminded how for me to do anything satisfying with an architectural subject I need to be in a mood where I can slow down and be a bit lot more meticulous with it. This day wasn’t such an occasion. Time for some craggy rocks instead.
I was pleased with this, which I think has feeling of the ruggedness of the rock and the gorse beginning to flower. Also because I managed to focus on a relatively small area, resisting the urge to include “everything”, and didn’t get caught up in detail.
I then shifted my attention to my left, where the tide was coming in against dark rocks, creating interesting contrasts of pattern and texture. Starting with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, my thought was to use line on the rocks and wet-into-wet for the sea. That plan got ruined by my dropping some water from my brush onto the rocks area, causing the ink there to spread. Note to self: put the water container on the right-hand side next time! It became a dark puddle, so I used a piece of paper towel to soak most of it off, followed by a wet paper towel to see if I could persuade any more to lift.
It left a grey tone to the whole area but also some interesting darker dried-ink lines. I was too irritated to continue with it, though what’s there has possibilities and I might take it back to this spot on another day. Being acrylic ink, I can overpaint it with watercolour without anything lifting and, being on paper, coloured pencil will sit on top too. Maybe I could crop in a bit too.
I sat for a bit waiting for the sheet to dry, watching the waves and oystercatches flitting about. Then there was a bit of pebble pondering, before wandering back along the patch to Gardenstown.
Negative space is the part of a painting around and between objects and parts of an object. Thinking about negative space rather than the object itself requires a shift in mental gears, ignoring the “interesting thing” to focus on the “empty space”.
This painting project is about using negative space to create the outer edges of a subject. It’s about reversing your thinking and focus, finding the shape from the background not the subject. it’s a technique that works for all sorts of subjects, including figure painting and portraits, but for this project we’re going to use negative space to turn a chaos of brushmarks into a colourful vase of flowers.
You will need:
A sheet of watercolour or mixed media paper
Masking tape, to divide the sheet into two or four or six, depending on the size of your sheet of paper. (Doing multiple little paintings together removes some of the stress of getting it ‘right’ as it gives you several attempts.)
Your favourite colours. If you’re using watercolour, you’ll need some white gouache or acrylic to create an opaque colour. While I have done this with acrylic paint, the technique works with pastel too.
A mental image of a bunch of multi-coloured flowers in a ceramic vase with a strong single colour
What to do: This video explains it
What I enjoy about doing multiples on a sheet of paper at the same time is that every one is different. Here are the six little paintings in the video, and below this the six I did before recording the video.
Although in this video I’ve created the layers of random colour before painting the negative space, it’s also something you can do with a sheet of paper where you’ve brushed leftover paint from other paintings. Wipe off excess paint from your brush and over time the layers will build up until you’re in the mood for using it for a negative space painting or a warmup exercise. Here’s one I did in 2016:
REMEMBER: If you’d like personal help with creating your project painting and/or a critique on your finished painting, this is available to all my project subscribers via my Patreon site. Have fun, and do send me a photo of your painting for inclusion in the project gallery for us all to enjoy or share it in the Community Section of my Patreon site.
This art project challenges you to draw a scrumpled up bit of paper without doing an outline first. The project is less about the subject and more about the technique and skills development. Though you’ll hopefully be surprised how interesting a scrumpled up piece of paper can become, more importantly it’ll help with brushwork in your painting (with which direction to make brushstrokes).
First, let me explain what I mean by outlines and form lines.
Outlines are the lines we draw of the “outer edge” of an object as we see it. We draw them because it gives us the overall shape of something, where it starts and stops against the background or other objects.
Form lines depict the “inside” of a subject, the lines we draw to show what’s going on inside an outline. These give a drawing depth (3D) and convey other things such as a sense of texture and direction. Form lines are like the slimetrail a snail leaves as it moves across an object, going up and down as the surface it’s moving across changes direction (though for this exercise you don’t want line to be wandering around at random like a snail, it wants purpose and direction like a snail heading for a tasty hosta leaf).
If you find form lines hard to visualise, try taking a length of string and draping it across the surface, then drawing the line of the string. Or run the finger of your hand not holding the pen across the surface of the object, and noticing when the direction changes, when it’s moving up or down rather than smoothly across.
It may feel that if we first draw the outline, it’ll make getting ‘the rest’ easier. But does it? Starting at one spot and working all the way around the object back to this point involves continual decisions about where we’re placing the line in comparison to what’s already drawn. You’re looking from edge to edge, ignoring what’s happening inbetween, whereas this could be helping if you were drawing using mostly form lines.
You will need: a piece of drawing paper, a piece of paper to scrumple up, a pen and/or paint marker, and a pencil.
The first few times you do this, use pen not pencil so you can’t second-guess yourself and rub out parts to redraw, but have to keep going. Give yourself permission to not aim to create a perfect drawing, but to spend time trying and learning.
What to do: Scrumple up a bit of paper and put it where you can see it easily. Pick an area to start drawing from, it doesn’t matter whether it’s on the edge or the ‘inside’ of the sheet. You’re going to use hatched lines (short, parallel lines) to depict the that area, its direction and shape. (Don’t use cross-hatching, only lines in one direction.)
Decide what direction you’re going to hatch and work your way across that shape. Then pick an adjacent area and do the same thing but change the direction of your hatching so it gives a sense of direction change between this and the previous area. Expand out from your first area until the whole scrumpled paper is done. Then add the outline as needed.
Draw in the ridges and shadow edges if you find this helps keep track of where you are as you look back and forth between your drawing and the scrumpled paper, along with lines showing the edge of the sheet. Don’t stress if you get lost, simply pick a point and draw from there. Ultimately the drawing lives by itself, without anything for comparison, so it doesn’t matter.
For areas in shadow, hatch closer together, and for areas in light, make the lines further apart. When using pencil rather than pen, you can also darken the tone of the pencil line as you make it by pressing harder or softer. Stick with pen initially as it’s one less thing to think about as you can focus solely on the form lines.
In my first example I’ve used red acrylic marker pen, which gives a consistent mark in terms of tone. (Red simply because I have a number of these sample paint markers which only came in red.) In my second I’ve used a propelling pencil so I wouldn’t need to stop and sharpen it.
Suggestion: You might find it easier to use a piece of striped paper rather than plain. (For a printable stripey page as in the photo below, click here.)
“I do not only grade the end product, but instead, value the process it takes to get there. I ask students to describe how and why they did certain things. I collect the work product that precedes the final document. …
If we assume students want to learn – and I do – we should show our interest in their learning, rather than their performance”
If we want to learn, we should show interest in our learning rather than only our performance.
Give yourself permission to spend time learning, be generous to yourself with how much time you allocate, and with your assessment of what you’ve done. It might be learning how a particular art material behaves, trying different things with it to see what happens. It might be getting more analytical and systematic in learning to paint or draw a subject, figuring out what aspects are eluding you at the moment and how to fill that knowledge gap.
The last couple of days I’ve been seeing what clear gesso does when applied over Derwent Inktense pencil drawn on an unprimed wood panel. Why? Because I like how clear gesso lets the grain of the wood panel show through, rather than obscuring it as white gesso does. It also then seals the wood panel surface and creates a grabby surface for paint. Inktense pencil because I enjoy the strong colours, the lines I can draw rather than paint with a brush, and that it’s water soluble so I can ‘dissolve’ some of the line into painted marks. And Inktense as the first layer because I’m enjoying using line in a painting.
My aim was to see was how much the line would change by brushing over with gesso (changing it from a dry to a wet line) and how much would ‘dissolve’ compared to brushing over it with water (with the intention of it dissolving). As the photo below shows, the Inktense line got that ‘wet’ look, but spread only in areas where the line was thicker. I was using a coarse-hair brush, and it will probably spread less with a softer brush.
Once the gesso had dried overnight, I ran a wet brush over the Inktense to see if it would dissolve, and it didn’t. I drew a bit further with another Inktense colour, and enjoyed how it worked over the gesso, which has a grabbiness to it (I’m using Holbein clear gesso medium grain). I ran a wet brush over this and it dissolved as I expected, without disturbing the sealed layer. So now I know I can work with the Inktense pencil and ‘secure’ it. A clear acrylic medium would probably do similar but I like the grabby roughness of the clear gesso when painting.
Often when I’m sketching the sea, I’m not aiming for a beautifully finished sketch, but rather at looking at one element and improving my observation of this. It’s easy with shore rocks, as they don’t move. (Though they might get hidden by the tide — I remember trying to find a square rock at the beach at Staffin I’d seen previously, only to realise on a subsequent visit that it requires a very low tide to be visible.)
Waves are constantly moving, so sketching one is a combination of memory of a specific wave (looking and then quickly drawing a section of it) and observation of the relentless march of waves that have similarities whilst being individual. Looking at how a swell curves as it heads to shore, how long across it is, where it first starts to break, how far up the beach it comes, how the water receding from the shore interacts with the next incoming wave, the ripples between waves, how much white foam there is, how close to the shore the final section breaks, the shape of the ridgeline of the wave before it breaks.
If I’ve included some rocks on a page, the lines I’ve drawn for waves are easier to interpret. But if they’re merely sections of waves, it all becomes rather cryptic if you look at them without any context — compare the right- and left-hand pages of these two spreads from my sketchbook.
Such sketches entirely for myself, and I rarely share photos of them because they’re not much to look at really. If you were paging through the sketchbook you would probably not stop at these pages. But when I’m looking through a sketchbook, it’s these types of pages that often reignite my inspiration the most.
Below is a photo of the sea on the day I did these sketches. I take lots of photos but it’s far more fun to sit by the seaside to than sketch from photos, and I’m lucky enough that I can.
The challenge of this project is to use gesso to create texture in a seascape, to add an extra layer of mark making to the painting. The texture is used to enhance the sense of movement in the sea, of waves rippling, breaking or crashing on the shore.
Using white gesso gives the potential of letting paint flow into the depths of the texture and leaving the ridges white like sea foam. Also to wipe the ridges clear of paint, or drybrush over just the tips of the texture.
Because gesso is hard to remove once it’s dry (short of taking sandpaper to it), this technique requires a bit of planning of your composition so you don’t end up with texture in an undesired spot, or texture that contradicts what the colour is doing (the subject). You can, of course, add more, but because white gesso is opaque* it will hide what you’ve already painted. (*Transparent gesso does exist.)
Reference Photos for this Painting Project: I’ve chosen three photos, and encourage you to create a composition that takes elements from all rather than work from one photo only. They’re photos I think have interesting wave patterns and shapes, strong lights and darks, with a sense of waves marching to shore but also a lot of interest in the shallow water. All three photos were taken on the coast nearest to me in Aberdeenshire, at Gardenstown and the rocky bay a bit further east.
ART SUPPLIES LIST: • Acrylic gesso or primer (i.e. water-based gesso not oil-based primer). Acrylic texture pastes will also work, but may not dry to a surface absorbent enough for watercolour to stick • A coarse-haired brush or similar to apply the gesso, something that will leave brushmarks in the gesso • A sheet of watercolour or acrylic painting paper • Watercolours and/or acrylic paint/ink • Water in a spray bottle to encourage paint to spread (optional) • Paper towel to wipe unwanted paint from the ridges of the texture
WHAT TO DO: Start by doing a loose sketch in pencil or pen of your composition, where the shore is, where the waves are. Think about the direction of movement of the water, and how you’ll convey this through marks in the gesso. Maybe sketch the directions in with a pencil before you apply the gesso so the decisions have been made before you start applying it. Gesso doesn’t dry instantly, so you’ve a little time to rework it, but don’t take too long. A coarse-haired brush works well, but don’t use a good one as gesso is hard on brushes. What kind of marks will you make on the shore, whether it’s sand or pebbles? Might you leave some of this area without gesso?
Leave the gesso to dry, because you don’t want to flatten any of the texture by painting over it before it’s dry. It can be hard to see what’s where when using white gesso on white paper, but if you hold it at an angle to the light you’ll see it better. A workaround is to first paint the paper a colour, leave this to dry and then apply the white gesso, which will then show clearly. (I prefer not to do this because the degree of uncertainty in not quite being able to make out where I applied the gesso adds a sense of discovery and energy as I respond to what’s revealed and where the paint goes.)
Start with fluid or watery paint, not thick, so it spreads out into the crevices and dips in the gesso texture. While this paint is still wet, flick in some darker and/or lighter colours; the splatter will spread slightly where it hits damp areas and remain as hard edges dots of paint on dry areas. Tilt the sheet of paper to encourage drips to run in various directions. Use paper towel to remove paint from the tops of texture ridges and soak up excessive puddles of paint.
Consider the lights and darks in the sea, which bits of water are darker and which lighter (use the reference photos for this information). Watch out for every area being the same colour and/or tone.
When you get to a point you think you’re happy, or get frustrated, lie the sheet of paper flat and let the paint dry. This will encourage any still-wet paint to settle into the grooves. When it’s dry, take a look at the ridges of the texture and consider whether you want to try to remove any paint from these (a bit of aggressive rubbing with a damp piece of paper towel usually does the job for me, but be careful!) or use a dry brush to apply paint to the ridges only (that is a brush with only a little stiff paint on it, held quite horizontal to the surface and pulled across so it just touches or tickles the ridges).
REMEMBER: If you’d like personal help with creating your project painting and/or a critique on your finished painting, this is available to all my project subscribers via my Patreon site. Have fun, and remember to send me a photo of your painting for inclusion in the project gallery for us all to enjoy or share it in the Community Section of my Patreon site.
A quick and easy way to plan a composition is to draw a thumbnail of your idea. By thumbnail I mean a small drawing, simplified to the main shapes and elements that you’re thinking of including in the painting. I tend to draw thumbnails in pencil or pen, using line, as it’s fast and I don’t have to wait for anything to dry. You might prefer do it with shapes of tone, or using paint or ink. It’s a personal preference.
In the video below (link) I’ve done three thumbnails, one each as portrait, landscape, and square format, to give you an idea of how I’d draw a thumbnail. I’m certainly not going to win any prizes for the drawings, but for me it’s about thinking of the position of the face and ears in the overall composition, how much space there is around them. Studio cat Misty is helping.
For me there are three rules: 1. Work fast, don’t overthink it and don’t obsess about neatness. 2. Do more than you think are enough. I sometimes draw a page’s worth of rectangles in various formats (landscape, portrait, square), then challenge myself to fill them all. It’s surprising what can emerge if you keep going, and the ones you don’t use immediately can provide ideas for paintings at a later date or for a series. Often I do use my first idea, but by testing it against others I know that it’s a choice made from preference not from a lack of ideas. 3. If you don’t do thumbnails, be prepared to rework your composition as you’re painting, possibly multiple times.
Here are some other examples of thumbnails from my sketchbook:
This painting project challenges you to paint portrait of a dog with expressive brushwork, against a background dominated by a single colour. To use visible, loose brushwork on the body, getting more detailed in the face.
This trio of photos are provided for inspiration, from a friend of mine on Skye. (Click on photo to get a larger version.) If you’ve your own favourite four-legged friend, you will likely find taking a reference photo is easier than painting from life unless they’re sleeping, or if you really like a challenge, first do a painting from memory, then compare the result to reality.
SIZE AND MEDIUM: The format (portrait or square or landscape) and medium are up to you. If you use pastels or coloured pencil rather than paint, think about the different sizes of mark you’ll make depending on how you hold it.
BACKGROUND: As it’s to be a portrait, keep the background simple. Use colour variation, but avoid having the background look flat and even, it wants some energy to it through some gentle colour variation. Use a colour that’ll enhance the colours of the fur and/or eyes. For example, a blue will make the golden oranges of eyes brighter, blue and orange being complementary colours. You can then use blues in the shadows and blacks, so the background connects with the subject.
Watch out for the background feeling like it’s painted around rather than going behind the head. With longhair dog this can be solved by painting fur so it goes over the background at the edges of the face and body
BRUSHWORK: For an expressive style, leave brush strokes visible and don’t blend them out. Use loose brushwork that suggests things and leaves our imagination to fill in the details, rather than telling us everything. Use ‘streaky’ brushmarks where the hairs of the brush are spread out giving a broken mark rather than a solid one. Use a big brush for the fur on the body, at least an inch — pick the one you think you want to use, then swap it for a bigger one. Use a brush half that size for the ears and sides of face, again keeping it loose. Then smaller mark making again for the face, but don’t paint every single detail; remember to leave some things suggested.
COLOURS: Add life and energy by using colour, going beyond what’s “real” for poetic effect.
Don’t use pure white except at the very last layer. Think of “almost white”, using warmer tints in the areas catching the light (yellow, orange, pink) and cooler in shadow (blue, green, purple) as well as areas the light doesn’t fall (such as below chin). Remember to think about two different aspects to the colour choices: tone and separating warm/cool. (I don’t do much with warm/cool in my own painting, but it’s an interesting way to approach colour. What’s warm and cool is relative, depending on context. So a yellow-green can be warm whereas a blue-green is probably cold.)
For black, either mix a strong dark so it’s not pure black and makes a more interesting grey when you mix in white, or use Perlyne black because with white it’s such a lovely earthy black with green tinge (perfect for a sheepdog). In terms of adding a dark blue (Prussian) or purple into areas so it’s not only black, I’d possibly start by painting the areas black, then overpainting with blue and purple that aren’t quite as dark.
COMPOSITION: think about how much space there is around the head and body, doesn’t want to feel squashed in. Also whether you place it centrally or to one side. Another option is to let the ears go off the top, though you loose the lovely sharp points.
FUR DIRECTION: look closely at the direction the fur grows, and have brushmarks follow this. It may be worth taking the time to draw a fur map so you know what direction to move your brush across each part of the body and face (see this article of mine from Painting.About.com days).
FOR INSPIRATION: It’s a subject contemporary artist Sally Muir paintings beautifully and tenderly. Sally has two books of her paintings: “Old Dogs” and “A Dog a Day“, and posts photos of her social media.
Painting a dog’s portrait not a modern idea. This painting is attributed to 19th century English artist Joséphine Bowes (1825–1874), in the Bowes Museum in England.
This painting project is about using strong shapes and varied mark-making to build up an abstract inspired by nature. Specifically the shapes of a plant called Eryngium ‘Neptune’s Gold’, which is a type of sea holly with blue flowers, blue stems, and spikey golden-yellow leaves. The thistle-like flowers are clusters of tiny flowers packed together, surrounded by a wide ruffle, a bit like those a head in one of those huge lace collars in a Rembrandt portrait.
YOU WILL NEED:
A large sheet of watercolour paper (I suggest A3 in size)
A second piece of paper (or use the ‘wrong side’ of an old painting) for collage
Any fast-drying paint (acrylics, ink, watercolours, gouache)
A light-coloured opaque paint or ink or gel pen
A graphite pencil or coloured pencils
A rigger brush or round brush with a good point
Scissors and glue for collage
WHAT TO DO:
Doing some colour mixing to work out a ‘recipe’ for the blues and yellows as in Neptune’s Gold (more photos below) could be time well spent. Make a note of what you’ve used and colour swatches so you’ll be able to replicate it.
STEP 1: This project is going to be worked from dark to light rather than trying to add a background colour to complex shapes at a later stage. Cover the whole sheet of watercolour paper with a darkish colour. Don’t stress about getting a flat uniform colour; variation which will ultimately suggest things. As there’s yellow and blue in the flower, I’d mix a purple (yellow being the complementary colour to purple, and blue being analogous (sitting next to it on the colour wheel). Go fairly dark with the purple, maybe adding a second layer.
STEP 2: Take a closer look at the shapes at the top of this plants. Count how many leaves extend out in the ‘collar’ and how many pointy bits there are on each. On the sheet of paper to be used for collage, draw this shape with graphite or a coloured pencil (suggest yellow or a light blue). Trust yourself and do it freehand rather than tracing the photo; there’s variation in nature after all!
STEP 3: Brush some clean water onto the shape of the flower to dampen the area. I like using a flat brush for doing this because you can get the shape wet quickly. Add a little yellow onto the tips of each leaf (not too much, you don’t want it to spread all the way to the centre). Load up a brush with blue and touch this into the centre of each shape, letting it spread out along the leaves. Again, not too much as you don’t want it to mix with the yellow to make green. (Alternatively, let the yellow dry, then gently brush some clean water over the shape again, and then drop in the blue.) Work quickly and decisively.
STEP 4: Cut out the flower shapes with scissors along the lines you drew in step three. I suggest at least five. Place them on the sheet with the dark colour background and decide on a composition. Don’t glue them on just yet.
STEP 5: Using opaque colour, draw or brush similar shapes to form a layer of marks and colour that will be visible beneath the collage elements. (The ‘lower’ leaves and flowers in the plant.) I think it could be fun to use gold and/or silver for this.
STEP 6: Stick down the flower shapes from step 2. (If you’re using watercolour and a PVA white glue, be careful not to get glue on the front of the shapes as watercolour doesn’t like sticking on top of glue. Acrylics will do so happily.)
STEP 7: Add a whole lot of dots to the centre of each for the flowers. I would do this with a rigger brush or sharp-pointed brush, or splattering a bit of paint.
STEP 8: Consider whether you need to enhance the connection of the collage elements to the background, for instance by using some opaque paint on these that goes over the edges a little.