Here are paintings inspired by June’s project, in an array of styles all the way from botanical to abstract. Enjoy!
This month’s project features one of my favourite flowers, white daisies. A challenge to use this reference photo with a small colour range (white, green, yellow) and a lot of repeated shapes (the circles of the flowers and lines of the stems) to compose and create a painting. Remember, a refernce photo is a starting point, not the finish point. See where it takes you, in any medium you choose.
- Simply the composition: There’s a lot happening in this reference photo, so start by thinking about what you would leave out and narrow down what you might include in a composition. Doing thumbnails would be time well spent, tiny drawings with the basics of a composition. (I would crop off the right-hand half and a sliver off the bottom of the photo, a composition with an area top left where there aren’t daisies to give breathing space.)
- Focus on shape: Daisies have a very distinctive shape, the central splash of yellow with slivers of white dancing around. Growing as they are in the reference photo, we see them from all sorts of angles as well as some older flowers where the petals are drooping. A second level of shape is the wiggles of the stems.
- White: The ‘white’ of the petals isn’t the same across the whole flower. Think “interesting whites” not “tube white”. Add a bit of blue or purple to areas in shadow, and yellow to areas catching the light. If you use the same blue(s) and yellow(s) to paint the greenery, you’ll have a colour harmony in your painting.
- Shadows: If you’re using acrylics or oils, think about painting from dark to light, put the shadow areas in first and add opaque colour on top, rather than trying to add shadows afterwards. Or let the painting dry so you can add the darks by glazing.
- Sky: That little sparkle of sky in the top lefthand corner, maybe continue that across the top of the composition to give an extra colour and relieve all that green.
- Think in layers: Create a list of layers you could have, mediums and colours and mark making. It’s a bit like a recipe, all the decisions made before you start, leaving you to focus the painting.
- Do blocks: Taking inspiration from April’s projects and create a composition with little blocks of daisies (as I did with my Dozen Daisies).
- Supersize: Take a detail and make it fill a composition, a “supersized” or giant daisy or three. Like the Edinburgh-artist Lucy Jones has done here and here.
This is what my list of layers might look like, using mixed media on paper (as I did in my Concertina Daisies):
- Pencil to mark the initial composition, especially the position of the flowers. This could be lightly done so it doesn’t show, or used as the first layer of line.
- Line drawing of the flowers and stems, using acrylic ink (because once it’s dry, it won’t lift).
- Yellow ink or watercolour onto centres of flowers, and a little random yellow onto the areas of greenery (to create colour variation once I start painting the stems more deliberately).
- A darkish watercolour green applied with stems in mind to give a linear feel to it, but not too carefully.
- Another watercolour green,similarly applied, to give variation.
- While I wait for the greens to dry, do another layer on the flowers with a light blue ink for “shadow petals”, knowing these will have a layer of white over the blue to ‘subdue’ it.
- Another layer on the stems and foliage, a brighter more yellow green that’s and more opaque too so it pulls forward. Applied with a little more precision to tighten up shapes and give definition to stems.
- Add some light blue ‘sky’ colour along the top, encouraging it to drip and run down. I’d first try with watercolour, but if it’s too lost then I might repeat the layer with a slightly opaque acrylic (adding white to any blue, then making it fairly watery).
- Use white to define the petals. This could be a drawn line with acrylic ink or using a flat brush (which if you twist it as you pull it gives a nice ‘petal’). Watch out for it being too uniform a white — having bits that are still wet that you hit and mix on the paper, or having stray bits of colour on your palette can help. Or mix a bit of ‘interesting’ white and use this first before ‘clean white’ as the top layer.
- Reinforce the yellows of the flowers.
- Check if the darks need to be reinfored.
- Leave it overnight, look again with fresh eyes, and decide if anything else needs doing.
If you’d like to have your painting included in the project gallery, simply email it to me (and for any of the other projects, whenever you might do them). If you’d like help whilst working on your painting and feedback on the finished painting, this is available to project patrons. Have fun!
If you’ve not met one before, a concertina sketchbook has one long zigzag page that folds up between the covers. How many pages it has and what type of paper depends on the brand; the one I’m using in this video is from Seawhite and slips into a case. (If you don’t see the video below, click here to go to my Vimeo channel.)
I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, then watercolour in a dropper bottle (including two granulating greens), watercolour from my set using a brush, acrylic paint (cadmiun yellow light and medium), a mixed blue-grey acrylic ink (the masking tape on the bottle tells me it’s a colour I’ve mixed), white acrylic ink (Sennelier’s super-opaque white), and ultimately a touch of orange acrylic ink to deepen the yellows in the flower centres.
The decision as to how many pages to do was intuitive, a feeling for how many would be manageable across the width of my table (and off a bit) and would probably not be totally dry by the time I got back to the start with a new colour. I’m drawing daisies from a mixture of memory and the ones in the jug in front of me, which I turned around at various points so I was seeing ‘new’ daisies.
The colours initially are a bit gloomy, but when I add the bright green these become “background shadows” and everything turns brighter. I had visualised this brighter layer of green before I started, I just didn’t know exactly when I would do it. I’ve got a list in my mind of what layers I’m going to do (colours/materials) but if you’re new to working like this it’s worth taking the time to draw up a list, and having everything to hand, so when you’re painting the decisions are already made and you can concentrate on painting.
What will I do with the rest of the pages? At the moment my thought is to continue with flowers, probably the pink foxgloves that are flowering now too, but I’ll see what I feel like when I start again.
This is only the second concertina sketchbook I’ve used; the first has a watercolour of the sea/weather from my studio on every pair of pages, with a consistent positioning of the horizon line across the pages (drawn in with a pencil before I started). I’m sure there will be more, not least because I have a little Sennelier one with thicker paper I won in a competition and the Moleskine one the in-house art critic gave me last Christmas to try.
- Buy direct: A5 concertina sketchbook like I’m using
An email from a friend reminded me I hadn’t done the photo gallery for May’s painting project yet (nor June’s newsletter). Apologies for keeping you waiting; June has rather slipped away from me, but pulling this photo gallery together this morning has reminded me of how much fun there is to be had with grids. So without further ado, here they are for you to enjoy:
May’s project led me in several directions:
The details of June’s painting project (bluebells) can be found here. And a reminder that if you’d like to help with your project paintings, the way to do this is to become a project subscriber via Patreon (now with £, $ and Euro options; I use Patreon because the site deals with the VAT paperwork for me).
Watch over my shoulder as I paint using the reference photo from the painting project for June as my starting point inspiration (along with my visual memories from the times I’ve been in the Uig woodland and seen bluebells). I’m using an A2 sheet of 350gsm watercolour paper, with watercolour, coloured pencil, and oil pastel.
At one point I take the masking tape off to try to stop myself overworking it; the next day when I continued I taped the edges again, cropping a bit at the top. You’ll see quite a bit of my putting down paint and then lifting most of it off with a piece of paper towel; I was worried about getting too dark too soon, but may well have hesitated too much. The video is at 10x speed, except for the bit where studio cat comes to inspect (at 06:41).
After my painting bluebells on location, I spent an afternoon painting more bluebells in my studio. The timelapse video below gives you a view over my shoulder, without the boring bits such as when I change my brushwater. I’m mostly using watercolour, plus some coloured pencil and, on one, white acrylic ink. These two paintings (now on my webshop) are amongst those in the video:
If you don’t see the video below, go here.
Bluebells transform a landscape into dance of purple-blue amidst all sorts of greens. The flowers are a distinctive colour, blue that leans strongly to purple but isn’t any of the straight-from-the-tube blues available to us, so gives an excuse to spend time colour mixing with all our possible colours. (See: My Watercolour Recipe for Bluebell Blue.)
Scottish bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) have flowers mostly on one side of the stem, pulling it over in a stoop, curls on the petals, and narrow leaves, about 1cm. It’s Spanish blubells that are more upright, plus all the variations that come with hybrids (which means there’s leeway for artistic licence).
The project for this month is to do a painting using this reference photo as the starting point:
A painting about the woodland floor, the patterns of colour and shape, light and dark, soft edges and hard, the layers of foliage. Painting style can be anything, it could be realism enjoying the details, impressionist enjoying patterns of colour (e.g. Renoir’s Path in the Wood) and brushwork (like Monet), or abstract as in this Hommage à Klimt. You might divide it into a grid of little pictures in the style of last month’s project.
For my own painting I’m visualising something in the style of Gustav Klimt’s forest paintings e.g. his Birch Forest but in blue-greens and with flowers not fallen leaves. A bluebells version of my Listening to Trees painting (from 2013) less abstracted than my Listening to Bluebells painting.
Tips: If it feels like an impossibly complicated scene, start by reducing it to its main shapes (e.g. rectangles of tree trunk, triangles of ferns/leaves, dancing curls of bluebells). This will give you the building blocks for a composition. Look at where the lightest lights are and the darkest darks (maybe ignoew the sliver of light across the mid-ground). Do some colour mixing for shades of green and your bluebell blue. Think of painting it in layers rather than from blank canvas/paper to finished in one go, working from main shapes towards detail, what can be suggested and what must be described.
Here are some additional reference photos to provide extra information and inspiration:
As always, if you’d like to have your paintings included in the next photo gallery, email a photo to me or send through social media. If you’d prefer for it to be shared without your full name, just let me know.
Yesterday I sat on a tree stump in the Uig woodland amongst the bluebells, with my watercolours. My aim was to try the various blues I have and see if I could crack “bluebell blue”. Looking at the options I had for shifting blues towards purple, I decided to try Imperial Purple (a Daniel Smith mixture of PV19 quinacridone rose and PB29 ultramarine blue) and mixed it with my favourite blue, Prussian (PB27). And just like that I had my recipe, andnow I can tick “paint bluebells in the woodland” off my to-do list.
This is the tree stump I sat on whilst painting bluebells. It was one of the trees cut down by the woodland trust last year because they were damaged or rotten.
With a forecast for temperatures in the twenties and covid19 lockdown moved to phase 1, I dug out the tube of sunscreen and drove to my favourite bit of shore with paint and paper.
It took me a few moments to realize what the unexpected shapes at the bottom of the slipway were. Never seen seals here before; not long thereafter they all took to the water, and after a while disappeared.
I mostly used watercolour (granulating black and haematite plus a few others) and Payne’s grey acrylic ink, but did also have some coloured pencils with me.
April’s project was something quite different, and it’s been heartening to receive comments about how much it’s been enjoyed and the directions it’s taken people. Here’s an assortment, starting with blackout poems and moving onto more visual. Enjoy!