Video: Mixed Media Pebbles

I had a go with granulating watercolours painting a few favourite pebbles.

(If you don’t see the video above, you’ll find it on my Vimeo channel here.)

Click on photo for a large image if you want to have a go at painting these pebbles yourself.
A4, mixed media

7 Ways to Create a Painting

There are different ways to create a painting, routes that take you from blank canvas or sheet of paper to finished painting. None is better or more correct than another, they’re merely different. It’s a question of trying each and seeing which you prefer, which may be a mixture of techniques..

1. Blocking In
This is my favourite way to paint. With a blocking-in approach, the whole of the canvas is painted or worked up simultaneously, every part of the painting is brought along at the same time, no bits are left behind for later. The starting point is deciding what the main shapes are in the painting and to paint these areas a colour (blocking in the composition). Then you gradually refine the shapes and colours, working your way towards detail and correct tones.

5 Stages of Making a Painting

2. One Section at a Time
Some artists like to work on one section of a painting at a time, moving onto another part of the painting only when that section is finished. You might paint from one corner outwards, finishing a certain area of the canvas at a time or complete an individual element before moving onto the next. It’s used with all subjects, from landscapes to still life to portraits. It’s not something I often do, because I find the blank areas are distracting and influence my judgement of the colours and tones I’m applying.

3. Background Last
Start with the main subject, the details and foreground, then when this is finished, or almost finished, you paint the background in around this. If you’re uncertain about your brush control, this is probably not the approach to take as you’ll end up worrying about accidentally painting over something as you add the background. Watch out for having a background that goes around a subject, or not quite up to it, which will ruin a painting. I don’t like this approach as it treats a background as a separate thing to the rest of the painting, rather than integrated.

4. Background First
If you start with the background, you can get it done and don’t have to worry about it. There’s no concern either about having the background go behind the foreground elements as you’re literally painting those on top (even if you left white gaps where these would go, their edges will go over the top of the background). The danger is being so in love with what you’ve done that you’re resistant to changing it even if, as you add foreground elements, you realise it needs it.

5. Underpainting or Delayed Colour
This is an approach that requires patience as it involves first creating a monochrome version of the painting, then glazing colour over this. For it to work, you must use transparent colours, not opaque, for glazing, otherwise the form or definition created by light and dark tones of the underpainting will be lost. This approach has the advantage that you work out tones etc. without the distraction of colour. Depending on what you use for the underpainting, this approach is called different things: Grisaille = greys or browns. Verdaccio = green-greys. Imprimatura = transparent underpainting.

6. Detailed Drawing, Then Paint
Some painters do a careful, detailed drawing first, and only then reach for their paints. There is a strong argument to be made for the fact that if you can’t get the drawing right, your painting will never work. However, I think there’s a balance to be found between a drawing that guides you and one that constrains. You may find you like this degree of control, but don’t be afraid to paint outside the lines.

7. Alla Prima (All at Once)
Alla prima the term used when a the painting is finished in one session, working wet-on-wet instead of waiting for the paint to dry and building up colours by glazing. Quite how long a painting session lasts depends on the time that’s available to you. Limited time to complete the painting tends to encourage a looser style and decisiveness as well as the use of smaller canvases! Landscape painters working on location (plein air) are doing alla prima, but it applies to studio painting too.

When Is Size Not a Dimension? (Clue: Paper)

Deckled Edge paper

When is size not a dimension is the art version of the riddle “When is a door not a door?”

When we’re talking about paper, size does mean how big a sheet of paper is, but also what stops a sheet of paper reacting like paper towel when you add paint to it. It’s what makes paint sit “on” the surface to some extent rather than immediately soaking in and spreading. Most Western paper is internally sized, meaning it’s mixed in during the making of the paper, rather than externally sized (“painted on top”) or unsized.

Manufacturers use the terms “watercolour” / “acrylic” / “mixed media” / “drawing” paper to help guide us amidst the overwhelming array of choices. Typically:

  • Drawing paper is very smooth, allowing for fine detail, and usually a lighter weight.
  • Acrylic or oil painting paper is sometimes textured like canvas, sometimes smooth, and sometimes already primed with gesso.
  • Watercolour paper has three finishes and comes in the biggest range of weights
    — hot pressed, smooth
    — not = not hot pressed; slight texture
    — rough = bumpy
  • Mixed media paper is typically slightly textured and a little heavier so will take some wet but not too much.
  • Pastel paper has a textured surface, sometimes a sandpaper-like surface, to help hold pastel.

But just because it’s sold as “watercolour paper” doesn’t mean “thou shalt not adulterate this sheet of paper with acrylics, it’s made for watercolour and nothing but watercolour”. We can use any medium on any paper, though the results obviously depend on the surface of the paper and its weight (thickness), i.e. the characteristics of that individual sheet

You can draw on watercolour paper, you can use watercolour on drawing paper; you can use acrylic and oil paint on watercolour paper; you can use water on pastel paper to turn the pastel into paint. But you cannot expect thin paper to handle paint in the same way thick paper does. You can’t expect pencil to behave on a textured paper in the same way as it does on smooth paper.

You don’t need to gesso (use primer) paper to use acrylic on it, you can use it as is, with thick or thin paint. Adding gesso seals and changes the surface and gives a different effect to plain paper. A layer of not-too dilute acrylic on paper or acrylic medium seals the surface too, stopping it giving watercoloury effects. Gessoing paper before using oil paint stops the oil leaching out into the fibres.

If a painting dries buckled, you can flatten it by spraying the reverse to dampen the sheey and letting it dry between boards.

There isn’t a right or wrong side to most paper as it’s internally sized, but there is a difference to the surface of each side, sometimes minimal, sometimes obvious.

If the paper you’re using is balling up and tearing, switch to a thicker paper or use less liquid as that’s the surface of the paper being damaged. Heavier weight paper as it takes more working and buckles less, and dries less quickly than thin as the core retains moisture.

Thicker paper may be more expensive but you can usually paint on both sides so you get two goes with it. If you’re using watercolour as you even can put it under a tap and wash the paint off; while it won’t be as good as new and you can damage the surface if you’re aggressive, it’s good for experimenting.

Deckled Edge paper

My Colours for Painting with Acrylics

Six Primary Colours

Marion's paint coloursThe array of colours you can buy can be overwhelming and you definitely don’t need them all! I believe it’s best  to start with a few and get to know them well. I would start with two blues, white, a yellow, magenta (not red) and an orange (which must be a single pigment not a mixture). After this, perylene black and a lemon (cool) yellow. Plus a red if you’re missing it.

Acrylics are inter-mixable between brands. Buy the best quality you can afford without feeling inhibited about using it. What you’re paying for in artist’s quality paints is the pigment loading (the amount of pigment in the tube)and the wider range of pigments (colour choices, with series 1 colours being less expensive than series 2,3, etc.). The consistency of the paint is stiffer too, so holds brushmarks more.

The artist’s quality brands I use are the most are Schmincke Primacryl and Golden Heavy Body, and for mid-price Amsterdam Expert. The student-quality paint I use in workshops is Seawhite. I use Seawhite/Amsterdam for the initial blocking in of a painting on a large canvas (“getting rid of the white”) and painting the edges.

WHITE: Titanium white (PW6).

BLUE: My favourites are Prussian blue (PB60 / PB15:1 / PBk7 Schmincke), which I often use instead of black, phthalo turquoise (PB15:4 / PG7 Golden or PB16 Schmincke), and cerulean blue (PB15:3 / PB16 / PW6  Schmincke). I also use all sorts of other blues but almost never ultramarine blue.

YELLOW: Two yellows, one darker/warmer and one lighter/cooler, like the different yellows you get on a daffodil. My favourites are cadmium yellow (PY35) and lemon yellow (PY3).

RED: I use quinacridone magenta (PR122) instead of a red for colour mixing, except when I’m painting something that’s definitely red, such as an apple. Magenta mixes with blues to give the heathery purples typical of Skye. It also produces “interesting pink-greys”, whereas when I’m mixing with a red (or sienna) I find I end up at boring browns too easily.

ORANGE: To get the range of “interesting greys and browns” that comes from mixing orange + blue + white, it needs to be a single-pigment orange not a yellow+red mixture in a tube (the latter will give unwanted greens). My favourites are cadmium orange, PO20, and transluscent orange (PO71 Schmincke).

BLACK: The one black I use is PBk31, which has green undertones, making it ideal for landscapes. It’s sold under different names by different manufacturers including Perylene Black, Perylene Green and Atrament black (Schmincke); look for Pbk31 on the label. Mix with yellow for earthy greens.

PAYNE’S GREY: This is a mixed colour, not a single pigment, and what’s in it differs between manufacturers. I use Payne’s grey acrylic ink a lot for continuous line drawing, specifically FW Artist’s Ink by Daler Rowney (note: not DR System 3). It contains PBk7 / PB15, so is a blue-black.

Remember: Cadmium pigments are toxic, but then paint isn’t meant to be eaten. And don’t lick your brushs to get a nice point.

If you’re interested in paint colours, I recommend Bright Earth by Philip Ball, and the Handprint website which although written about watercolours is relevant as the pigments in all paints are the same.

I mostly buy art supplies from Jackson’s as their prices are good and they don’t have ridiculous shipping costs for the Highlands and islands. If you use this link or click on the photo below, I’ll earn a small affiliate commission on your purchases.

Six Primary Colours

Six Primary Colours

Painting Project Photo Gallery: Woodland Pond

The reference photo of the pond and reflected trees for February’s project (see instructions) was a complex scene, with a lot going on. It’s been very interesting seeing how different people have approached it, and the finished paintings. Enjoy!

By Asif: “In the reference photo provided,  reflection of trees in the water looked interesting to me.  So I focused to paint only the trees and the pond area.”

From Marion: I like how you’ve included the building in the distance; I hadn’t even realised it was visible in the photo until I saw your painting! It’s beautifully painted, but have another look at the angles of the reflected trees, which you’ve straightened as you painted them. if you can, find a pond or pool in real life and look at how things are reflected, or set up a still life version at home with a bowl of water and a few bottles or vase of flowers. It’s easier to study in real life than a photo because you can see how things shift as you change position.
By Sarah: “Thoroughly enjoyed this.”

From Marion: I like the extreme vertical format, which echoes the long narrow tree trunks and emphasies the vertical movement of the composition. There’s a complexity to the colour in this that is enticing and beautiful.
By Cathi: ” The first is a representation of what I saw/imagined when I first saw your photograph. I actually love this one, it makes me want to keep looking at it, imagining what lies under the glassy surface. A4.”

From Marion: I like the strong shapes and how you’ve turned the subject into an intriguing abstract. (Keep imagining as having been here when the water had drained away, I know reality is uninspiring and slimy.)
By Cathi: “My second attempt was so dreadful, no one will be allowed to see it, but the third is much better. Done mostly from memory/imagination as I forgot to take the photo to our painting group but had the dreadful picture with me to give the tree placement. Both are done in acrylic but used much thinner than I normally do. This one is A3.”

From Marion: I love the composition, which breaks the so-called rules by placing the band that is the focal point in the centre. My eye is then pulled up and down by the tree trunks, getting a different story in each section. It never would have occured to me to do this because I’m so focused on the grasses that are in the foreground of the project photo.
By Eddie, ink pen.
By Eddie, pastel.

From Marion: I like the tall composition, which gives room for the trees to dominate and stretch but also for the foreground reeds which feel like I’m standing up against them. The shapes of the land/water lead the eye in and up, to the distant stand of trees. Lovely light/shadow.
By Eddie: ” Gouache, ink, acrylic with various mediums and oil pastel. It took around ten days in which I laid a wash, made collage trees with tissue paper, added mediums, added more partial washes, glazes and scumbling. I stopped after each process and let it dry while I considered the next step. Finally I put in the smaller branches with acrylic ink and used oil pastel in patches and over the ridges of the medium to form the reeds. This is it after Marion’s suggestions.”

I’ve had three goes at painting this scene, two of which I regard as finished and the third as a problematic work-in-progress. This was my first painting (do not adjust your eyes: the photo isn’t sharp). My favourite part is the lower two thirds, the sense of water behind dried grasses.

Mixed media on A2 watercolour paper. Acrlic ink and paint with oil pastel.

My second painting was done on location; see my blog Painting That Puddle in the Woodland.

Uig Woodland Puddle painting
Oil paint on 9×12 inch wood panel

My third painting is still unresolved, and has been through a lot of changes. Whether I will ever get to it to a satisfactory point is debatable. This is what it currently looks like after I once again added dark to it. (Project subscribers can view a video of me working on this here.)

As always, if you have a go at this month’s project or any of the previous ones, I encourage you to share a photo of your painting by emailing it to me on art(at)marion(dot)scot. Participation in the monthly painting projects is open to all and free; if you’d like help working on your painting or a critique, this is available to project subscribers via Patreon.

Video Demo: My First Attempt at the Red Boat

This timelapse video was taken as I made my first attempt at painting the red boat and creel nets (see this month’s project instructions). I started with pencil and then coloured pencil, feeling my way towards the idea for a composition I had. I approached it as a study, a first go to explore what appealed about the subject, saving worrying about slowing down to check I was getting all perspective “right” for another time.

If you don’t see the video above, you’ll find it on my Vimeo channel here.

After the pencil layers, I blocked in the main shapes using watercolour, then shifted to drawing with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, followed by acrylic paint, ending with oil pastel.

A3 watercolour paper

Overall I was pleased with where I ended up at with this painting, and delighted that I’d tackled the subject (boats being something I rarely do). There are things that aren’t totally working, such as the angle of the boat/cabin, depth of its hull, the length of the creel nets, how I’ve fudged what’s happening to the right of the negs, whether there should be pebbles and not just grass behind the nets. These can all be addressed next time, for now I’m enjoying the feel of the string on the creel nets and the line of them leading the eye up, and the decision to have a relatively simple shape of blue at the top (only sea, not sea/sky).

Special thanks to singer-songwriter Micah Gilbert, who lives down the road from me and wrote the music I’ve used on the video. If you use Spotify, go here.

March’s Project Instructions: The Red Boat

Red fishing boat and kreel nets

This month’s subject s a bright red fishing boat called “Swell” at the slipway at Stein, on the northeastern shore of Loch Bay (yes, it really has this prosaic name), on the west of the Waternish peninsula of Skye. The nearby row of buildings include the historic Stein Inn, the 1* Michelin Lochbay restuarant, and, my favourite, Dandelion Designs Gallery.

When I took the photos, there was a jumble of creel nets etc. and I took multiple photos before deciding this viewpoint was the one I wanted to paint, with a row of creels and the red of the boat towards the back:

Red fishing boat and kreel nets

The sky in the photo is over-exposed; it was a cloudy day, lying low over the land across the bay. It also means there are not any cast shadows in the photo.

For me the appeal lies in the line of creels leading your eye up to the red boat, and on to the little dot of red of the rescue ring. The challenge will be to not have to boat dominate the composition too much, nor have the other elements distract from it too much. I’d probably leave out the rectangular plastic crates because there are so many elements in the composition already, and while they’re colourful they’re not aesthetically appealing.

Another question will be how busy to make the foreground, the grass and pebbles, because there’s a lot of ‘stuff’ happening in those areas but it doesn’t want to be a distraction. I think the way to go would be to suggest, but keep it relatively calm, letting the creels get the attention.

There are composition options to be explored with the reference photo, both in terms of the cropping and what you’ll include or leave out. Consider whether to leave out the sky and hillside across the water, whether to put only sea behind the boat. If you leave out elements in front of the boat, you’ll either have to move something else into that area or think about what goes on in the lower part of the boat you can’t really see in the photo.

I think it’s a subject that could work well for a colourful painting with lots and lots of layers and mark making (and indeed I did this in my first attempt, starting with pencil, then ink and acrylic, ending with oil pastel). But also for a painting that has a lot of white space or one working with a limited palette. For the latter I’m thinking of black and red, using Payne’s grey ink and red watercolour/acrylic, taking inspiration from Scottish artist Liz Myhill’s linocuts (also on Dandelion’s website).

Here’s a photo I took from lower down the slipway, looking back, to put the above photo into context.

Red boat at Stein slipway, Isle of Skye

Up close there are also all sorts of options for colourful, textured abstracts, such as this:

Abstract detail from a red boat

To share your painting of this month’s project (or any previous project ) in the project’s photo gallery, simply email it to me on art(a) or share it with me on social media. I look forward to seeing the results.

Marion-Boddy-Evans artist with her white cat

A special thank you to my supportors via Patreon who enable me to spend the time on these monthly projects and keep my blog advert free. Project Patrons get access to exclusive extra content, including videos of me painting, as well as the option of a critique of their project paintings. Other supporters give me the equivalent of a cup of coffee or a tube of paint a month. It works like a monthly subscription, find out more here. Thank you all!

Project Photo Gallery: Iona Shore

Setting a palette knife as part of January’s project has produced some beautiful results, reminding me to use one more often. Take a look and enjoy!

By Erika: A friend of mine is in Scotland right now. To get any cell phone coverage, he has to go to the beach every morning. “Will my cell phone work here?” is the title of this painting. Lots of fun playing with spatulas, knives and thick paint/medium. I feel, the rocks coming in from the upper right hand side should be a bit softer.

From Marion: I find myself looking closer and closer at the use of transparent colours in the rock, the darks contrasing with the transparent lighter areas with their sense of texture and depth. Agree about the rocks in the upper right; a glaze with some very dilute titanium white would help knock them back a bit.
By Asiff: “This is my first attempt with palette knife and I purchased my first knife for this project. The entire painting was done using it. Even though I struggled to use this tool, I am happy about the output and fully enjoyed the process. Thanks a lot for this project.”

From Marion: It’s clearly a tool that works for you! You’ve used it beautifully to convey the sense of movement in the water, the angular rocks, the softness of the sand and clouds. I would never have guess you’d not used one before.
By Cathi: My first attempt I am very pleased with; I do feel my painting is beginning to take shape!

From Marion: I think it’s very much one to be pleased about. The composition pulls the eye both across and into the distance; the mark making is visually intriguing and pulls me in for a closer look; the cloudy sky is an area of calm that contrasts with just enough going on to entice me to look closer. The two figures give everthing a sense of scale, and even though they’re so minimalise there’s a sense of being buffered by the wind.
By Cathi: My second attempt was for something more abstract. I chopped some of the rocks off the right-hand side, but still think the rocks need a bit more work, they look too much like fingers at the moment.

From Marion: I agree, the rocks are too elongated. I see them like octopus arms. I’d be tempted to crop off even more from the right, and if you think this makes too tall a painting, some of the sky could be cropped off too.

I like the abstract mark making in the sea, the mixing of colours; the direction of the marks gives a lovely sense of depth, and then crashes into the angular rocks in the foreground. I do find myself looking at the sky and feel there’s a sense of sideways movement, of wind moving the clouds particularly top left, which would then mean there’s be a sideways movement on the sea, so I might soften that.
By Bee: “My attempt in oils using a knife, not sure that I like using knives.”

From Marion: You may not be sure about it Bee, but I certainly like your results! The texture, angularity which suits the subject, intriguing colour mixtures … it keeps revealing the more I look. What you may well find is that a combination of knife and brush works better for you, rather than pure knife painting.
Join the discussion on my Patreon page here
By Eddie: ” I did this after watching Marion’s demo. It must have taken longer than I thought since the tide appears to have come in while I was painting.”
By Eddie: ” This was initially a panorama but ended up a picture of two halves. Marion suggested a crop and a few other tweaks which I have incorporated.”

From Marion: I think you’ve taken my suggestions and done just what the painting needed, though you might still straighten the sea horizon line with a confident stroke from edge to edge or using some masking tape.
By Eddie: “Doing two smallish paintings gave me the confidence to go larger so this is 24×20”. I used oil since the working time is much longer although it tends to blend whether you want it to or not. Drawing was confined to a horizon line and a vague indication of the rock area. I used a brush for the sky to make it recede but all the rest was by palette knife.”

From Marion: I think you’re really getting a feeling for doing rocks this way, the “complicated mixing” of colour on the painting itself combining with the directional mark making.
Join the discussion on my Patreon page here…

I had several goes at this scene using a palette knife, and was reminded what fun it can be to use a knife and what range of mark making it offers, whether I’m working on paper or board/canvas. Particularly that squishy pattern created by putting a knife down flat and lifting it up (sure there’s some art-speak term for it!) as in the detail photo on the left below:

Iona Beach painting by Marion Boddy-Evans

A reminder: For US$10 a month project subscribers get access to exclusive extra material supporting the monthly painting project through posts my Patreon page, plus a short critique of your project painting(s) via email or in the community section of Patreon, and additional feedback if you rework a painting. Sign up here…

February 2020 Painting Project Instructions: Woodland Pond

Trees in Uig woodland, Isle of Skye

This month’s painting project is a scene in the little woodland in Uig, when the sun was low in the sky, casting a golden light on the tree trunks. Being winter, the trees are without leaves and the grasses dry (see Late Afternoon Walk for a few more photos).

Trees in Uig woodland, Isle of Skye
Click on photo to see larger version

How to approach it: It’s a scene with a lot going on in it, and one of the first decisions will be how much you’re going to include and what level of detail. Will it be richly painted with lots of colours and layers or simplified to main shapes and colours? What about as a monochromatic painting in Payne’s grey or perhaps sepia?

Decide what the main thing(s) is that appeals to you, what catches your eye the most or remains in your mind when you’re not looking at the photo. For me it was the reflected trunks in the pond and the dry grasses in the foreground. The strong vertical lines echo one another, but one set is thick and the other thin.

Then there’s the stand of trees, their pattern of trunks and branches, which could be a painting in itself without the puddle and grasses. So another decision about composition is whether these areas get equal space or will one get more than the other? A potential danger is having a divide in the centre of your composition — in the photo the line at the edge of the pond is curved (not straight) and the grasses go above it, connecting the bottom to the top.

What to use: It’s a subject that lends itself to texture paste and thick paint, building up a surface that’s gnarly and scratchy, as well as painting with a knife, pulling and scratching in all those hard-edge lines with the edge of a knife. It also lends itself to mixed media, with layers of line drawn or painted over shapes of colour or collage.

For a painting that’s more abstract, about pattern and textures, here’s a photo of the same scene taken from a slightly different angle and with the trees cropped off.

For further inspiration: have a look at the paintings from the Tall Trees project.

To have your painting included in the project gallery, 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. Happy painting!

A Plein-Air Problem in/with Perspective

Artist Marion Boddy-Evans plein-air painting at Aird bay on Skye

The setting: sheltered from the breeze in a small cutout in the hillside, overlooking a small bay, with the mainland in the distance emerging occasionally from the low cloud.

The problem: I’ve become accustomed to the speed with which water-based mediums dry and overpainting to fix mistakes. But of course with oil paint it’s not going to dry anytime soon and I can’t layer and overpaint in the way I would in acrylics, it’s all wet-into/onto-wet painting. When I realised I’d made a fundamental mistake with the perspective, and what it would take to fix it, I was rather fedup with myself.

Artist Marion Boddy-Evans plein-air painting at Aird bay on Skye

If you look at the photo above, the bit of coastline in the distance on the right is what I was painting. If you look a the photos below, you’ll see that right from the start I’ve painted it as if I were at a higher viewpoint.

Four steps of a plein air painting in progress, of Aird bay Skye

I’ve put the horizon line of the sea too high up, but I didn’t realise this until I painted the house. Then suddenly it was so <expletive> obvious. And that I’d made the distance between the shoreline and the top of the hill far too wide. I put the latter down to painting what I know the landscape does rather than painting the landscape as I was seeing it from this specific point.

The latter I could resolve by wiping off the rocks to the right-hand edge, then repainting. But to lower the horizon line I’d have to sacrifice the way I’ve painted the sky, with some of the board left unpainted. The clear gesso on the board is very ‘grabby’ and doesn’t wipe off cleanly back to board colour; it would take a lot solvent to do. And it’s messy.

Wiping an area also means the good is gone with the bad. I found myself being precious about the bits I really liked and having that conversation with myself about a painting ultimately living by itself not with its reference and thus would it matter. Fortunately the misty rain came in at that point and so I decided to pack up instead of facing the fact that I’d had a perspective problem right from the start. Next time I’m at this spot, I’ll hopefully remember.