I think this project photo gallery really shows how it’s our individual preferences and interpretations that make us paint familiar things differently, keeping things interesting both for ourselves and others. (It feels somewhat like a continuation of the topic of my last Monday Motivator of 2019: Subject Isn’t the Most Important Part.) Enjoy!
This month’s project features a technique as well as a subject — painting with a knife, using a reference photo I took on Iona last summer as a starting point. Iona is a much-painted island with turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and jaggered dark rocks; famous for its abbey. (Click on the photo to get a larger version.)
A painting knife gives quite different marks to a brush, and is ideal for mixing colours together on a painting itself to give visually intriguing results. For the sake of this painting project, the whole painting need not be created using a knife, but mark making with a knife must be evident. Don’t think knives are for oils or acrylics only; they create interesting results with watercolour too.
The fundamental technique of knife painting is the same as you use for spreading jam on bread: you pick up some jam (paint) and spread it as thickly or thinly as you desire; if there’s butter (other wet paint) on the bread, it will mix in depending on how much pressure you apply. Tapping at the surface with the knife, either flat or on an edge, gives different marks again. And if it all goes horribly wrong, you simply scrape it all off and start again.
There are many different shapes of painting knives available. My favourite has long been this one with a longish flat edge and a sharp point that is perfect for scratching into paint (in artspeak: sgraffito). If you don’t have one, a piece of stiff card or plastic will do a similar job , though a knife has the advantage of being comfortable to hold in the hand and a degree of ‘bounce’ in the metal).
The Scottish Colourists Samuel Peploe and Francis Cadell often painted on Iona in summer. Contemporary Scottish painter Frances MacDonald continues the tradition, saying on her website that “she finds delight in the juxtaposition of angular rock and white sand. Her use of the palette knife creates a dynamism and animation in each painting, She works her paint across the canvas in angular lines; her assured marks arrived at through careful elimination of aesthetic non-essentials.” For online catalogues of her paintings, see the Scottish Gallery‘s website here and here (click on ‘view catalogue’ link on the pages). Another artist to look at for knife painting is Kyffin Williams (read my blog here).
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.
Painting on location in a part of the world where the weather forecast is often “changeable” and “occasional showers” has meant I have, at times, had Nature add to a painting. Unfortunately, with watercolour or ink it’s invariably not a “happy accident” result. More like a “washed that off” result.
I’ve been thinking more and more about having a go with oil paint on location as rain won’t have an impact, and being outside means solvent won’t be a problem. It still leaves keeping wet paintings out of reach of the ever-inquisitive studio cat Ghost while they dry, but that isn’t unsurmountable with small paintings.
Cue the arrival of my first pochade box a few weeks ago, one with space for keeping two wet paintings safe as I stumble along a rocky shore. After a week of staring at it, I tried it out in the safety of my studio, then a few days later ventured out. This is me grinning like the Cheshire cat after putting the very first bit of oil paint on a panel (with orange acrylic for a coloured ground).
Bit further along on that first painting, when the sun came out and changed all the colours.
The point at which I stopped. Not too shabby for a first anxious attempt, I thought. Size 8×10 inches.
My second attempt with it was in the Uig woodland. I’d hoped the Little Tree That Could would still have some autumn colour on it, but it didn’t. I’ve also painted at the Rha waterfall, and at Camus Mor a few more times, enjoying myself immensely, albeit with mixed results. (And, no, I won’t be sharing photos of the dire ones! Just think “overmixed muddy colours”.)
This is the painting I like best, so far. It’s 30x30cm on wood panel primed with clear gesso (rather than white).
Using a shallow plastic container for a palette has contained the paint and made cleanup easy, the lidded metal container for solvent hasn’t leaked, I’m nowhere as anxious about it all, I haven’t dropped a painting, and Ghost hasn’t walked over a still-wet painting, yet.
It’s a dark and stormy day as I pulled together the photos for the November painting project (instructions here) gallery, the kind of weather Eddie has in his pen and brushed-ink painting:
I had a few goes at painting this myself, with mixed success. But as it’s a building I’ve walked past even since we moved to Skye, even my failed paintings of it are more than I’d managed previously and so I should count them as victories.
• To become a project subscriber and get a critique of your project painting plus extra related content, or support my artistic work in the historic tradition of artists and patrons, go to my Patreon here….
To end the year, I’ve chosen a subject that’s iconic: the long-hair, long-horned Highland cow. Their long hair covers a coat of shorter, helping to shed rain in a wet climate. Most Highland cows I see are rusty-earthy-orange-brown, but their colours range from black-brown to blonde-white.
The photo is intended to be a starting point, open to various composition possibilities, rather than being a photo that presents you with a perfect composition, lighting, etc. Will it be more of a portrait of a single cow, or will you include them all and a suggestion of location? Might you include more grass rather than the bare earth around the feeder? Make a note of your first thoughts or impulses, then push the ideas a bit further with thumbnails to see it leads.
The style, medium, and size of painting are up to you. Click on the photo to get the largest version of it or go here.
Suggestion: do versions in different mediums.
Pencil (with an eraser)
Pen (as you can’t erase you have to work through/past mistakes)
Black ink (with a brush not a pen)
Pastel, soft or oil (the scale of the painting should suit the size of mark a pastel makes; don’t work too small)
Coloured Pencil (don’t work too big or you’ll be at it all month)
Watercolour (transparent colour)
Acrylic or oil paint
Collage (torn or cut)
So far I’ve ticked 2, 3 and 9 from the list (though the later did start out as a watercolour), aiming for a ‘portrait’ of a cow rather than a ‘landscape with cows’ painting.
It was such a beautiful, windstill morning I couldn’t resist painting outside despite the temperature struggling to get to 0°C. I don’t know that I would recommend it, but having ink and watercolour freeze as I used it was intriguing. It certainly “sparked joy” as ice crystals gathered on the tip of my brush.
Ending up with paint frozen on the surface of the paper made for something very tactile, inviting my fingers to slide across it. Of course, as soon as the painting was moved to a slightly warmer environment (i.e. indoors), it melted and the paint behaved like “normal”; the paper was cold-damp to its core across the entire sheet and took a little while to dry through.
This was my favourite painting from today, a slice of loch shore, started on location and finished indoors.
There’s one little tree in the Uig woodland that wears its autumn colours later and longer than the rest. I call it the “The Little Tree That Could” (context: the children’s book The Little Engine That Couldwith the lines “I think I can, I think I can … I knew I could“) and first painted it in 2014 (see this blog). On Monday I went to say hello again, taking my watercolours and some acrylic ink (video link if you don’t see it below).
This video was taken when I started moving the colour around with a rigger. (It goes a awry for a bit as I open a bottle to add more orange, just skip that bit. Video link)
My fourth painting is my favourite, ending up a bit like Moses’ burning bush. Watercolour only.
I was sitting on a convenient rock next to the stone wall. 1 = Watercolour set. 2 = Painting drying. 3 = A bit of waterproof padding to sit on. 4 = Plastic folder with paper that also serves as a ‘drawing board’. 5 = Inks and fluid watercolour in plastic box. 6 = Water bottle (for me before my brushes) 7 = Backpack with raincoat, biscuits etc.
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:
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.
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.
I’m curious about how you define painting intuitively? Leave a comment on my blog and let me know.