This little seascape was done on two wooden panels using acrylic over texture paste. If you wonder why the panels aren’t blank when I start, it’s because they’re two I’d previously painted a little on but never taken the ideas further. I knew the texture paste would cover a lot of the colour (it dries as opaque) and that I would then add Payne’s grey acrylic ink as the first colour over the texture, which would hide even more whilst creating a lovely dark in the recesses of the texture. (Note: the video does not have sound.)
The 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.
There’s now one less thing to worry about when painting, and it’s how much water you can or should mix with acrylic paint without ruining its adhesion. Golden Artist Colors (a USA employee-owned company renowned for its artist’s quality paint and techical info) have updated their advice:
“For years our standard advice was that a 1:1 ratio was very safe for most of our paints and mediums; plus, it had the advantage of being easy to remember while greatly erring on the side of caution. However, our current testing shows you can go a lot further than that before encountering significant issues. Just how far? We think you will be surprised.”
The article gets into the specifics, but for me this is the takeaway:
“We got no adhesion failure of any of our paints, no matter how thinned down with water, when applied on top of acrylic gesso.”
In the FAQ on thinning acrylics I wrote for Painting.About.com in 2006 (my original version, as here, not the current surreal rewritten-by-who-knows-who version) I’d said this:
“When it comes to thinning acrylics, the only ‘rule’ is to not mix acrylic paint with more than 50 per cent water. Any more than this and it may loose its adhesive qualities and peel off at some stage. You can mix in as much acrylic medium (glazing, texture paste, etc) as you like because it’s got the acrylic resin in it that acts as the ‘glue’ that makes the paint ‘stick’. (Golden describe their mediums as ‘colorless paint’! )”
If painting on a large canvas, I tend to use glazing medium as well as water to thin paint because in addition to adding “glue” it also increases working time (slows drying). Mostly I simply don’t think about it, and merrily spray paint with water to make it drip and run.
Where I have encountered adhesion issues is with water-thinned acrylic ink lifting as I brush over it, despite being touch dry. Leaving it overnight helps, presumably as the paint binder then cures. I sometimes then also apply a layer of glazing medium with a soft brush, leaving this overnight again, before continuing on top. But mostly if I find it’s lifting — you see the colour appearing on the brush — I just keep going and deal with it.
It started with something familiar, using Payne’s grey acrylic ink to do the line drawing that’s the basis of the composition. My next step usually would be to spray the ink and let it run, or to wet a brush and turn the still-wet ink into wash, or to leave the line to dry entirely (the latter being the least-chosen option). But this time, as I picked up the brush to dip it into some water, I found myself looking at the dry, scratchy hairs and wondering what result I’d get if I drybrushed the still-wet areas of ink. Only one way to find out, of course, and that’s to give into the impulse and see what happens.
This is what the ink lines looked like before I starting drybrushing them; that awkward vertical in the middle is supposed to be a single-track roadsign:
After I’d drybrushed, I dipped the brush into water (the tip, I didn’t want to wash out the ink in the brush) and added some light-grey watery wash.
It’s the beginning of my first attempt using the reference photo I’ve selected for next month’s painting project. So far so good.
I’ll end with the redaction poem I did as the morning’s warm-up exercise:
This is interesting for many reasons.
I feel that not too much has changed.
The time had come.
We shall not fail.
So be it then.
A sleepless night.
So having discovered my phone has a slow-motion option on its videos, I’ve been playing with it a bit. This short clip shows how I splatter paint, a technique I use a lot for my sheep and seascape paintings.
It’s a “happy accident” technique you learn to control through practice. The consistency of the paint is crucial, and that you learn through trial-and-error.
If you don’t see the video above, click on this link.
The quality of the video isn’t brilliant because it was done late afternoon in low winter light. And imagine my phone balance precariously on my tripod, held by various bulldogclips. Perhaps I ought to set a Patreon goal that relates to better video equipment?
Is it a drawing, is it a painting? Did it start as a drawing and become a painting when I added water to the ink? I don’t know, and don’t believe it matters. What’s of more interest to me was that this afternoon, after days of exploring new watercolour colours, I felt like using “black” ink only. Maybe it was a side effect of a grey-skies day.
It’s not black though, it’s Payne’s grey*, a dark blue-grey that I find has got more rich depth than straight black.
The subject is Neist Point, the westerly most point of Skye, punctuated with a lighthouse. I was working from memory with one of my reference photos (in the booklet of photos I use for my workshops) to hand to remind me of shapes. I’m using acrylic ink, and the dropper as a drawing tool.
You can’t easily make it out in the photo but there are some composition lines I drew using a non-photo blue pencil before picking up the ink. It meant I could concentrate on getting the ink drawing done fast enough that some would still be wet enough to spread into the sea area when I dampened this. (If I were to do composition and ink simultaneously, it would split my attention and lengthen the drawing time.)
Line only at this stage, on dry paper (350gsm Not watercolour paper).
And here’s where I got so caught up in what I was doing that I forgot to take photos. So between the previous photo and the next the caption reads “Draw the rest of the #@&%! owl”**
Once I’d worked my way down to the foreground (it’s a cliff edge from which you can see the lighthouse), I made my way back across the drawing with line a little. Then I wet the sea area with clean water, taking care not to touch any of the ink yet.
I needed the sea area to all be damp so I wouldn’t get any hard dry edges (except on the horizon) when I started spreading the ink into the sea. I then carefully ran a damp brush along the edge of the ink line to connect it to the damp paper. Areas of still-wet ink spread out, and I brushed it outwards too.
Where there wasn’t enough ink, I used the brush to ‘borrow’ some from other areas. Where there was too much, I dabbed at it with paper towel. Brush wiped and dunked in clean water periodically too. At full strength this ink colour is very dark; thinned it’s a beautiful blue-grey.
I could add colour, such as the greens of the grass, but I won’t. That’s a different painting.
*Payne’s Grey is named after a British watercolourist and art lecturer, William Payne (1760–1830), who recommended the mixture to students as a more subtle alternative to a gray mixed from black and white. Payne’s grey originally was “a mixture of lake, raw sienna and indigo” according to “Artist’s Pigments: c.1600-1835” (by RD Harley, Archetype Publications, 2001, page 163). What’s in it these days varies between manufacturers, typically a blue and a black together, sometimes a touch of red is added.
**A meme from a few years ago on how to draw an owl in two steps, the first being two circles and the second a detailed owl drawing.
On the ‘other’ side of the waterbreak large bands of waves were crashing in, the result of the previous day’s strong north wind. (Larger than they look in this photo because I’m looking down on a steep shore.)
Moving to a favourite picnic table, overlooking the shore, the large boulders exposed, only small waves lapping through bands of seaweed. I’ve been here many times in the nearly 10 years we’ve been on Skye, but I think this was the lowest I’ve ever seen the tide.
I realised that for once I wasn’t staring into the distance, but was being mesmerized by the pattern on the shore. So out came the black ink, followed by a pot of an opaque fluid-acrylic orange that I grabbed as I headed out my studio from where it’s been sitting waiting to be tried for the first time.
Yes, I am applying it with a stick. It gives a randomness to the marks. And, yes, this stick does live in my pencil box because sticks can be hard to find in some locations.
Then, some “sea colours”, in acrylic inks. Payne’s grey, marine blue. A splash of acid yellow-green. Watercolour paper, 350gsm, A3 size.
It’s abstract, but I like it. For me it’s got a sense of location (though seashore, not necessarily Camus Mor) and the breeze in my hair. What others will see and feel, I can only guess.
Working with black ink and dip pen you have to keep going forward with it, you can’t stop to erase, rethink and redo like you can with a pencil. At one point in my recent workshops at Skyeworks, there was a “try it with both hands” moment:
Without this out-of-comfort-zone yet playful moment, would the free mark making with the black ink and pen in this subsequent mixed media painting have happened? It’s impossible to say, but I do think it’s part of why there’s such a sense of joy in this painting (enjoyment in exploring the mediums and the exploration of the subject, some rosehips in a glass jar).
And while this next painting (work-in-progress) may look like a graphite pencil and watercolour drawing in the middle of a realist painter’s comfort zone, in fact it was out of comfort zone because it’s graphite and acrylic ink. What’s reassuringly familiar to one person is unfamiliar to another. What’s scary is relative and individual, and changes as we progress on our artistic journeys.
It was a joy watching both of these paintings being created and develop, the enthusiasm, and tenacity.
The sunflower painting below was done by the same person who did the rosehip pencil drawing, after a weekend’s break. It’s mixed media, started with soft pastel, then acrylic inks and paint, and black ink. Much further out of comfort zone but at the same time easier because of the time spent earlier in the session just trying out? materials without worrying about results, being a kid again and enjoying pushing colour around.
Parts of it are still work-in-progress, less resolved, but I think it’s beautiful and painterly — a celebration of both the joy of sunflowers and paint — particularly the top left sunflower.
The next painting was done by someone who started the session never having been near acrylic paint. We were focusing on looking at a subject with an eye towards abstraction and impressionism rather than realism, suggesting rather than telling, reducing detail.
I enjoy all sorts of things about this, such as the sense of a surface in the bottom right, which starts my mind on a journey of “is it a table cloth or…?”. The suggestion of shapes in the background, the sense of depth behind the centre top. And something, which you wouldn’t know unless you had been there: the last-minute joyous adding of a glaze of magenta to the vase because it’s a favourite colour, and ties into the magenta in the flower centres, changing the overall dominance of yellow in the painting.
I had my own version, started as a demonstration piece (e.g. “this is how dark a shadow I’m thinking you might add, yes, really, this dark”) then continued a bit as I tidied up at the end of the session, using up the little bits of leftover paint. Parts were still wet when I took this photo and I’m interested to see how much the last layer of acrylic ink on the petals has sunken into the paper.
But I left it on the table in the workshop area of Skyeworks Gallery, so it’ll be a couple of days before I see it again. At the moment I’m thinking: “that jug is awfully tall!”
“The Majestic Minch” is the largest painting I’ve done on a single canvas, at 150x90cm. I could have laid it flat on my studio floor if I’d moved all sorts of things to create a large enough space (read: “not my idea of fun”) but, instead, once I’d decided I would tackle it (read: “this canvas sat around for years intimidating me with its size”) I waited for some dry weather and took it outside (read: “let’s play in the sunshine”).
The initial challenge was how to eliminate all that intimidating white. I had the composition/colours in my head, a summery Minch seascape, when there are little pink flowers (thrift) blooming along the coastline, with “interesting greys” in the water, and the line of outer isles. So out came the squeezable bottles of acrylic plus a big brush and some water. Oh, and a bit of canvas to catch runs of paint, because I was working on a slight slope.
First down was Prussian blue, spread across the sky area to cover all the white and broken up where there’d be sea. Sprayed this with some water to help spread it and to let it run, and spread with a brush dipped in water, hence the blue on the dropcloth. Then some yellow, which brushed mixed with the blue to give green, then golden ochre, light pink and white, which were spread and mixed for the shoreline, and then golden ochre for the distant islands. Because it was sunny and dry, the paint was drying quickly but not instantly (this is Skye after all), giving time to move it around and mix on the canvas somewhat.
The angle of the next photo makes the brush handle seem longer than it really is.
I added more layers of blue-greys, mixed in a squeezeable bottle so I could pour it out across the canvas, gradually getting lighter in tone and greyer in colour. I also added glazing medium and water to the paint bottle. I don’t have any photos because I was having too much fun painting to stop. The big size meant walking around and stretching over, and remembering to go edge to edge not only do the middle.
I left it outside to dry, moving it onto the grass where it is more level, then moved it into my studio onto my easel for the pondering stage and, ultimately, the final rounds. Most significant change was the distant islands, knocking back the bright colour without obscuring it completely and adding some “rain”. I also worked on the sea, adding in darks?and lights, spray on the shore (read: small additions, lots of pondering, more additions and tweaks).
Used in this painting:
- Genie Canvas Collapsible Canvas, not available in the UK). I was sent one some years ago to review when I was still writing Painting.About.com; I still think it’s a clever, useful concept and it seems to have been refined since, but they’re not cheap.
- Amsterdam acrylics for the initial layers. A ‘student’ paint that I find a good balance between quality and price, with strong, clean colours.
- Liquitex String Gel. The “flows like honey” medium that works for me only when it’s warm enough, and then it’s great for strings of colour on a seascape. Most of the year it sits around as my studio’s too cold and it “flows like jam” (i.e. doesn’t).
- Artist’s quality acrylics for layers above the initial colour, Prussian or phthalo blue plus burnt umber and white to produce various greys. My current favourite brands are Golden and Schmincke, but I use all sorts.
- A wide coarse-hair brush. Look for a “thin flat varnish brush” and go for wider than you initially think; it’s for getting large areas painted fast, not details.