Project Photo Gallery: Highland Cows

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!

By Cathi: “A pencil rendering. I love drawing and think that pencil is so often overlooked.”

From Marion: It’s a subject that lends itself to pencil. I agree that in my enjoyment of colour I often overlook the joy of pure pencil.
By Cathi. Ink and watercolour with fabric collage.

From Marion: That quirky bit of fabric works so well — the black-line design on it echoes your ink cow without dominating; it anchors the cow whilst leading my eye across and upwards as I realise it’s not an abstract pattern but flowers.
By Erika: “1. I didn’t like the background.”
From Marion: I think the background’s too calm compared to the strong texture on the cow. Or maybe there’s just too much of it — possibly crop the top and side so the cow dominates the space.
By Erika: “2. Timid and waiting…”
By Erika: 3. Because of “artistic abuse” of canvas, the paint wanted to puddle, no matter, how much medium I used – so I let it puddle. Materials used: paper, acrylic paint and a cut-up vegetable brush.

From Marion: I think this cow is the most successful as it’s got more variation of colour in it and it feels as if it’s sitting in the landscape rather than on it.
By Eddie: “This is ten minutes with a brush and Indian ink. I decided to just go for it and see what happened.”
From Marion: Working wet into wet with ink is very much “go for it” territory, and then trying to repeat “happy accidents”.
By Eddie. Pen, brush and watercolour pencils.
From Marion: There’s a joyous energy to the pen mark making that not only creates the cows but also a sense of rain.
By Eddie: “I did try mussing up the cow’s hair as you suggested but I think the whole thing is overworked.” Pastel.
By Eddie: I went with your advice about scale changing everything. This is 65x45cm. and I like it a lot better. I was surprised to find that the background caused me more difficulty than the cow.
From Marion: It could be because you’d painted various cows just before this and had consolidated all that into what you’d do next. Love the colours, depth, and energy in the mark making.

These are the cows I painted in December:

By Marion. Oils. 8×10″. The colours got a bit murky and I might still glaze some orange over the cow’s coat to liven things up a bit.
Highland cow painting
By Marion. Oil paint applied with a palette knife over an underpainting in acrylics. I feel the right-hand horn got too wide towards the top, but the oil paint wouldn’t scratch off what is quite an “grabby” surface (clear gesso on wood) and I couldn’t overpaint it with the blue without it mixing. I might fix it once it’s dry, or I might find it doesn’t bother me when I look at it again with fresh eyes.
Highland cow painting in ink
By Marion.Acrylic ink on A2 watercolour paper. I drew horns, earsn, face, and outline of the body with a rigger brush, then used a dry flat brush to spread out some of it
Highland cow painting
By Marion. Mixed media (acrylics and oil pastel) on watercolour paper. I started this with an ink drawing, then layered on top, ultimately with oil pastel.

January 2020 Project Instructions: Iona Shore

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.)

Iona near the ferry, looking towards the Isle of Mull.

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
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!

Photo Gallery: Derelict Croft House Painting Project

Croft House Painting Project

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:

Croft House Painting Project
By Eddie, pen and brush with ink. “I don’t usually use such bold marks, especially on very wet paper, but it is something to explore.”
From Marion: I think it’s an evocative use of ink well suited to the subject.
Join the discussion on Patreon here…
Croft House Painting Project
By Eddie: “This pastel is huge (for me) at 65x45cm but doing it has challenged me and inspired me to the extent that I intend to keep exploring the possibilities it throws up. I was surprised by the amount of creative energy generated by such a simple change.”
From Marion: If it’s the larger scale that’s brought you to this point, then keep it big!
Join the discussion on Patreon here…
Croft House Painting Project
By Asif, watercolour: “I realized that land between the house and water is too flat without details.”
From Marion: A tiny touch of variation in the land  to suggest vegetation will solve this without distracting from the foreground.
Croft House Painting Project
By Barbara.
From Marion: I like the softness of the land, with the few tufts of grass adding interest that pulls your eye upwards towards the building. The suggested texture on the building pulls me in for a closer look, enticing my eye to linger as it sees more, interprets and fills in detail.
Join the discussion on the community section of my Patreon page here
Croft House Painting Project
By Erika: “Party time at the Croft”. This six stages of this painting: excitement – play/fun – despair/anger – banning it from being seen – coaxing it out from the darkest corner – joy.
From Marion: I find the result imaginative, intriguing and invigorating, inviting me in to interpret and connect, as well as connect to the starting point reference photo. . The use of corrugated cardboard for the roof is something I want to try too!
Croft House Painting Project
By Cathi: A good learning trip, trying different ideas.. This was using my mini roller and I love the sky effect.
Croft House Painting Project
By Cathi: But then, having added the red roof (texture paint) I decided I wanted to go greyer rather than blue… then I totally spoiled the whole thing by being too heavy handed so I started over again.
Croft House Painting Project
By Cathi: This time I began with a good orange base to make the colours less flat, and added the tree. I think this is my best effort.
Croft House Painting Project
By Cathi: Thinking I was reverting to being too “fussy/detailed”, I did a really quick one to finish up on, which I quite like as well.


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.

Croft House Painting Project
By Marion: This was my last attempt, and my favourite. A5 in size, acrylic and ink. I think it conveys the character of the ruined house with enough suggested detail to make you engage with it. (The photo is slightly out of focus.)
Croft House Painting Project
By Marion: I did the lower of these two paintings first. It’s a painting that wasn’t where I wanted it to be but that would merely become an overworked mess if I continued so I started again. The top painting still has issues of composition in terms of the house and the left-hand edge, but I like the looser mark making, the use of dark ink to create tonal contrast and drama.


• 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….

December 2019 Painting Project: Instructions

Highland Cow painting project reference

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.

Highland Cow painting project reference

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.

  1. Pencil (with an eraser)
  2. Pen (as you can’t erase you have to work through/past mistakes)
  3. Black ink (with a brush not a pen)
  4. Pastel, soft or oil (the scale of the painting should suit the size of mark a pastel makes; don’t work too small)
  5. Coloured Pencil (don’t work too big or you’ll be at it all month)
  6. Watercolour (transparent colour)
  7. Acrylic or oil paint
  8. Collage (torn or cut)
  9. Mixed media

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.

Highland cow sketch in ink
Highland cow in ink
Black ink: started by ‘painting’ with water only, then touched a little ink into this.
Mixed Media Highland Cow
Mixed media: Watercolour, acrylic ink, coloured pencil and after that oil pastel

Photo Gallery: October Painting Project (Camus Mor Bay)

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:

By Eddie: “Acrylic, with pumice gel, clear granular gel and light moulding paste and lots of glazing. This is my attempt after corrections suggested by Marion. Compared to the original I have reshaped some hills and shadows and made the rocks more colourful.”

From Marion: “Just the right level of reworking, not losing what was working whilst moving it that bit further.”
By Bee: Ink and watercolour.

From Marion: I love the delicateness and understatedness of the colour, the strong shapes that are quite abstract if considered individually yet together read as landscape.
By Bee, in acrylic Those cliffs have got a sense of imposing grandeur, dominating an ancient landscape of dark volcanic rock.
By Cathi: From sky down to sea, there is a tissue paper underlay, giving some fabulous textures. My masking tape was very old and because it was on the paper for over a week it shredded the paper when I lifted it….. but I like the ‘happy accident’ where a rock broke the base line.

From Marion: That’s a very happy accident indeed — it looks deliberate!
By Cathi: “This entirely ink. I love the granulation produced by Indian ink diluted with water.”

From Marion: The granulation gives a lovely sense of texture through suggestion, engaging my imagination. I like how close looking reveals the fine pen lines, and the use of negative space for the sea with just a hint of colour.
My project painting: the colours on the seaweed in the foreground are a bit too yellow-orange and I might still glaze over this with a quinacridone gold or something. You can watch a timelapse video of my painting this here.

November’s Project Instructions: Derelict Croft House

The derelict croft house that is the subject of this month’s painting project is down the road and on a bit from my studio. I’ve walked past it many times though I’ve never ventured inside, partly because the ground around it is very water logged and partly because it feels like it wants to be left alone. I have, however, taken many a photograph of it in various lights and weather conditions. If the sun’s in the right spot, that gangly tree casts intriguing shadows on the wall.

Ruined Croft House on Skye with corrugated iron roof
Click on photo to see the biggest version of it.

In this photo, the sky has been blown out white by my camera. Judge how clear or cloudy the sky would have been by the shadows in the photo (or the lack thereof), as well as the colour of land in the distance and the sliver of sea in the distance on the right beneath the hills of Waternish Peninsula. To my mind the answer is: it’s partly cloudy, with cloud over the building but sunshine in the distance.

COMPOSITION: I would leave out the other houses to the left of this one because they’re more modern don’t match the ruined building. They’re just a distraction, as are the pine tree and electricity poles.

Whether to include the fence of not is a harder choice. It adds location and character, but doesn’t want to distract from the bulding. Certainly you don’t want it heading neatly into a corner as it in the photo. (Have you noticed that this pole is round and goes above the top strand of barbed wire, whereas the other fence posts are square? It’s because it’s a more substantial pole found at a gate or the corner of a fenced field.)

The roof windows are also something I would consider leaving out, because I enjoy the colour and pattern of the corrugated iron roof so and they interrupt it. The wooden pallet across the doorway is to keep sheep and cows out; you’ll need to decide whether it’ll make sense in a painting or not.

FORMAT: The photo is in landscape format, and this is probably how I’d paint it but that’s because I’ve taken numerous photos and from those selected this one. So in some way I’ve already consider possibilities even though I haven’t drawn thumbnails. I think a horizontal format echoes the horizonal length of the building, and the horizonal bands of colour to the right. The broken wall on the right-hand side feels to me like it’s having a conversation with that part of the scene, like it’s inviting it in or trying to escape into it. (I do realise there’s a bit of overactive imagination going on there.)

COLOURS AND STYLE: This scene lends itself to all sorts of possibilites, from realism with the enjoyment of painting the details and textures (possibly with a close-in crop), to expressive conveying a sense of the emotion and character of the building, to collage and even abstract, where you might reduce the building to shapes of colour and lines echoing its decline.

You might use only black and white to give a sense of sombreness, perhaps sepia and white. You might use realistic colours or you might exaggerate colour for dramatic effect. You might use corrugated cardboard for the corrugated iron roof on the building (in the style of contemporary painter Pete Monaghan) and texture paste for the stone walls.

SUBMISSIONS TO THE PROJECT PHOTO GALLERY: As always, you’re invited to email me a photo of your project painting to include in the photo gallery. This can be first name only, under a pen name, or under your initials if you prefer, just let me know in your email. I look forward to seeing your results!

The photo below was taken a little further up the road from the house, in summer which is why it’s all so green. I’m including it here to give you some other views of fences and fence posts, as well as an idea of what the road past the house looks like.

Royal Mail Van Skye Scotland
Complementary colours: red and green

Timelapse Video of My October Project Painting

This is a timelapse video of me creating a painting for October’s painting project of part of the bay at Camus Mor. It’s acrylic and oil pastel on watercolour paper.

NOTE: Be warned, the light in the video flickers somewhat as the camera tries to deal with my moving around. I might just have to do video on overcast days only. And, yes, at one point Studio Cat Ghost is riding on my shoulders (around 03:51)

If you’re not seeing the video above, this link will take you to it on my Vimeo channel.

You’ll see I initially sketch the cliffs to far to the right, but don’t bother erasing the incorrect lines as I know I’ll be painting over these with opaque colours. Then I start covering all the white, or blocking on areas Colours used: cadmium yellow, quinacridone gold, phthalo turquoise, cadmium orange, magenta, Prussian blue, perylene green, titanium white. Plus oil pastel. Medium and small flat brush; rigger brush.

The phtalo turquoise is a bit intense; my thought was that I didn’t want too dark a dark at that stage and that a green-blue would give a sense of the green on the hilltop and reflected in the sea. After I’d done it, I then worked at subduing it hrough layers without obliterating it

At 04:44 i’m using oil pastel to fix the edge where I’d torn it taking off the tape (I really should be more patient and careful doing this!).

When I looked at the painting the day after with fresh eyes, I realised I’d aligned the sea horizon with the edge of the headland, and that the sea was pouring off to the right. I used some oil pastel to move the horizon up a bit and straighten it. The yellow-orange in the foreground could be more golden, and I might still glaze some quinacridone gold over this.

Painting Project Photo Gallery: Portree Harbour

One of the reasons I chose Portree harbour as the subject for September’s painting project was to motivate myself to paint it. It’s a very distinctive location, with its line of colourful buildings along the shore and the tree-covered hillside and Gathering Hall behind. It’s a complicated subject to paint because there’s so much going on, not least all that architecture. I’m sure the paintings in this photo gallery will inspire you to give it a go if you haven’t already.

First up is Robb, who I met as a painter through the projects and forum of Over the past few years Robb’s been focusing on his ceramics, but has now combined both in this pictorial tile:

By Robb: Thanks for the inspiration! My ceramic rendition of Portree on tile form. I used a mid-fire clay, creating multiple layers from the tree line to the quay. The glaze is an under-glaze, left on “over glazed” because I like the matt finish of the under glaze.

From Marion: Exciting to see you combining your painting and ceramics!
By Shirley: “It doesn’t resemble your photo project for September but at least it got me painting which I can’t find much time to do anymore.”

From Marion: “The photo is but a starting point, and the end result doesn’t have to resemble it. Just by getting you painting again, the project has done its job!
By Bee: A rather a quick attempt at September’s subject.

From Marion: A fineliner pen gives a consistent width of mark, which I think suits the subject, adding a sense of rigid, solid bricks and mortar and tile. With just enough wobble to some of the lines to give it personality.
By Bee: Watercolour and pen. Realise now I should have put more trees behind the meeting hall and toned down the end of the church.

From Marion: I agree about lightening the tone on the church and its belltower, possibly reducing the latter in size a bit. Then the trees bhind will read as having mist slowly lifting as the day warms.
By Mark: My efforts this month. I found this quite hard.

From Marion: Is is a hard subject as there’ a lot in the scene and a lot of architecture in it. I think you’ve done it justice in both your paintings!
By Mark:
By Claire: “A scene I have always wanted to paint but unable to reconcile loose and expressive with all those straights! I have tilted my painting to make the harbour appear horizontal and I would like to make the trees and large hall less dominant or more abstract. This my reworked painting, my attempt to knock back the trees and stop the Gathering hall ‘looming’ to much after Marion’s advice ”

From Marion: “I like the loose line work on the harbour wall behind the boat. It adds visual intrigue, dances my eye along, and changes the pace from the water and buildings above.”
By Eddie: Inspired by a recent watercolour plein air course I decided I had time to do a fairly quick watercolour version. It looked a bit anaemia so I decided to add some pen work as well.

From Marion: I think the addition of the pen helps bring the foreground closer, sitting well with the stronger colour.
By Eddie: Mixed media
By Eddie: Mixed media
Line drawing of Portree Harbour
By Cathy: Continuous line (almost). All that fabulous perspective so let’s make it a bit more difficult This totally supports the theory that you don’t need to be totally accurate to get a feel for the place. Lost count of the doors and windows and drew a line at including all the cars! Not sure whether to add a suggestion of the colours in the buildings or not. Think I probably will add just a hint of colour.
(See this blog post)
By Cathi, with colour added

I had several attempts, some more successful than others. This is the one that pleased me most from a “trying to do something different” point of view.

This was the end result of my first attempt (see video) after I added some oil pastel

And last, but not least, a submission inspired by August’s Tall Trees photo from Lorraine, who says she was “playing with ink”:

Project Instructions: Camus Mor Rocks

Camus Mor on the Isle of Skye

For this month’s painting project we’re at Camus Mor on the northwestern tip of the Trotternish Peninsula on Skye for a scene with a foreground of large rocks, a middle distance of pebbles, and a green hillside at the back.

Camus Mor on the Isle of Skye

For me it lends itself to a composition focused on the rocks and pebbles, that lends itself to expressive mark making and textures, to abstracted with its feet in realism. The different colours, sizes and shapes in the rocks.

One of the compositional choices would be whether to include the sky and hillside at all. There’s the enticement of reflected colour in the sea — blue from the sky and greens from the hill. Plus the line of colour of the washed-up seaweed on the high-tide mark. And the echo of green between the foreground seaweed and the hillside.

There’s a lot going on in this scene, so consider whether you’re going to focus in or go wide and include it all. This is view to the right, with the whole of the hillside:

Camus Mor on the Isle of Skye

And here’s some video I took at this location. Add a soundtrack of waves lapping and pebbles rolling, and the feeling of little breeze tickling your hair.

With the greys and browns, it’s a chance to use a blue + orange + white recipe as this produces a range of interesting browns and greys that harmonize together because they’re all based on a mix of same colours. If this is new to you, maybe try cadmium orange + phthalo blue. To get light tones, you’ll need a good lump of white.

A perylene green (or black) will give you the strong darks, and mixed with yellow it’ll produce a range of earthy greens.

I’ve painted this location quite a few times over the years, most recently using granulating watercolour, which I’m enjoying for the sense of texture it gives. See:

September Painting Project Submission: Portree Harbour in Continuous Line

All that fabulous perspective so let’s make it a bit more difficult by doing it with (almost) continous line,” laughed Cathi when she told me about her painting of this month’s project. “My painting totally supports the theory that you don’t need to be completely accurate to get a feel for the place.”

Cathi continued: “I lost count of the doors and windows, and drew a line at including all the cars! Superb fun doing it. Not sure whether to add a suggestion of the colours in the buildings or not. Think I probably will add just a hint of colour.

My response was that I love how it poetically captures the feeling of the location, pulling my eye along the dance of doors and windows up and around. Poetry in line. And at no point does it make me feel like I want to count the doors and windows to check it against reality; it feels right.

Whether it wants a touch of colour or not is is tricky decision, because it’s beautiful as it is, yet the colour is so part of this location that how can one not? Maybe use watercolour, then you could lift or lighten the colour easily (except for staining pigments).

Cathi decided she would add colour, sending me a new photo saying: “The sketch paper I used grabs the colour,  unforgiving, but for a sketch I like it.

The next day Cathi sent me another photo, as she’d decided to “make the greens darker so the houses pop out more.

I think it works really well. I also like the negative space of the sky and sea, the former being delineated by a near-constant line, the latter broken up by that dancing line that tells us there’s water in the foreground. It’s also inspired me and made me wonder why I haven’t tackled this with continuous line yet. Thanks Cathi!