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.
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.
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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’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 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.
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.
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)
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.
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 Painting.About.com. Over the past few years Robb’s been focusing on his ceramics, but has now combined both in this pictorial tile:
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”:
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.
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:
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:
“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!