Another thing I’ve added to my list for this month’s painting project is to have a go at painting from dark to light, rather than from light to dark as I usually do. It necessitates knowing which of your colours are opaque so they’ll show up on top of a dark colour, and presents the challenge of leaving bits of the shadow areas unpainted so the dark base layer shows through.
I was reminded of it when I noticed that “other than white” versions of the non-absorbent primer by Michael Harding are now available at Jackson’s (affiliate link). MH is a UK brand renowned for its quality of his oils paints and range of colours. Lots of traditional pigments in the range, some with prices in the “ouch” category.
I’ve been watching out for MH coloured primers because the range includes a clear primer, which will be less less grabby/rough than the one I have been using (Holbein, medium grain) on wood panel to let the grain of the wood be part of the painting.
I then saw the black and headed into “ooohhh” territory. The other colours don’t tempt me as they’re not colours on my palette and risk ending up with a ground that doesn’t fit well with the painting, and the neutral grey isn’t exciting. Some of the oil paintings I’ve done that I was happiest with I started with a Payne’s grey acrylic ink drawing. So a black gesso would do similar, albeit without gaps. I look forward to finding out.
One thing I do wish though is that the containers the Michael Harding ground comes in were narrower. The lid on the white one I’ve got is too big for me to get a grip across it to unscrew it easily. I wish it came with a narrower lid that had a flip/twist to squeeze some out nozzle and could be screwed off to access with a brush.
This project is about using different drawing and painting materials to depict a relatively straightforward subject in order to remind ourselves of materials we’ve forgotten, neglected, not yet tried, been too intimidated to attempt, and love the most. To do a series of drawings/paintings either as individual pieces or together on a large piece of paper.
My suggested subject is a piece of fruit, something that will last for a while. Work from observation not memory because looking at it closely, and repeatedly, will reveal how much we don’t typically notice. Position it the right way up, upside down, on its side, cut in half or peeled, with a bite taken out, as just a core or pip or peel.
Do at least seven drawings/paintings, as large or small as you wish, with or without backgrounds. Dig out all your different materials and give each a go. For instance:
pencil (line only, tone only, line and tone)
pen (permanent and water-soluble)
black only (ink or charcoal)
black+ (black dominates but using other colours, as in traditional Chinese ink paintings)
loose wet into wet with line added afterwards to suggest detail
At the end of the month, email me a photo of your results for inclusion in the photo gallery. If you’re unsure of how to use any material you’ve got, feel free to email me and ask. For feedback on your results, sign up to be a project subscriber on Patreon, where there’s also an option for me helping you one-to-one with any aspect of your art. Happy painting!
MY PROJECT PAINTING: I’ve chosen a green apple because none of the red ones had a stem, the green gets yellower as the apple ages, the shadow areas invite the use of reds and purples (as complementary to green/yellow) and it takes me away from orange/blue that have become such fundamental colours.
I’m doing it in a concertina sketchbook, with each on a new spread (pair of pages) so that the result will be a book you can flip through seeing them sequentially or open out to see them as a row. Painting over the fold of the paper isn’t ideal as the paint tends to gather there and get the paper too wet and it tears, but a single page felt too squashed.
This month the challenge is to go through your paintings from the past year (or longer) and sort them into three categories: to keep, to continue, and to destroy. The aim is to remind yourself of what you’ve painted and to give yourself a direction to head in January.
1 Go through the “to keep” pile and make a list (mental or physical) of what you enjoy about these paintings and what you’d like to do more of next year. It could be the medium, size, subject, mark making, colours, style, a lesson learnt or medium tried. Treat yourself by framing up one and hanging it on the wall.
A “to keep” painting doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something someone else would think was your best; why it’s a keeper can be very personal.
2 Gently look through the second pile of paintings-in-progress, abandoned, neglected and unfinished pieces. Write down your thoughts on where you might go with each, what you still want to do or change. If they’re done on paper, write a note on the back, like the next steps in a recipe, so that when you come back to it at a later date you’ve got a plan.
3 On to the pile of duds and frustrations. If they’re on paper, it can be very cathartic to rip these up and throw them in recycling. But first check there isn’t a section that deserves to be in one of the other piles if you cropped it a bit. Or that would make a card, or gift tags, or bits for a future piece with collage. If they’re on canvas, consider overpainting with a transparent dark purple to give a starting point for a painting done from dark to light (rather than overpainting wth white or gesso).
If in doubt, put it in the “to continue” pile. Rather wait and live with a piece for a while longer. And by a while I mean like six months.
Don’t beat yourself up for what you didn’t do, didn’t achieve, didn’t finish. Celebrate what you did, and where you might head next year.
My sunflower painting has been sitting nearly finished for some weeks now. I still want to tweak the background blue a bit, with some gentle colour and tone variations.
Thanks to Bee, Cathi, and Sarah for sharing your sunflower pieces. The full list of monthly projects and related content can be found here, and remember it’s never too late to give something a go. If you’d like individual help with your painting, sign up either as a project subscriber or for individual mentorship through my Patreon page here.
This painting project has sea blues and landscape greens, patterns and architecture. It’s a view of a tiny village hugging the coast called Crovie, taken from the viewing spot on the hillside above it. You can walk from this village along a path at the edge of the sea to Gardenstown.
It offers quite a few composition choices:
Include the road or not, likewise the straight lines of the seawall providing a little shelter for boats, and the bright yellow van
Meticulously count and plot out the houses, or convey a sense of these and the pattern of shapes and colours
Should the headland tip be in the middle of the composition as in the photo, which theoretically divides a composition in half, or further across either left or right?
Is the cloud in the distance a distraction from the foreground, or does it add a sense of distance?
Do the few bits of rock emerging from the sea add to the sense of location and story, or look like random dark bits that confuse the eye?
I can see this as a richly coloured painting done in acrylics or oils, or with layers of transparent watercolour, or pastels. But equally done in ink in black and white only, or ink pen with some loosely painted watercolour. The prominent ripples in the sea lend itself to texture paste or collage with some tissue paper. I suggest picking your favourite medium and letting your enjoyment of this feed into your painting. And for a second painting, picking something you work with less often.
As always with my monthly painting projects, do email me a photo to share in the project photo gallery. And if you’d like help with your painting as you’re working on it or feedback when it’s done, this is available to project subscribers via Patreon (details here).
Layers and layers of colour … the paintings done in response to August’s painting project show what an array of results can come from the same set of instructions. Thanks to everyone who shared their painting.
Dig out your yellows and start thinking about all those different greens, you’ll need them for this month’s project (unless you go monochrome or strongly expressionist). The subject is this tall sunflower I encountered in a friend’s garden.
Style and medium are up to you. For me the starting point would be composition: will it be a tall vertical format or more standard proportions, or perhaps square. Will or won’t there be a background? And which way will the sunflower head be facing?
This month’s painting project is similar to last month’s Arboreal Abstract Project, but working with rounded shapes rather than stripes. Trust the process (i.e. follow the steps in the instructions), don’t try to tightly control the outcome from the start but meander along towards a finishing point, and remind yourself that no single mark is critical.
YOU WILL NEED:
A sheet of watercolour paper (I suggest A3 in size)
Scissors or a knife, something that will scratch a line into the surface of the paper not merely indent it
Paint (I suggest watercolour, granulating colours if you have them, or ink or watery acrylics)
A white gel pen or rigger brush and white acrylic/gouache or white oil pastel
WHAT TO DO:
STEP 1: Scratch 15 roundish shapes of different sizes into the surface of the paper. Try to avoid sharp corners or points on the shapes. Yes it’s quite hard to see what you’re doing, but don’t skip this step. Do it decisively and don’t stress or second-guess it. I found it easiest to do it in two halves, like brackets ( ).
STEP 2: Mix up a brownish or greyish off-white (a “dirty water” or pale sandy colour) and cover the entire sheet with it. Don’t worry about getting it as an even colour, and vary the direction any visible brushmarks. Dampening the sheet with water before you start will make it easier. Allow to dry before moving on to the next step. (What the paint does where the scratched marks are will reveal why step 1 exists.)
STEP 3: Mix a midtone blue/purple-grey (mid-tone = not especially dark and not pale). Paint five rounded shapes somewhere on the sheet, in various sizes. Splatter a bit of this colour around the sheet too.
STEP 4: Mix three different earthy browns/yellow/oranges colours. With the first colour, add five rounded shapes, in various sizes. Splatter a little of this colour around too. Allow to dry. With the second colour, add seven rounded shapes. Allow to dry. With the third colour, add seven rounded shapes. Allow to dry. (I would mix a colour, use it, then add something to the leftovers to shift the colour, rather than mixing three separately.)
STEP 5: Using a dark pen or pencil, draw an outline around the shapes you see as the top-most layer. Then, on the shapes underneath these, draw an outline on those parts that are beyond these top shapes, that is stopping and restarting the outlines rather than going all the way around.
STEP 6: Using a white pen (or brush and paint, or an oil pastel if it gives a thin enough line), draw 25 rounded shapes as the final layer. Don’t outline existing shapes.
Allow some painted shapes to go off the edges. It gives the composition a sense of continuing beyond the edges of the paper rather than being constrained by the edges.
Overlap shapes, both within a layer and between layers.
Tape the edges of the sheet of paper before you start, then when you’ve finished peel it off and you’ve a white border to the painting.
Do versions with only transparent colours (except for the final white), with mixed opaque/transparent, and with only opaque.
Work without letting shapes dry before adding the next.
This month’s project is about rediscovering the joys of “happy accidents”, of playing with colour, layering and more layering, responding to what’s happened, not working with a predefined outcome in mind but painting your way towards an arboreal abstract . That is, an abstract that’s got strong verticals which you may or may not make look like tree trunks, or stick to it being a colourful barcode.
The starting point for this project isn’t a reference photo, but the colour that reflects your mood today. No one layer or mark is crucial, trust the process (i.e. follow the steps), don’t try to dictate the outcome from the start but meander along towards a finishing point.
You will need:
A canvas or painting board or sheet of paper that has been gessoed (so the masking tape doesn’t tear it)
Any fast-drying paint (watercolours, acrylics, ink)
A palette knife or bit of stiff card
A spray bottle of water
Optional: texture paste
(You can do this without masking tape, using strips of card or paper instead to mask off areas, but you have to work more carefully so as not to move these thus counteracting the aim to paint loosely with colour without worrying about what’s already painted.)
What to Do
Step 1: On the back of the canvas or sheet, draw an arrow from the top edge to the bottom. This is simply to remind you which direction to paint the stripes and to put down the masking tape. If you’re gessoing the surface, do it in in the direction of this arrow, from top to bottom.
Step 2: Pick a colour that reflects your present mood. Any colour, bright or muted, light or dark; there’s no right or wrong choice. Paint seven stripes from top to bottom edge — do it freehand, eyeballing it, no measuring or taping. Any width, any distance apart. Do it fast, don’t overthink it’ there’s no right or wrong, and then quickly move onto the next step.
Step 3: Take the palette knife, or bit of card, and pull it across the paint horizontally, spreading out sections that are still wet. You might spray some water onto the surface to encourage it to spread a bit. Stamp up and down with the palette knife too, to ‘print’ random shapes of colour. Don’t stress if it looks a chaotic mess; it’s allowed to, and probably should.
Step 4: Pick another colour, a transparent one not opaque (for transparent: think “stained glass”) and do the same again (steps 2 and 3). Don’t worry about whether the colour already down is dry or not.
Step 5: Pick another transparent colour and, using a thinner brush, paint 11 narrow stripes from top to bottom edge. Mix in some opaque colour or white into this colour, and paint another set of narrow stripes.
Step 6: If you still have any areas that are blank canvas or paper, paint over these with any transparent colour. I suggest a yellow or light blue.
Step 7: Wait for paint to be dry to touch.
Step 8: Place masking tape from the top to bottom edges, leaving at least five stripes to paint. Try to ensure they are not evenly spaced like fence posts; overlapping pieces of tape helps avoid this.
Step 9: Pick a dark transparent or semi-opaque colour, and paint in the sections between the masking tape. Brushing from top edge to bottom rather than sideways helps prevent paint from seeping in beneath the tape. Though it doesn’t matter if it does; don’t bother to ‘tidy it up’. If you can’t decide what colour to use, I suggest a purple. Don’t obsess about getting the paint even across the length of the stripe, variation adds visual interest.
Step 10: Move the strips of masking tape to create another series of stripes, and paint these with a different transparent colour.
Step 11: Move the strips of masking tape again, but this time we’ll use an opaque colour. If this is all testing your patience and you want this to be the last set of stripes you do, pick white. Paint along the stripes.
Step 12: Dilute another colour (some black or Payne’s grey if your stripes are white) so it’s fairly fluid and flick it along the stripes to create random dots. Maybe do it with another colour too. Work fast as you next want to take a rigger brush or the palette knife and pull this horizontally across the painted stripes — where the dots are still wet they’ll become little horizontal lines.
Step 13: Do steps 11 and 12 with white as the base colour of the stripe if you didn’t use it last time.
Step 14: Lift all the tape and ponder the result. Decide which is the right way up.
It might all be working very well already, it might need a few more rounds. Think about whether you might use some transparent colour to darken any sections, as well as opaque colour to lighten sections or hide parts. I usually leave it overnight and then do another round of stripes the next day because I find it “wants more”. Don’t stop too early, the more transparent layers you do, the richer the colour becomes.
TIP: If it feels too bitty or has all gone awry, paint over the whole thing with a transparent dark — I like a purple — which will unify it as well as darken everything slightly (rather err on the side of having your transparent dark too dilute and do another coat than go too dark, you just want it to subdue everything a little not obscrue it). Wait for this to dry and then add a layer of opaque stripes on top.
Use texture paste on some of your stripes. I would apply it with a brush working horizontally so the paste has lines across echoing tree bark.
Use iridescent colours — gold, silver — in the background or on the stripes.
Pick only “ugly colours” or your least favourites.
Unexpected colours, especially in in the lowest layers.
Flick or brush colours onto the stripes at every step.
Use the pipette from an acrylic ink bottle to draw lines, then spray with water to get the paint to spread.
Brush a transparent dark down one side of the stripes will give a suggestion of the curvature of a tree trunk (form shadow as the trunk curves away from the light).
Work on more than one painting at the same time, using ‘leftover colour’ from the one on the next and a unique colour in each. This helps being impatient waiting for paint to dry so you can reposition the masking tape.