My Harbour Sketches

Following on from my blogs with photos of the little harbour in the Scottish Borders I was at last week (She Sees Seaside and Harbour Details), here are some photos of what happened when I got my paints out. Having multiple days of sunshine in November was a real treat.

The first day I walked about taking lots of photos, then ended up sitting at a picnic table watching birds you can’t see in the photo, including some swans. I got out my sketchbook telling myself that making just one quick sketch would be fine, to not worry about how ‘good’ it was as it’s impossible to do everything on single trip to a location.

Pencil first, then watercolour

The second day I got out my oil paints and had a go at a composition that’d been bouncing around my head all night. Yes, I could have done thumbnails and studies first, all that preparatory work that does help produce pleasing results, but my fingers were itching to paint this. So I jumped in at the point that was appealing to me, knowing that I might not do it justice but that it’s worth a try anyway.

The low winter sun of November means the hill behind me casts its shadow over the harbour from quite early in the morning. I was sitting on this convenient little wall running alongside a bit of road.

Below is the point at which I got cold and stopped painting. It has a few things I like about it, such as the sense of chain on the wall, the curved corner, and the green on the nearer harbour wall, and things I don’t. Mostly I am pleased I had a go at it, and I regard it as a “good learning painting” or study. The next morning I walked around a bit here having a closer look at elements of this composition, such as the width of the nearest wall (which is narrower at the top than the other walls, having a stepped top to it).

Oil paint on wood panel. 9×12 inches.

The next day I got out my favourite Payne’s grey acrylic ink and did some ink and watercolour paintings. The fishing shed with its row of colourful doors, the view through the harbour entrance to the old cottages, the stacks of creel nets. And, no, I never did get around to the boats themselves.

I stopped at this point because the shadow from the hillside caught up with me, and I moved to a new spot in the sunshine.
First attempt
Second attempt. The narrower format works better, I think.

The last day I spent using pencil only, making sketches with notes about things that had caught my eye. Information gathering for a studio painting.

When might I start creating some studio paintings based on these sketches? I don’t know. It may convert into something soon, it might sit and simmer, it might be never. I don’t have a plan for it, I was simply enjoying being in a very paintable location, with a friend who was also painting.

Painting Daisies in a Concertina Sketchbook (with video)

If you’ve not met one before, a concertina sketchbook has one long zigzag page that folds up between the covers. How many pages it has and what type of paper depends on the brand; the one I’m using in this video is from Seawhite and slips into a case. (If you don’t see the video below, click here to go to my Vimeo channel.)

I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, then watercolour in a dropper bottle (including two granulating greens), watercolour from my set using a brush, acrylic paint (cadmiun yellow light and medium), a mixed blue-grey acrylic ink (the masking tape on the bottle tells me it’s a colour I’ve mixed), white acrylic ink (Sennelier’s super-opaque white), and ultimately a touch of orange acrylic ink to deepen the yellows in the flower centres.

The decision as to how many pages to do was intuitive, a feeling for how many would be manageable across the width of my table (and off a bit) and would probably not be totally dry by the time I got back to the start with a new colour. I’m drawing daisies from a mixture of memory and the ones in the jug in front of me, which I turned around at various points so I was seeing ‘new’ daisies.

The colours initially are a bit gloomy, but when I add the bright green these become “background shadows” and everything turns brighter. I had visualised this brighter layer of green before I started, I just didn’t know exactly when I would do it. I’ve got a list in my mind of what layers I’m going to do (colours/materials) but if you’re new to working like this it’s worth taking the time to draw up a list, and having everything to hand, so when you’re painting the decisions are already made and you can concentrate on painting.

What will I do with the rest of the pages? At the moment my thought is to continue with flowers, probably the pink foxgloves that are flowering now too, but I’ll see what I feel like when I start again.

This is only the second concertina sketchbook I’ve used; the first has a watercolour of the sea/weather from my studio on every pair of pages, with a consistent positioning of the horizon line across the pages (drawn in with a pencil before I started). I’m sure there will be more, not least because I have a little Sennelier one with thicker paper I won in a competition and the Moleskine one the in-house art critic gave me last Christmas to try.

My Watercolour Recipe for Bluebell Blue

Yesterday I sat on a tree stump in the Uig woodland amongst the bluebells, with my watercolours. My aim was to try the various blues I have and see if I could crack “bluebell blue”. Looking at the options I had for shifting blues towards purple, I decided to try Imperial Purple (a Daniel Smith mixture of PV19 quinacridone rose and PB29 ultramarine blue) and mixed it with my favourite blue, Prussian (PB27). And just like that I had my recipe, andnow I can tick “paint bluebells in the woodland” off my to-do list.

This is the tree stump I sat on whilst painting bluebells. It was one of the trees cut down by the woodland trust last year because they were damaged or rotten.

Seaside Sketching in the Sun

With a forecast for temperatures in the twenties and covid19 lockdown moved to phase 1, I dug out the tube of sunscreen and drove to my favourite bit of shore with paint and paper.

It took me a few moments to realize what the unexpected shapes at the bottom of the slipway were. Never seen seals here before; not long thereafter they all took to the water, and after a while disappeared.

I mostly used watercolour (granulating black and haematite plus a few others) and Payne’s grey acrylic ink, but did also have some coloured pencils with me.

My first piece
Four little paintings (15x15cm) and four clips to stop them blowing away
Two more after moving north a bit. Coloured pencil used on the left. The blue on the right-hand one doesn’t meet the black of the rocks because this was still wet and I didn’t want it bleed; I might still ‘fix’ this and strengthen the touch of green.
Spot the bird.
Hokusai’s Great Wave reinterpreted as a performance piece!

Freezing Watercolour

frozen watercolour

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.

Watercolour on A2 paper 350gsm

Painting “The Little Tree That Could”

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 Could with 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).

My first painting, watercolour on A3 paper
My second painting, which I like more than the first
With the second I added a bit of background colour first
Third painting, liquid watercolour and Payne’s grey acrylic ink. There was a bit too much ink andnot enough orange, but overall I think it worked.

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.

See also: Remember the Little Yellow Tree Painting?

Sketching at Bow Fiddle Rock (On the North Sea Coast Part 2)

Looking at these photos you need to add a soundtrack of gulls and shags and wind. I came here several times, sketching in different mediums, struggling against tendency to straighten and shorten the ‘leg’. Most mornings I had it to myself. At low tide you can walk almost to the rock without getting your feet wet. One afternoon, at high tide, there were three women who swam out to it, without wetsuits.

Photos: On the North Sea Coast (Part 1)

Photos: Painting at Staffin Beach in the Sunshine (aka My Pebbles Got Bigger)

Painting yesterday at Staffin beach at low tide, I found myself enjoying the large boulders dotted around. When I later showed the in-house art critic my photos, he said my paintings looked postcard size. That’s when I realised that not only had I supersized the average rock I was painting, but that the pebbles I was using to hold down wet paintings were also bigger than normal. Do wonder what I might have painted if I’d had a bigger brush with me!

The first drawing. I initially stopped when it was line only as I was enjoying the piece, but later added wash to it as it felt too sparse.
The second painting. Judge the top angle of the rock by the horizon of the sea, not the edge of the shet of paper.
My second-last painting. I blame the soporific sun for the rounding of the shape…
Looking the ‘other way’.
I mostly used Daniel Smith hematite genuine for the ‘rock colour’. Its granulation gives a sense of the texture of the rock. It’s the second-nearest colour in the left hand row in my box.
Watercolour and acrylic ink on A3 paper. I like and dislike bits in each.
In terms of composition, I think this works as a photo, but could I make it work as a painting?
The dot of red is where I was sitting when painting; the orange is my Ma. I’m standing a couple of metres from the water’s edge.
My Ma, plein-air knitting.
“Do you need a viewfinder?”
My Ma, plein-air knitting.
Me thinking “I can’t see anything on the screen in this glare but this looks about the right angle”.
This volcanic rock is amazingly matte black, darker than in the photo..
Not a fossilized dinosaur brain. (We were close to where the dinosaur footprints can be found.)
Abstracts from nature.
I think the sheep noticed I was painting rocks and wanted to be included too.

Imagine a Fly (a tip about drawing dark and light lines)

Hairy Caterpillar

“Imagine a fly walking on a surface. If the fly walked across a line and disappeared by going around a corner, then that line should be heavy. If the fly walked across a line which marked a change in material in the same plane then it should be light.”
Brian Ramsey, “Trade Secrets”

Or if flies give you the heebie-jeebies, perhaps imagine an ant.

Or a caterpillar, though not a very hungry one like Eric Carle’s.

Hairy Caterpillar