Photos: Sketching at Uig Bay

Yesterday afternoon I was at the Uig woodland, mostly sitting at the shore looking towards the ferry pier and Waternish Peninsula. This is a favourite spot, but this time the light was particularly beautiful, the juxtaposition of light and dark shapes, the clouds. Minimal colour when looking into the sun, but not entirely monochrome.

If I moved a little, there could be some green in the foreground.

This is the wide view you see when you emerge from trees.

A few steps further back.

Puddles and reflections can be distracting.

Where I sat to sketch, on an array of flattish stones, the grassy lump being a bit damp.

My sketching kit: watercolour box (my indulgent, big one which holds a flat and a rigger brush), pencil box (with coloured pencils, sharpener, and some acrylic inks, Payne’s grey, yellow, and red earth), watercolour paper (A3 350gsm NOT) in a plastic folder which also acts as a board, couple of clips to hold paper, water container , and a bag to carry it in.

I don’t regard any of these as successful pieces, but they do all have potential for being continued /reworked in the studio.

The first, the one on the left, has bits that work but don’t work together.; this might be resolved by overworking it with pastel or opaque paint. The middle one I stopped because I liked what the hematite watercolour was doing but suddenly thought I wanted more rocks/seaweed in the composition but would mess it up if I tried to alter it, and so started the third. That lacks contrast, but the 350g paper needed to dry totally so that subsequent layers of paint didn’t just spread around and soak in. It’s a “stopped too early” painting.

Will I rework these? Maybe, rather than probably. What my fingers are itching to do is to paint the greys and light on a large canvas, lots of texture and interesting greys.

Is it Plein-Air or On-Location Painting or Just Sketching?

Sketching at Talisker Bay, Isle of Skye

I’m sure that somewhere someone has defined to the nth what constitutes plein-air painting and what’s sketching, but unless you’re in a plein-air competition, does it matter? I’m reminded of that Monet quote:

?Whether my cathedral views, my views of London and other canvases are painted from life or not is nobody?s business and of no importance whatsoever.?*

“On-location information gathering” is rather more of a mouthful than “plein-air painting”, but it’s a more accurate description of what I’m thinking and doing. The enjoyment of sitting outside, the potential of some paint and paper, the slowing down to look and to translate to paper, that’s what is most important for me. It’s simultaneously stimulating and relaxing.

I’m not focused on end results (though getting a piece I like is indeed satisfying) nor on getting everything into one perfect painting. It’s about slowing down to focus on the moment and a slice of whatever place I’m in, spending time looking and enjoying and selecting and mark making and playing with colour (or sometimes monochrome). Sometimes I call it painting, sometimes sketching, sometimes drawing. Sometimes I call it taking my sketchbook for a walk. Mostly I just call it having fun.

What do I use? At the moment it’s A3 watercolour paper (350gsm) carried in a plastic folder that’s vaguely showerproof, a couple of big clips to stop a sheet from flapping in the wind (there are usually rocks to hold it down if I put it to one side while it’s still wet), my biggest watercolour set (because I’m enjoying all the colours and learning their properties), a pencil box with acrylic inks (Payne’s grey and white are a constant, the other colours vary but often a green or yellow) and a few coloured pencils. Plus a bottle with water, a container with a lid for brush water, a flat brush and a rigger that fit into the watercolour set, paper towel, and ginger biscuits.

Sketching at Talisker Bay, Isle of Skye

Knowing when to stop isn’t only an in-studio problem. I really liked this painting once I added the sea and nearly stopped at this point. But because it’s a point at which I often stop, I decided to push past it and add colour.
Sketching at Talisker Bay, Isle of Skye

This is where I ended up. And, no, I don’t like it as much, but I am still pleased I pursued it (because if you always stop at the same point, things never develop) and it’s generated ideas for next time.
Sketching at Talisker Bay, Isle of Skye

At one point, I had a four-legged painting companion who wasn’t a sheep:
Cat at Talisker Bay Isle of Skye

Cat at Talisker Bay Isle of Skye

*Quoted in: Monet?s Years at Giverny, Metropolitan Museum of Art, p28

Nevermind the Castle

Spot Dunvegan castle. It is in the photo, I promise.

But with sea thrift turning swathes pink like this, I could not stay focused on the castle. So after one dubious drawing of the castle, I switched my efforts to rocks and pink, with happier results.

Photos: Sketching on Location (aka The Radioactive Green)

The last three days have seen us (the American artists on an art retreat on Skye and me) sketching on the Quiraing, Staffin beach, and Eilean Donan Castle. Shades of green from deep blue-green to improbably intense yellow-sap green (which I mentally think of as radioactive green). It’s not only been sunny enough to dig out the sunblock, but I even ended up looking for a shady spot yesterday at the castle.

My thanks to Michael Chesley Johnson for the pastel demo of rocks at Duntulm. It’s so intriguing, mesmerising, inspiring to see familiar landscape through the eyes of artists seeing it for the first time.

You can read Michael’s blogs on Skye here: Scotland Plein Air Painting Retreat

Waiting for the little Glenelg turntable ferry.
That spot on the bend on the A87 where most people photograph the waterfall, looking the other way.

Photos: Being a Troll (aka Painting Under the Slig Bridge)

Painted on location at Sligachan with a group of painters on an art retreat today. When we arrived, the peaks were hiding behind cloud, but they revealed themselves in the afternoon. The river was really low after all this dry weather, so I started at a spot under the modern bridge out of the breeze. The view of the underneath of the bridge and its reflection was tempting, but I decided to save that geometric abstract for another day and stick with my intended focus, the old bridge. Later I moved upstream to amongst beautiful water-polished rocks. (Materials: Payne’s grey and a yellow acrylic ink, watercolour, on 350g paper.)

Artist Michael Chelsey Johnson

Not Worrying, Really (Another Seashore Painting Story)

Watercolour and ink drawing seashore

The story has a familiar start: “Once upon a time there was a blank sheet of watercolour paper and a stretch of rocky seashore.”

All the potential in that pristine page waiting for the first mark. What would I choose?

Not worrying, really, because I have additional sheets.

Watercolour and ink drawing seashore

Out with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, using the ink dropper itself to draw plus a rigger brush and a flat brush. It got me to a “don’t mess it up now” stage.

Not worrying, really, because I could always try again.

Watercolour and ink drawing seashore

Watercolour added to the sea, using the flat brush. It got me past the previous “don’t mess it up” stage, to a new “don’t mess it up” stage.

Not worrying, really, because I could always start again and aim for this point again.

Watercolour and ink drawing seashore

Two colours of acrylic ink added to the shore, to represent the seaweed. A little water sprayed to disperse the colour.

Watercolour and ink drawing seashore

Not worrying, because I got there, I felt.

There being understated and minimal. The equivalent of a short poem about staring at a rocky shore rather than a field-guide to shorelines.

Related: The ‘Secret’ was the Previous Painting
The 5 Stages of Making a Painting

Ink Meets Shore

Lines Shore Black and Orange Ink Drawing Finished

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.)

Waves North Wind

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.

Motivated to Sketch on Location on Monday

Ink Sketching at Talisker Bay Isle of Skye

Yesterday I was so motivated by the forecast for not only sunshine (last week we had snow) but temperatures in double figures (it got to 19?C) that I was out the house before seven heading to Talisker Beach, which I had to myself for a couple of hours even though it was a Bank Holiday Monday.

First there was the joy of lambs on the walk to the bay.
Lamb at Talisker Bay Skye

Then there was the joy of the colours, sitting still to look and listen. Soundtrack: waves breaking, pebbles rolling in the waves, lambs and ewes bleating.
Talisker Bay Skye

The tide was coming in, a couple of hours off high tide, so the sandy part of the beach was hidden. I had expected this, having remembered to check the tide timetable, and so sat where I could focus on the waterfall side of the bay.

First off, a coloured pencil and watercolour look at the headland. In the morning light the iron oxide was very visible, a rich earthy red amidst the black and greys.
Sketching at Talisker Bay

Another coloured pencil and watercolour.
Sketching at Talisker Bay, Skye

Then black ink and stick, focusing on the waterfall.
Ink Sketching at Talisker Bay Isle of Skye

After enjoying using the black ink, this sketch looked a bit tame so I decided to add black ink to it. whether it’s an improvement or not is debatable.
Sketching at Talisker Bay Isle of Skye

There were a couple of other sketches, which I forgot to photograph. By 10:30 there were other people on the beach, so I packed up and headed back. On one stretch of single track in the “middle of nowhere” between Talisker Bay and Carbost, I passed a couple of huge campervans, camera crew and models shivering in the breeze. One person was struggling to hold a large reflection board still. No-one looked happy, but I’m sure the results were beautiful, with the Cuillan as the backdrop.

It being so warm and sunny, I headed to my favourite spot, the slipway at Camus Mor, for some more sketching. Had it all to myself until I was leaving, when a Mum and four kids arrived dressed for a swim.
Camus Mor

Vivid green seaweed

Sketching Camus Mor

I ended the afternoon sitting with my back to the sun, looking towards the Shiant islands.
Sketching Camus Mor Isle of Skye

All in all a glorious day. And with sunshine predicted for the rest of the week, I don’t know how I’m going to get anything on my to-do list done.


Wonderings at Coral Beach and Dunvegan Castle

As one of my current commissions involves a sweeping white beach, I took it as an excuse to go do some fresh drawings at Coral Beach. And, as it’s about to close for winter, I also popped into the gardens at Dunvegan Castle.

First stop was on that hill where you see Coral Beach for the first time. Go a little to the left of the path and there’s a stone wall which provides shelter from a breeze and a viewpoint without spectators. There’s something about double swoop of the coastline that I enjoy so much, an echo of shape but contrast in colour and texture.

Coral Beach sketching Isle of Skye

As in most places on Skye, there was a convenient rock to sit on, and another to prop up my watercolour paper.


As so often is the case, the view looking “the other way” would also make an interesting painting.


After a while I wandered up to Coral Beach. I was fortunate with my timing: the people who’d been on the beach had left and if I only looked north I had the beach to myself (if I looked behind me, there were another four groups of people heading to the beach).


There’s something irresistible about playing with long shadows. I did wonder if any of the other people would end up photos of the beach with a person holding an A3 shiny bag (with my sheets of watercolour paper in it) doing strange poses on the beach.

Coral Beach sketching Isle of Skye

And then there were the sparkles of light:
Coral Beach sketching Isle of Skye

And a strange feather with a white spot:

After Coral Beach I went into the gardens at Dunvegan Castle, which were looking superb and with far more things flowering than I thought there might be. I think it was even more beautiful than when I was there in summer. My thanks to the castle’s horticultural team for the recharge of my colour batteries. Here are a few things that particularly caught my eye: