Whilst sitting in my studio sharing his thoughts on my new sheep painting and other works-in-progress, the in-house art critic came up with the title: TLC (Tractor, Lamb and Collie).
The first ingredient in a painting is, according to Monet, not drawing, but light. So there goes another excuse for not tackling a subject because you/I/we can’t draw it.
For me it’s been a neighbour’s red tractor. I’ve been in love with their vintage tractor since I first saw it, but have been reluctant because tractors have all those bits and angles and things and the more I looked the more I convince myself it’s too complicated a subject to do justice. Not that I stopped looking at it, just that I put the thought of painting it aside in the belief that one day I’d be ready.
That day came a few weeks ago. Cue the lightbulb moment: what if I focus on the red, use this as the “first ingredient”, then add a huge wheel and a small one, and take it from there. Paint what I can see of the tractor when it’s being used in the croftland in front of my studio rather than what I know about a tractor from having looked at parked ones. And paint it small so there’s no space for any of that detail anyway.
This was the result:
And it framed:
I’ve made a start on another, the red shed and red tractor (though the frend who lives near this building tells me this crofter has a blue tractor). Part of me likes it at this stage, part of me wants to push it further to the level of the previous. What are your thoughts?
Following on from Part 1.
Back into my studio, taking a fresh look at this painting, I felt it was, overall, too muted and midtone and bland and had lost all the vitality it’d had in its earlier stages.
First thought was to shift some of the grey towards blue, so out came my favourite problem-solving blue, Prussian, which I glazed over the sea and dabbed around into the sky. I used glazing medium as well as water to thin the paint, letting it drip towards the bottom.
This of course eliminated the highlights on the sea, so out came some cadmium orange (mixed with titanium white using my blue-not-entirely-cleaned-from-it? brush to subdue the orange a little). Added to sea and clouds, knowing it’ll have additional layers over it.
Next thought was to the headlands, to refind the shapes and increase the sense of distance between them. Masking tape along the lower edges means I need only worry about where the brushmarks need to stop on the top edge.
It may seem as if I’m obliterating the distant headland, t’s not quite a solid colour what becomes the underneath layers will show through somewhat. My aim is to make the headland lighter and bluer, and that I will lift off some of the paint with paper towel once I’ve got it across the whole area.
Realising I was going nowhere slowly, I decided it needed a dramatic change to shift things out of tweak-ville. So I reached for the Payne’s grey acrylic ink and started adding a new ‘drawing line’, to see if I could re-establish the energetic markmaking layer I’d so enjoyed however many layers ago. A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have done this, but over the past little while I’ve been enjoying dancing between line and brushwork. Besides, if it all went horribly wrong I could wash it off, or overwork it.
The Payne’s grey ink at this point is a bit stark on the headlands, but I was feeling re-energised by it, so continued adding it down the sea.
Decided the sea was too bitty, so sprayed it with lots of water and turned so it’d run at an angle. Flicked leftover white and grey onto it, sprayed again to encourage the paint running and dripping, then after a bit left it flat to dry.
What will happen next? I can’t say until I’ve had a slow hard look at it with fresh eyes. I suspect I might find it all a bit dark, that I might add highlight to the sea and a little more colour to the foreground.
Don’t forget to share photos of your August word prompt charts! You’ll find September’s here.
So that day with the beautiful light on the sea at Uig has taken me on this seascape-painting journey in my studio (working on a 100x100cm canvas). I don’t yet know where it’ll ultimately end up; the last photo is where I left it yesterday to dry. Colours: Payne’s grey, lemon yellow, red earth and Prussian blue acrylic inks, plus titanium white acrylic paint.
Where will I take the painting from here? I don’t know other than the vague “needs quite a bit still” and the aim of sticking to “interesting greys” rather than getting colourful.
Is it a drawing, is it a painting? Did it start as a drawing and become a painting when I added water to the ink? I don’t know, and don’t believe it matters. What’s of more interest to me was that this afternoon, after days of exploring new watercolour colours, I felt like using “black” ink only. Maybe it was a side effect of a grey-skies day.
It’s not black though, it’s Payne’s grey*, a dark blue-grey that I find has got more rich depth than straight black.
The subject is Neist Point, the westerly most point of Skye, punctuated with a lighthouse. I was working from memory with one of my reference photos (in the booklet of photos I use for my workshops) to hand to remind me of shapes. I’m using acrylic ink, and the dropper as a drawing tool.
You can’t easily make it out in the photo but there are some composition lines I drew using a non-photo blue pencil before picking up the ink. It meant I could concentrate on getting the ink drawing done fast enough that some would still be wet enough to spread into the sea area when I dampened this. (If I were to do composition and ink simultaneously, it would split my attention and lengthen the drawing time.)
Line only at this stage, on dry paper (350gsm Not watercolour paper).
And here’s where I got so caught up in what I was doing that I forgot to take photos. So between the previous photo and the next the caption reads “Draw the rest of the #@&%! owl”**
Once I’d worked my way down to the foreground (it’s a cliff edge from which you can see the lighthouse), I made my way back across the drawing with line a little. Then I wet the sea area with clean water, taking care not to touch any of the ink yet.
I needed the sea area to all be damp so I wouldn’t get any hard dry edges (except on the horizon) when I started spreading the ink into the sea. I then carefully ran a damp brush along the edge of the ink line to connect it to the damp paper. Areas of still-wet ink spread out, and I brushed it outwards too.
Where there wasn’t enough ink, I used the brush to ‘borrow’ some from other areas. Where there was too much, I dabbed at it with paper towel. Brush wiped and dunked in clean water periodically too. At full strength this ink colour is very dark; thinned it’s a beautiful blue-grey.
I could add colour, such as the greens of the grass, but I won’t. That’s a different painting.
*Payne’s Grey is named after a British watercolourist and art lecturer, William Payne (1760–1830), who recommended the mixture to students as a more subtle alternative to a gray mixed from black and white. Payne’s grey originally was “a mixture of lake, raw sienna and indigo” according to “Artist’s Pigments: c.1600-1835” (by RD Harley, Archetype Publications, 2001, page 163). What’s in it these days varies between manufacturers, typically a blue and a black together, sometimes a touch of red is added.
**A meme from a few years ago on how to draw an owl in two steps, the first being two circles and the second a detailed owl drawing.
Organised and uncluttered, everything in its place, plenty of white space, surface area to my heart’s content. Judicious cropping of photos can make my studio seem this way.
Like this photo of new-to-me Daniel Smith watercolour colours bought at Patchings Art Festival just put into a tin:
Or this slightly wider shot showing the painting I’ve been doing with mostly these colours, based on a shot of the Trotternish Ridge in my reference-photo booklet.
A photo of where I’ve left the painting to dry so I can add another layer to it, gently hints of things happening beyond the edges:
In reality I inevitably clutter up my work surface as I play with different materials and pieces, and end up squeezing a sheet of paper in. Multiple options to hand allow me to swap between watercolour, coloured pencil and acrylic ink at whim, feeding my current mixed media enjoyment. White surface space will reappear next Blue Moon tidy up.
What about you? Tidy or chaotic or a bit of both?
I had a bit of dark acrylic ink on a brush from another painting I was working on that I didn’t want to waste, so impulsively applied it to the texture paste of base the mountains and foreground, then put it aside again. Next day I noticed and loved the result. (I later added some lighter tones on top.)
But I can’t remember now if it were sepia or Payne’s grey, and so will have to try both. Maybe it was a bit of both? I know these two colours are the only possibilities because these ink bottles were on the table next to my palette — I tend to have only those colours I’m using on the top. It’s not a problem, but an excuse to play with colour to figure out how to do it again. It was also a reminder of the joys of glazing vs opaque paint.
And here’s another June Word Prompts Chart, from Tessa who says: “I like the way one idea generates another and I find links between the boxes. I quite like doing a catch-up batch. I enjoy doing them in pen with dashes of colour.”
I particularly like the way you’ve combined 5 Snake and 6 Danger Tessa!
A question that came up with the group of pleinair painters from the US who were on an art retreat on Skye last week was how I thought my on-location painting would relate to or influence my studio work. My answer was (paraphrasing) that I had no idea but I imagined it would be roundabout not directly connected.
Wrong! Sunday was my first “normal” studio day for a fortnight, and when I picked up a little painting to complete it, I found myself reaching for the Payne’s grey acrylic ink I’ve had so much fun using for location sketching. The painting ended up quite different to where it was — more intense colour and strong black (or rather, Payne’s grey).
I still liked it in the morning, and have found myself continuing to reach almost entirely for my acrylic ink.
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.)
Part of the reason it’s hard to answer the “how long did it take to paint” question is because of ‘thinking time’. When I’m thinking about a painting, about what I need to do or might do (or wish I hadn’t done!), but not standing brush in hand and paint on palette in front of it.
It came to mind today when I finished this painting which had been waiting more than five weeks for me to feel brave enough to tackle a few small changes and additions as well as add more glazes to finish the sky. My main hesitation point was my doubts about matching the blue in the stream, but in the end I was right with my first guess, cerulean.
For a bit I used the excuse of getting ready for my workshop at Higham Hall to not finish this painting, then the excuse of a bit of R&R after teaching the workshop, then I got sidetracked by an idea, and then today I suddenly felt up to it.
Being hot meant things dried quickly (acrylics at 21?C is quite different to it at 10?C!) and I had to just get on with it. I think I have finished it, besides varnishing, and choosing a title, and stringing, and photographing properly. But those can wait a bit still.