Perhaps Being Over-Ambitious (Part 2)

(You’ll find Part One here.)

Painting River Rha WaterfallSo having stared at my painting-in-progress on and off, pondered it and where I might go with it a lot, visited the location again, I decided I liked the brushwork on the painting too much to risk messing it up and so would not continue working on it. Just yet, anyway.

Instead, I would start another painting on the same subject, and push this further, using layers of line along with brushmarks. And while I was feeling brave and bold, I’d do it big, so set up two 100x100cm canvases on side-by-side easels. (It did mean the In-House Art Critic was temporarily unable to get easily to the chair in the Studio Reading Corner.)

Work in progress

These painting-in-progress photos are unfortunately a little out of focus (taken in the low winter light at the end of the day).
painting in progress

I liked where I’d got to, but felt I’d lost the energy of my original layers of mark making and it lacked line. So implementing my rule of “be dramatic, you can’t tweak a painting into working”, I took a handful of acrylic paint markers and worked a layer of line over the painting, trying to do it as freely as I would if I were drawing in an initial layer of continous line. It was both frightening and liberating, and the further I went, the freer I became.

I deliberately stopped to take a photo of the purple line I added to the waterfall rocks, which is where I started adding the line layers, so I’d have photographic evidence a reminder. It felt over-the-top when I started, but had additional line layers of darker colours on top of this.

Studio Cat Ghost also helped.

I don’t have any other progress photos, but it involved overpainting some of the line to knock it back, some glazing to enrich colours, and just generally “some more”, until I started to think I was happy with it. I showed the In-House Art Critic, who told me to stop. I was surprised as I’d thought he’d say I should hide more of the line, but he said that he liked how the painting reveals more and more mark making as you get closer.

“Never Still”. Diptych 200x100cm (two panels of 100x100cm).

A few detail photos:

And the full painting, showing you where the details come from:

The title “Never Still” comes from my friend Lisbeth in Australia who, when I sent her photos, said: “I think the lines, and the colours you’ve chosen for them, give the painting a dynamism that real life has — nothing is really ever still, even rocks. Nothing is still inside us as well.

Perhaps Being Over-Ambitious (Part 1)

Painting River Rha Waterfall

Let me start by saying this story has a happy ending, in the shape of the largest painting I have ever created 200x100cm (78×39″). A painting I love, as does the in-house art critic and and the close friends I have sent photos to, and my Mum.

The story starts with my intoxication by the double waterfall and River Rha tumbling through the rocks (see photos) which I visited for the first time last month and then did multiple times thanks to a stretch of dry weather. I enthused so the in-house art critic came along once, together with his pastels, to sit in temperatures <6°C in the icy fine spray off the waterfall. That’s love!

River Rha Pastels

My fingers itched to paint the location, to translate my sketches and mental images onto canvas. But wasn’t I being over ambitious the voice-of-doubt kept whispering? How would I be able to convey the sense of water when the colours of the river were the same as the hillside? The only “water colour” was the white of the waterfall and rapids. Would I be able to get the layers upon layers of vegetation, the sense of the steep hillside, the stillness, the presence of the rocks? All these doubts, despite the fact that I had sketches that I was pleased with, that could lead the way.

Sketchbook Marion Boddy-Evans

Sketchbook Marion Boddy-Evans

Sketchbook Marion Boddy-Evans

Sketchbook Marion Boddy-Evans

What’s wrong with being over ambitious occasionally, I kept telling myself. I might just pull it off, and how wonderful wouldn’t that be. I decided to work over a painting that hadn’t gone anywhere, removing the pressure of a pristine canvas, whilst stimultaneously giving me a starting layer for the hillside. The long format also echoed the format of my sketchbook. Here’s what it looked like when I started adding the first reworking layer, in Prussian blue.

Painting River Rha Waterfall

Prussian blue favourite colour

A bit later:
Painting River Rha Waterfall

My palette, which will make more sense to those I’ve had conversations with about putting minimal paint out at any one time:
Palette of Marion Boddy-Evans

And a bit later still:
Painting River Rha Waterfall

Detail:
Painting River Rha Waterfall

Problem now was that I really liked where I was with this, but could see various directions I could go with it. (Also known as the “don’t mess it up stage“.) Which would I choose? Stick with brushwork only? Add a layer of line, my current enthusiasm? Texture? How far towards detailed realism? Which would I be able to pull off most successfully, which would lead to disaster?

Unable to decide, I stopped. Time for pondering, and working up courage.
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Sketching River Rha

When is a Painting in an “Interesting Place”?

I’ve been pondering how you might define an “interesting place” in terms of a painting-in-progress, whether you could ever be reassured that it was a sufficiently interesting place. Or whether you just have to decide to decide and not contemplate what might lie further ahead this time. (I’m thinking of the story my Mother has about camping in desert dust because the sun was going down and what they found a little way further the next morning.)

It started with a comment on yesterday’s blog by Jim Meanders, who wrote: ‘Paul Gardner said, “A painting is never finished — it simply stops in interesting places.” I had this quote on the wall in the painting studio when I was teaching. I constantly tried to teach students to pay attention to every brush stroke.’

(The closest I have come to finding a source for this quote is an article saying it was quoted in “The Artists Way” by Julia Cameron. If you can verify this, do please let me know.)

An “interesting place” feels tied to what you regard as a “good painting” in terms of the level of finish/refinement (thinking how Impressionists were regarded as unfinished), but also in mark-making. Ever-moving as what interests me changes. Also inextricably tied to painting across the whole canvas, progressing every area simultaneously, not finishing one part while other areas remain blank.

Maybe it’s a measure of the relationship with a painting, that spot where I no longer feel energised working on it. Which ties into my thoughts on how you can’t tweak a painting into being finished.

You can’t ever know for certain that what’s interesting to you is to others. Trying to have certainty is a recipe for second-guessing yourself, and sucking out the joy in the making. Embrace the uncertainty and see what the response is.

At the moment I am enjoying exploring line as part of a painting. I added line using acrylic-paint marker pens to this work-in-progress.

It could have been interesting enough to stop here, but I had done it with the thought that I would subdue the hecticness of the line with further layers of paint.

Tree Trunk Colour Studies

Colour studies tree trunks

In a multi-day workshop, I usually include some time for colour studies, exploring colour mixing with some underlying focus but mostly for the sheer joy of colour, of seeing what happens. The most common response is what fun it is and why don’t we do it more often when we’re by ourselves? I suspect the answer lies in that we get too fixated on “creating a painting” and forget it is time well spent to practice our scales.

When I sat down at my favourite picnic bench in the Uig woodland, I had intended to do a watercolour version of the sketch I’d made a few days before. But after the first tree trunk was painted, impulse led me to trying various colour combinations in search of the ‘perfect recipe’. An hour or so later, I had this:

Colour studies tree trunks

Colour studies tree trunks

This photo is a bit blown out. In the middle is my favourite:
lunar black + cobalt blue + serpentine green

Colour studies tree trunks

I know what the colour are because I remembered to make notes! Not the proportions of each, just the ingredients.

Practising Layers

Painting from reference photos by Marion Boddy-Evans

I’ve been practising for next week’s workshop at Higham Hall near Cockermouth. I’ve been trying to get a bit more systematic and specific about what I do so I can explain it, making a list of what individual layers are or might be because “be intuitive” isn’t a sufficiently helpful instruction. Also with the aim to have some examples of “layered paintings” “informed by” (based on) the photos in my new photo reference book (which workshop participants get) as well as some that combine elements from various photos.

Here are two of my paintings. Each has bits I like and things I don’t think are resolved, yet, or I would do differently next time. When I was telling the in-house art critic how I felt about them, when he finally got a word in edgeways, his response was that I was being way too harsh. He might be is right, and only I can see the gap between what was in my head and what’s on the paper.

Painting from reference photos by Marion Boddy-Evans

Here they are with the reference photos alongside. 350gsm, A3-size, NOT watercolour paper, using pencil, coloured pencil, acrylic ink, acrylic paint, and oil pastel.

Painting from reference photos by Marion Boddy-Evans

Painting from reference photos by Marion Boddy-Evans

Photo reference book by Marion Boddy-Evans
Buy photo reference book direct from me

Just Off My Easel: “Two’s Company”

Detail from Two is Company Sheep Painting by Marion Boddy-Evans

The in-house art critic said “Three” was a tad cryptic for a painting title, so “Two’s Company” it is.

“Two is Company”. 100x100cm.

A couple of detail photos to give a sense of the layers and mark-making:
Detail from Two is Company Sheep Painting by Marion Boddy-Evans

Detail from Two is Company Sheep Painting by Marion Boddy-Evans

My Painting Process #1: Warm and Cool

Brushmarks in orange

I’ve had requests to explain a bit more about my painting process (hence this is called #1). It’s an edifying, albeit slow, process nailing down what I do and why. It doesn’t always make sense to me, even as I realise I’m doing it, but then evolution isn’t necessarily logical or sensible (think: furry creatures that eat very specific leaves only).

I admire artists who work strongly with warm and cool colour*. I know the theory. I’ve tried doing it slowly and conscientiously. I’ve drawn myself little diagrams of what part of a composition should be warm light and warm shadow, cool light and cool shadow, and still blown painting it thus. I put warm into cool areas, make distant hills darker than nearer, and choose between lemon yellow and cadmium yellow based on transparency not warmth.

I could blame all the “soft northern light” on Skye, but that doesn’t hold for not doing atmospheric perspective in a painting. And Monet said the light in Algeria taught him to see colour so all my years under a southern African sky should surely have imbued me too.

Most of the time I don’t about consciously think warm or cool, neither the lack thereof nor the using of it.

[cue: shock, horror]

I paint with my favourite colours**, and if something isn’t working when I’m in “pondering mode”, I consider changing the colour and/or the colour’s tone. But it’s not colour consciously measured in warm/cool. (That’s why if you’re in a workshop with me and you ask about something in warm/cool terms it takes me a while to respond, I need a bit of thinking time.)

Will it always be thus? I don’t know.

Brushmarks in orange

*Such as Alan McGowan in his figure painting and Michael Chelsea Johnson in his landscape paintings.

**Prussian blue, phthalo blue cyan, phthalo turquoise, cobalt blue, cerulean blue, lemon yellow, cadmium yellow light and medium, cadmium orange, magenta and titanium white.

Small Seascape painting by Marion Boddy-Evans

Small Seascape painting by Marion Boddy-Evans

New Sheep Painting: TLC (Tractor, Lamb, Collie)

Sheep painting TLC (Tractor, Lamb, Collie) by Marion Boddy-Evans

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).

Sheep painting TLC (Tractor, Lamb, Collie) by Marion Boddy-Evans
TLC (Tractor, Lamb, Collie). 100x100cm

When I started, there wasn’t a tractor in the composition (though it has appeared in a couple of other recent paintings). But at a certain point it drove into this painting-in-progress.
Sheep painting TLC (Tractor, Lamb, Collie) by Marion Boddy-Evans

And then, because the crofter of the red tractor needed somewhere to go for lunch, a crofthouse appeared.
Sheep painting TLC (Tractor, Lamb, Collie) by Marion Boddy-Evans

And because she’s a multi-tasker, there’s laundry on the line too.
Sheep painting TLC (Tractor, Lamb, Collie) by Marion Boddy-Evans

Cue the Lightbulb Moment with the Red Tractor

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:

“The Red Tractor”.
Things in the view from my studio, moved together by artistic licence.

And it framed:

“The Red Tractor”.
50x20cm

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?

Red tractor and shed painting

What Happened Next (or Part 2 Painting-in-Progress Uig Bay Seascape in Greys)

seascape painting work in progressFollowing 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.

Some of that ‘headland grey’ also added to the sky.

And yellow to the nearer headland. Then some blue, some red earth, tweak, tweak, tweak, fuss, fuss, fuss. But I do like how the distant headland is looking.

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.

Where the ink ran into the sea, I didn’t fuss to try and lift it, just scratched into it with the ink-bottle dropper.

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.

When I got to the rocky shore at the bottom of the canvas I put it on the floor to work flat so the ink wouldn’t run with gravity.

Paused with the Payne’s grey ink on the sea to add a little to the sky, and lots more white.

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.

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September word prompts chartDon’t forget to share photos of your August word prompt charts! You’ll find September’s here.

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