Well that’s the studio cats, in-house art critic, and myself moved from Skye to the rolling wheat fields of Aberdeenshire near Turriff. To a village established in the 18th century with a name that is one letter off a favourite (printed) book typeface that has been used since the 17th century. It’s about nine miles from the sea at Gardentown, where I have painted several times in the past, which has rocks, white sand, red cliffs, big waves, quirky buildings, and a harbour.
When I get it all set up, my new studio will have space for painting with friends and doing workshops. Right now most of my stuff is still in storage, but my fingers couldn’t resist having a go at painting the flowers that unexpectedly arrived in the post, sent by a friend in Australia. (Thanks again, you-know-who-you-are, and to all my other fab friends who sent cards, books, messages, for very much helping with this big change.)
I pulled out the crate of art supplies I’ve got and set up on the floor in the sun in what is theoretically the dining room part of the kitchen but will be the afternoon-sun section of my studio. Studio cats Little Em, Freyja, and Misty participated. We all had fun.
A quaint cottage rented by a friend, a wild garden, sunshine, paper and paint. My idea of a perfect day. (Especially as I managed to silence the little voice muttering about my perspective drawing skills.)
I’ve had another round of painting that tall sunflower (see The Sunflower). This time I painted indoors using my previous drawings, memory, and photos as reference rather than being outdoors with the flower itself, because I needed a gentle day, not one squirrelling on the ground to paint.
First attempt was with the tallest piece of paper I have with me, a piece I’d previously concertina-ed. I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, which isn’t a surprise, but used a stick to apply it rather than the dropper, which produced a scratchy line. Then used watercolour and acrylic paint.
I had a go at reworking one of Sunday’s paintings. I don’t feel like I entirely resolved it, but like it better than it was.
I then tore a sheet of A2 watercolour paper in half, taped the edges, and got rid of the white by mixing up all the leftover paint and adding water so it became a lightish background colour. As I intended to use the same colours again in the sunflowers I was going to paint on these sheets, I knew the background colour would sit harmoniously.
I like parts of all the paintings. If I were to choose only one, I think it’d be the concertina one with its brighter colours.
Sitting in friends’ garden in southern Scotland, I kept coming back to the purples in one border, particularly the alliums, which are one of my favourites. These were about twice the size of the ones in my garden.
So I moved a table a little closer and got out some paper and my watercolours.
A blank sheet of paper hold such possibilities and dreams, with the potential to go right or awry from the start, for things to flow or require persistence.
I started with mixing colours that I thought would give me “allium purples”. The darker swirly marks in the photo above are where I indented the paper with the brush handle while the paint was still wet; the paint accumulates in the dents and thus is darker.
For the foliage I used some of the greens that dry as a varied colour from Daniel Smith — Undersea Green and Serpentine Green — and again scratchd into the still-wet paint, this time to create a sense of the stems. Overall it wasn’t working for me, so I introduced some pen and then coloured pencil.
The photo below is where I stopped.
I decided to have another attempt, aiming for the sense of delicateness of alliums and the space within them. I thought splattering paint might do this, so tore a stencil in a piece of watercolour paper, hoping the rough edges would give an organic or softer edge.
I tried to avoid inadvertent pattern repositioning the stencil and not worrying about paint that flicked off the sides.
I then torn a strip to use for the edge of the stem, running the brush in a series of short sideways strokes off it.
I also flicked a little of the green within the purples, as you do see it in the flowers.
I am very happy with this second attempt, with the colour variation, the feeling of openess and movement, and even the unintended bits of purples (middle towards the bottom) don’t bother me (being watercolour I could probably remove it). It’s an approach I will try again at some point.
Some 20-odd days since I popped them into my beloved yellow jug, the bunch of roses in my studio has now dried out and is looking decidedly Miss Havisham-ish. I’ve been using them as the starting point for some small 15x15cm paintings, with varying degrees of completion.
There are two paintings I consider finished, and like (and have added to my #ArtistSupportPledge paintings here):
The turning point with these two was when I put down my brushes and starting working on with oil pastel. The slight texture of the paper means that if I don’t press too hard with the oil pastel it gives a broken line (rather than a continuous), allowing some of the colour beneath to show through.
Whether the result looks like roses or peonies or something else is up to whoever is looking at the painting.
There two paintings I started before these two that are nearly there, but not quite. I put them on my Facebook timeline with the question “Left or right” (see answers here or on Instagram):
The responses were varied, but consolidated what I’d thought which was to brighten the greens on the one of the left and add some darks to the one on the right. Once I’ve done that, I will then will decide if anything else is needed.
There are three more, which I left to dry last night looking like this (apologies, the photo isn’t the sharpest):
These three all have watery acrylic on top of oil pastel, and I anticipate doing at least one more layer on each with light or dark, possibly both.
These seven paintings may seem connected only by subject, but it’s a case of “one thing led to another, and to another”. The roses I bought when I went to the supermarket because I felt like a splash of colour. They’ve sat on the corner of my studio table, watching and waiting, until, inevitably, I painted them and then put a photo of two together on social media. This led to a comment from a friend about wanting to see a version with ink line work (thanks for the prompt Tina!) which led to me painting the roses again, this time starting with acrylic ink (Payne’s grey) and adding it again after some colour, finishing the paintings with oil pastel. The oil pastel led me to wanting to see what resulted if I started with oil pastel and then added watery acrylic paint and/or acrylic ink, which led to the last three paintings.
This photo shows all the paintings together, the top two are where they were after one round with them (initial magenta and ink, which was sprayed with water while still wet and lifted with paper towel), the middle row is where they were before I added oil pastel, and the lower row are as they’ve been for some days now (I still haven’t done the tweaks).
In terms of process, I’m following an idea to see what happens, letting the materials dictate the route and allowing myself to give in to an impulse. I try not to worry about whether something will work or not, though inevitably there are moments when I hesitate. Working on several pieces at once allows me to then put that one aside until I am either sure about what I want to do, know I don’t want to do any more (yet or ever), or am able to roll with whatever results. Usually I don’t share the ones that don’t work out, or all the ones that are about halfway there (the ones I think of as “just add sheep”). I rarely tear something up on the day it was created but go through the pile every once in a while and sort out duds when I’m more dispassionate.
My thanks to all my readers and friends for your encouragement and enthusiasm in these strange times of lockdown and the cancellation of so many things I was looking forward to through winter, with particular mention to my Patreon supporters and subscribers who enable me to keep my blog and videos advert free and the studio cats fed. Also to everyone who’s bought one of my little #SupportArtistPledge paintings, taking me nearly half way to my goal.
A new grid template with two windows and slightly smaller than my one for this month’s project, led me to drawing a grid of 12 which I filled whilst looking through the studio window at the little dawn daisies.
After the pencil came watercolour, varying the greens I was using as I moved down.
Next some white acrylic, using a flat brush and a rigger.
Then yellow for the centres, first lemon but that felt too insipid so and had another round with cadium yellow medium.
I mixed blue in with the yellow for green, then a touch of orange into this for a second round with a more muted/muddy green.
Three photos of my palette, showing the small quantity of paint I had out.
This photo shows you the progess from drawing to finished:
I’ve added this painting to my webshop here, as one of my #ArtistSupoortPledge paintings.
You know when you’ve 99% decided you want to do something, but once it’s done it’s done so the little bit of uncertainty makes you hesitate, and hesitate, and second-guess, and hesitate? That’s where I was with this painting (inspired by daffodils in a blue vase) when I’d decided I needed to cut off a bit from the bottom:
I’d added the Payne’s grey to give a sense of the blue vase standing on a surface, because it had felt like it was floating. But having done it, it felt like an irritating distraction; being acrylic ink, it dried quickly and adding more paint would spoil the transparency, so I let it be.
Having left it overnight so I wasn’t quite so emotionally connected to it, I reminded myself that just because the sheet of paper was A3 when I started, and I’d fitted the composition into this, it didn’t have to stay this way (that’s one of the joys of working on paper). Out came another sheet to see where I should crop it. Up, down, lift off, up down, lift off…there. Make a light pencil mark. Get ready to fold the sheet so I could tear it (having given up on finding the metal ruler and knife). Hesitate. Look again. Repeat.
Eventually I did fold the sheet and tore it along the fold line (with the mantra “hold the piece you want to keep in your tearing hand”). Phew, I hadn’t ripped the painting and did like the result.
But then the sheet had three hard edges and one torn edge. So I repeated the exercise and tore the other three edges too. Not really sensible, but we shouldn’t always do the sensible thing.
Working with black ink and dip pen you have to keep going forward with it, you can’t stop to erase, rethink and redo like you can with a pencil. At one point in my recent workshops at Skyeworks, there was a “try it with both hands” moment:
Without this out-of-comfort-zone yet playful moment, would the free mark making with the black ink and pen in this subsequent mixed media painting have happened? It’s impossible to say, but I do think it’s part of why there’s such a sense of joy in this painting (enjoyment in exploring the mediums and the exploration of the subject, some rosehips in a glass jar).
And while this next painting (work-in-progress) may look like a graphite pencil and watercolour drawing in the middle of a realist painter’s comfort zone, in fact it was out of comfort zone because it’s graphite and acrylic ink. What’s reassuringly familiar to one person is unfamiliar to another. What’s scary is relative and individual, and changes as we progress on our artistic journeys.
It was a joy watching both of these paintings being created and develop, the enthusiasm, and tenacity.
The sunflower painting below was done by the same person who did the rosehip pencil drawing, after a weekend’s break. It’s mixed media, started with soft pastel, then acrylic inks and paint, and black ink. Much further out of comfort zone but at the same time easier because of the time spent earlier in the session just trying out? materials without worrying about results, being a kid again and enjoying pushing colour around.
Parts of it are still work-in-progress, less resolved, but I think it’s beautiful and painterly — a celebration of both the joy of sunflowers and paint — particularly the top left sunflower.
The next painting was done by someone who started the session never having been near acrylic paint. We were focusing on looking at a subject with an eye towards abstraction and impressionism rather than realism, suggesting rather than telling, reducing detail.
I enjoy all sorts of things about this, such as the sense of a surface in the bottom right, which starts my mind on a journey of “is it a table cloth or…?”. The suggestion of shapes in the background, the sense of depth behind the centre top. And something, which you wouldn’t know unless you had been there: the last-minute joyous adding of a glaze of magenta to the vase because it’s a favourite colour, and ties into the magenta in the flower centres, changing the overall dominance of yellow in the painting.
I had my own version, started as a demonstration piece (e.g. “this is how dark a shadow I’m thinking you might add, yes, really, this dark”) then continued a bit as I tidied up at the end of the session, using up the little bits of leftover paint. Parts were still wet when I took this photo and I’m interested to see how much the last layer of acrylic ink on the petals has sunken into the paper.
But I left it on the table in the workshop area of Skyeworks Gallery, so it’ll be a couple of days before I see it again. At the moment I’m thinking: “that jug is awfully tall!”
I’d been struggling and tweaking, faffling and fiddling without resolve, trying to push a painting further than the previous version but in doing so had ended up in a hole. That’s when I asked the in-house art critic’s opinion. The words “It Doesn’t Feel Like One of Your Paintings” were exactly what I needed and, with hindsight, it seems obvious that this was the major issue.
I had liked my first large painting of flowers in a yellow jug (photo below), and the previous versions done on A3 paper, but had ideas I still wanted to try so I started a second canvas with a view to using more black/dark.
This was the first painting, on a 100x100cm canvas:
This is where the second version started, on a canvas that’s a bit smaller:
Then I allowed myself to be enticed by the dark side.
But then I felt I’d lost all the light and colour, so added more.
This is what the painting looked the first time I showed the in-house art critic.
After a cup of coffee and a cookie, and a ponder, I had another round with the painting. Working more loosely, letting paint run, trying to make it feel like a painting of mine and not over-think it.
This is what it looked like next time I showed the in-house art critic.
My last tweak was to add some more white to the cat. And left the inadvertent cat-head shape towards the bottom right which I’m not sure other people will see anyway.
Is it finished? Is it more my style? Probably and yes, I think. Certainly I’m happier with it now, as is the in-house art critic. Studio cat has decided to sleep on the question and will let me know. What are you thoughts, on the painting and/or on style?