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?
The flowers I used for Tuesday’s mixed media workshop are now in my studio, a splash of bright colour and cheerfulness.
I’ve “rewarded” myself with some “playtime” at the end of yesterday and today inspired by them involving watercolour, acrylic ink, fluid acrylics, and black ink. In theory these are applied to the 350g watercolour paper with a brush or pen, but somehow my fingers always seem to find their way in too.
Yesterday’s painting before I applied black ink:
The point at which I decided to stop:
Today’s painting before the black and a few bits of rigger brush colour:
The point at which I stopped today:
I like different things about each of these, and can’t decide if I like the one with more black ink the most or the more restrained use of black. Which do you prefer?
I also want try to create a version where I manage to leave some of the paper blank (white), but whether I will manage to remains to be seen. Who knows what tomorrow might bring.
There are more nights until it’s Christmas than there are until the days start getting longer again, but it will still be a long wait until the snowdrops emerge, followed by daffodils heralding spring. But that’s no reason for there not to be flowers on my easel.
My current painting-in-progress has white daisies, the suggestion of foxgloves, and an abundance of colour. (The in-house art critic used the word “tropical” at one point.) It was started on top of another abandoned daisy painting that had a layer of dark painted over it a few months ago when I decided it really wasn’t going where I wished and couldn’t be rescued. As I started this new painting the old daisies loomed beneath, but gradually they disappeared into the depths.
These two detail photos were taken after another round of painting from the photos above. I stopped to let everything dry overnight, and next need to assess the tonal contrast as well as see if there any inadvertent/unwanted pattern has crept in. (The painting is 100x100cm.)
I’ve long liked the way Giacometti used line in his later paintings, and one of the challenges I’ve set myself for this year is to explore the use more line in a painting. On my easel at the moment is a large canvas featuring daisies in which I’d been doing this, working with a rigger brush, small flat brush, and acrylic marker pens. The latter feels like it shifts the making into “drawing” and saves having to constantly reload a brush, though they do create a consistent line (rather like a propelling pencil vs a sharpened pencil) rather than a variable one (as can easily be done with a brush).
You don’t see the line from afar, you’ve got to come quite close and then, for me, it rewards close looking. (And even closer to see the thin dark lines.) I’ve lost track of how many rounds I’ve had with each daisy, though there were at least two with dark and four with light. I don’t worry about counting, as it’s only the result that ultimately matters.
Here’s the whole painting as it is at the moment.
Here’s what it looked like the day before, prior to my ‘calming down’ the sky with a glaze of cobalt blue. I liked it at this stage, but felt it was too busy and distracting overall, that your eye needed a bit of respite.
I’ve had quite a few questions about how I created the painting on my Interlude exhibition poster, “Symphony in White”, so here are a few photos I took while working on it. As so often happens, I don’t have any step-by-step photos of the later stages where it all comes together as I was too caught up in the painting and pondering. Fundamentally, it’s a combination of deliberate and happy accident, letting paint run and colours to mix, as well as leaving it to dry before applying another layer, all the while referring to the idea in my head.
I’d worked out the composition idea and started with a minimal pencil drawing on the 100x100cm canvas. I painted the negative space (pthalo turquoise, I think) and then added texture paste to where the flower heads would be.
I then spread it with a big brush, a little colour added to differentiate the flowers. I can’t remember what colours I used, but it looks to me as if I added some magenta top left, then used the colour that was still on the brush to do the other magenta-ish flowers, then added some yellow which has mixed to give green-ish and orange-ish. The specific colours don’t matter at this stage, it’s all about the texture.
This was then left to dry overnight, to ensure the texture paste was definitely dry. More blue was added, and some magenta to some of the roses, and the painting sprayed with water to allow the colours to run.
Before this was dry, I added some yellow and let it drip.
And then a layer of titanium white.
The paint I’m using is Golden High Flow which is about the consistency of ink, but with a different viscosity so behaves differently, and an high pigment loading (artspeak for seriously intense colour). The texture paste (Golden Light Molding paste) creates an absorbent surface. When I spray the paint with water it does interesting things. Having the canvas vertical uses gravity to encourage the paint to flow. You’ll also notice there’s a piece of fabric (raw canvas) to catch the drips; there’s more on the floor.
And this is where I run out of step-by-step photos. But there was more spraying of water, more colour, more white, more spraying, more waiting for paint to dry or partially dry (you can see there’s some white that’s run that has not mixed into still-wet paint), some? colour from the flowers added subtly into the top negative space, and eventually left to definitely dry. Then adding of tube titanium white with a brush and palette knife to give definition to the roses, some thick and some thinned with glazing medium, and some lifted off to reveal colour beneath (such as centres of flowers). And more pondering and more tweaking, and ultimately arriving at this as the finished painting. How long did it take? I don’t know, just as I don’t exactly know how I got the painting from as it was in the photo above to as it is in the photo below. I only have a rough idea of the journey to get there, and had a lot of enjoyment doing it.
This is a week focused around the “admin” tasks of preparing for the hanging of my Interlude exhibition at Skyeworks on Sunday. It includes adding d-rings and wire to every painting, plus writing the details on the back, which means deciding on a name for each. Repeat more than 30 times and I’ve begun to question the wisdom of having so many small paintings. The solution is, of course, to do it as I declared a painting finished, but it’s too late now; maybe next time. (Yeah, in the same way I always paint the edges first.)
Good news is that my catalogue has arrived and I’m pleased with it (few minor typos aside) and my new greetings cards are due for delivery today. That means tomorrow’s task is bribing my Mum with frangipan tarts and scones from the Skye Baking Company to put the cards into polybags with an envelope (hardest part is dealing with the little tear-off strip on the glue which static-attaches itself to your fingers very determinedly).
After that is the pricelist and editing photos and … there’s still a lot to get done, but I’m very excited. I’ll send out a newsletter (subscribe here) when I get the photos added to my paintings website (after the opening on Monday).
There are two yellows I associate with spring in Skye, a cool and a warm: daffodils and gorse. Both have me reaching for tubes of yellow, plus a blue to mix an earthy green. In the daffodil paintings I’m working on, I’m mostly using:
Cadmium yellow medium: a warm leans-to-orange yellow that is quite opaque (in the jar on the right in the photo).
Lemon yellow: a cool leans-to-green yellow that is transparent (frustratingly so at times, but a bit of titanium white solves this; in the jar on the left)
Cadmium orange: I could mix an orange but there’s an intensity about a single-pigment orange that’s wonderful
Prussian blue: in acrylic it’s a hue (mixed tube colour) usually based on phthalo but with some black and sometimes a violet pigment, that produces the right shades of green to my eye and a strong dark where needed.
My view: Go with the ‘really good stuff’ when it comes to yellows as this has the pigment loading (artspeak for colour intensity) that gives an inner glow. The jars above are Schmincke, but I also use Golden a lot too.