Newly emerged leaves in spring have a bright, cheerful yellowness to them that seems to celebrate the beginning of a new growing season. I was sitting in a friend’s garden in the Scottish Borders looking at the red and yellow tulips thinking they lent themselves to a painting, but kept being pulled back to a couple of trees where the leaves were catching the sun whilst casting shadow on the stems.
I started with coloured pencil, trying to get the sense of the layers of leaves and small branches, sunny and shade sides.
I added watercolour and acrylic ink in various colours, including an iridescent green.
To stop myself fiddling with this painting while I was waiting for it to dry, I started another which I did wet-into-wet (and forgot to take progress photos).
I put the iridescent ink as a lower layer in the second painting, rather than top layer as in the first painting, so it shimmers through the other layers. The final layer was a deliberately opaque choice of cadmium yellow mixed with titanium white, so it would obscure what was beneath it.
This video shows me painting on the middle of my trio of tall trees from yesterday’s blog. I used an unfinished seascape with texture paste, starting with yellow acrylic ink which I knew was transparent enough to turn the blues to greens. I had the canvas sideways so I could easily reach edge to edge, rather than having to stretch across it.
The in-house art critic asked how I decide where to put the “blobs of colour”. The answer “I know it’s only to go on the trunk and just random” is inadequate, apparently, so I’ll be trying to figure it out more and put it into words.
I have been wanting to try a tall trees painting (see this month’s painting project) using acrylic ink on canvas rather than paper, and have ended up with three in quite different colours. I’m unsure whether to move them closer to one another (that would involve choosing a favourite, which I think is the middle one) or let them be individuals.
Two were painted over unresolved paintings (one a waterfall, the other a seascape). The leftmost canvas is covered with black lava paste and the middle with my favourite light texture paste. I did this because reusing a canvas ‘permits’ experimentation with less worry about ‘wasting’ the canvas. Also because I thought the texture could work well and didn’t have to wait for it to dry. The rightmost canvas I covered with light turquoise first, which it wasn’t quite dry when I started on the trees.
I mostly used acrylic inks but also a few fluid colours which are more opaque and spread less wet into wet, such as the orange in the central painting. Iridescent yellow and gold too. Canvas size 20x50cm (8×20″). Brushes were a rigger and smallish flat, both with long handles. I painted flat on my table rather than vertical at my easel so that gravity wouldn’t pull the paint.
The paintings weren’t totally dry when I took the photos, and I will look at them afresh tomorrow and decide if tweaks are needed.
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:
This photo is a bit blown out. In the middle is my favourite:
lunar black + cobalt blue + serpentine green
I know what the colour are because I remembered to make notes! Not the proportions of each, just the ingredients.
Celebrating the sale of this large tree painting which is dominated by an unusual blue — for me — ultramarine rather than Prussian. It was sold at Skyeworks Gallery and will be heading to Zurich. I’ve found my fingers itching to paint trees again recently; it’s that time of year when the trunks stand out starkly as leaves are shed and the ground becomes golden-brown. And of course I’ve recently driven between Skye and Fort William, a journey filled with so many beautiful trees, from thin silver stems to majestic oaks.
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).
I don’t always use masking tape when creating the trunks of a tree painting because sometimes I don’t have any tape to hand and sometimes I haven’t the patience to tear the tape to create uneven edges (the straight edge of the tape is too rigid for my liking these days; I did use it earlier). But doing so has two great advantages: it allows great freedom with splattering colours onto the main trunk colour and creates a magical “reveal” moment, when I pull off the tape to see the tree trunks in context. That I can’t see how the trunks look against the background while painting is both a disadvantage and an advantage; I’m committed to whatever I do with the trunks, though know it can always be painted over, and can’t fuss with the rest of the painting.
These photos are from a current painting-in-progress. First photo: starting to remove the tape is always fun mixed with a little apprehension about whether I messed things up or not, whether the tape had been stuck down well or if paint had seeped underneath (especially if I’d turned the painting on its side and encouraged the paint to run).
Second photo: sticking down the tape, leaving what will become tree trunks. When you start taping, it’s crucial to remember that you’re preserving the background and the tape doesn’t represent the trees (seems obvious, I know, but the shape of the tape seduces you into making nice tree shapes with the tape and not the negative spaces).
Third photo: Half removed.
Fourth photo: Pondering time. Foreground to be tackled next.
“Don’t look at nature and consider an inch at a time. See what one big spot is in relation to another. Search always for more beautiful notes of colour, don’t search to put more things in. … Let the eye go from one spot to another without the aid of outlines … don’t insist that the eye shall stop at the edges … don’t paint up to a line, work from a centre …”
I’ve been pondering soft and hard edges, how the former suggest and the latter dictate, the balance between the two and the influence on the dance between abstraction and realism. How colour and tone might do the job of a hard edge more subtly, creating the painting where what seem to be definite edges and lines dissolve into specks of colour the closer you get. The point at which it works and the point at which it’s a chaos of colour. I started a new large tree painting yesterday and found myself breaking up some definite, straight lines even at the very lowest layers that I know will be painted over.
My latest large (100x100cm) tree painting: Echoes of an Ancient Forest is due to makes its way to Inchmore Gallery on Tuesday morning. It’s currently hanging in the in-house art critic’s office, in a spot that gets strong side light, and it’s been interesting watching how the painting changes as the light does (one of the effects working in layers and glazes can create). In dimmer light, the darks become more prominent, and in bright light the whites/silvers on the trees shine. Over coffee we’ve been having discussions about this, and deciding which our favourite part of the painting is. Mine is shown in the detail photo, a bit of the texture on the second-from-the-left tree that goes off the bottom of the composition. What’s yours (share in comments below)?
Well that’s a delightful runup to Christmas: just had email from person who’d commissioned a painting as a present to say the intended recipient saw it in Skyeworks and loves it. So tomorrow I can change the note from “reserved” to “sold”, and wrap it for a safe journey to its new home.
(If you feel this reminds you of another painting of mine, you’re probably thinking of “Listening to Trees”, and you’d be right as this was mentioned in the commission brief.)