Painting with a friend in the sunshine, with coffee and munchies, makes it possible to forget about the hassles of life for a bit. In our view was a magnificent old oak tree, with fresh spring leaves and branches spreading upwards and outwards in a twisty tangle.
I started with water-soluble ink in my fude pen (the fountain pen with the bent nib), then used Serpentine green watercolour, lemon yellow and iridescent green acrylic ink.
The first painting (above on the right) I got the sense of the branches peeking out through the leaves, but on the second (above left) I got carried away with my enjoyment of the ink dissolving as I added water. It ended up with very dominant branches and trunks, and a feeling of there being any leaves on the back only, none on this front. I tried using coloured pencil to change this, and some opaque paint (by mixing in white) but it didn’t help.
When I said it looked like a dead tree standing in front of other trees, my painting companion said I was being a bit too harsh. But when we swapped paintings, she chose the other one! I picked one where she’d used water-soluble graphite for the trunk and branches, which on the rough watercolour paper she used gave a strong sense of bark texture.
Our other companion was four-legged, and I couldn’t resist trying to draw her even though she’d move when I was about half way with every attempt.
I’ve sat on the yellow lichen-covered breakwater at Camus Mor many times, usually at the spot where the taller part can act as a backrest, to sketch and to stare out to sea, and occasionally enjoy an ice cream.
I’ve taken a lot of photos of it, yet never painted it, until now. Suddenly my head is full of the striking slash of yellow, of compositions that dance with large abstract shapes and bright colour, from the yellow being a small element to it dominating most of the painting. A few days ago I did three on-location studies using mixed media (watercolour and Inktense sticks on A3 paper):
I did a large mixed media painting (watercolour, acrylic, and pencil on A1 paper) in my studio, exploring the idea of a composition dominated by a large yellow shape against the slab of rock on the right and the broken boulders and sea beyond:
On Sunday I did two plein-air paintings with oils, sitting higher up the wall than I would usually, in a spot where if I dropped anything down the left-hand side I would be able to retrieve it.
Here are the two paintings side by side, in the same light. I like both, but if I had to choose a favourite it’d be the one of the right, for the larger area of yellow and there being more on the left as the yellow slash leads your eye into the painting.
These are the colours I was using, on wood panel with a light blue ground (white primer mixed with Prussian blue). I don’t often put two yellows on my palette, I usually choose one, but I did for this as I knew that yellow would be a big part of the painting. They look quite similar in the photo, but the lemon yellow (on the right) is more transparent and cooler (bluer).
I didn’t put out black, relying instead on the Prussian blue and violet to give me a strong dark, which would then be more colourful when mixed with white or orange or yellow than a black. I didn’t use my beloved Payne’s grey acrylic ink as an underpainting, because it was too cold for it to dry anytime soon.
When I started, the sun was warming the spot, but by the time I’d finished the second painting it had dipped below the top of the hill. It’s not exactly high in the sky this time of year, which makes for fun shadows:
Thinking about why the yellow breakwater has suddenly become an obsession, it feels like several things joining together. One is a painting by a Fife-based artist Dominique Cameron called “Breakwater“, which could easily be pure abstract except the title suggested it’s somewhere specific. And indeed once you know about “St Monan’s breakwater”, you instantly recognize the zigzag. It’s a painting that’s stuck in my head from the moment I saw it, and I keep coming back to it. It also made me put the location on my to-visit list for a roadtrip I’ve got planned for May.
The second thing was discovering that another favourite contemporary artist Kurt Jackson, who’s based in Cornwall, had stayed in a cottage at Camus Mor in 2013, and painted scenes very familiar to me. Skip to timestamp 7:15 in his video for Skye, and then 9:46 for his painting with the yellow breakwater, or scroll down this page on Messums gallery to find the paintings (which were done in 2013 according to the dates on the individual paintings). It’s interesting being familiar with a location because it gives me a feeling for how much of an interpretation his paintings are. I did find myself counting the number of little white houses dotted around.
The third thing was a comment my Ma made about my needing to stop painting in black and white, to get back to brighter colour, and not turn into “one of those people who wear dark colours in winter”. Soon after this conversation I bought myself a bunch of roses, something I haven’t done this year as I’ve avoided going into the big supermarket. And this led to me painting daisies again, which of course involves yellow and orange. And then I was at Camus Mor and the yellow lichen glowed at me and compositions popped into my head, and now I can’t stop thinking about it.
One part of me wants to do a textured painting using black lava paste for the wall. Another wants to be very abstract and geometric. Another wonders whether about leaving out any suggestion of the sea and sky, or maybe only the sky. Another questions whether paintings with lots of yellow could possibly sell, but fortunately that little voice is being squashed by the others. Where will this lead? I don’t know, but I’ve got gesso on a 50x50cm panel drying…
The rocky beach at Duntulm being so exposed it needs a relatively windstill day for it to count as “good painting weather” for this location. Last Sunday was such a day, with the sea flat and calm, small waves breaking on the shore.
The ground and rocks were very wet though, so I decided not to slide my way down the slope onto the shore because I’d have to somehow get back up again. Instead I set up on a relatively flat spot about halfway down to the beach, the sun reaching me before long, and set about painting a section of the rock slabs.
It’s been a little while since I’ve been out with my oil paints, and I enjoyed painting this and am happy with the result, especially when I look at the brushwork up close.
For my second panel I decided to paint the row of bigger rocks in the foreground with the yellows on top. But I soon got distracted by my enjoyment of the ‘interesting greys’ on the top of the panel, the colour mixing and brushmarks with a rigger, and decided to see where this took me.
The in-house art critic said it looks more like something inspired by Monet’s haystacks than a sea shore, and I tend to agree. I think I’ll call it a plein-air colour study and leave it at that.
At Staffin there’s no shortage of boulders, but there’s one that’s become a particular favourite, sitting on an eroded slab with a gap beneath it that you can see the sea through. If the tide is in, it’s surrounded by water; at low tide the bigger rock slab emerges. I first painted it on a gloriously sunny day in May 2019 while my Ma plein-air knitted (see My Pebbles Got Bigger). On that occasion I used ink and watercolour on paper; this time (a sunny day in April) I used oil paint on wood panel.
The tide was going out when I arrived, and I knew from previous visits here that the water closest to me disappeared fairly quickly. In anticipation of it doing so, I took the photo below as a reminder, once I’d decided where I was going to position myself to paint.
I found a convenient rock to sit on to paint, because I know standing on loose pebbles can be hazardous if I get too absorbed with painting.
This painting had a different starting point for me, with a darkish ground (some Payne’s grey acrylic ink over the white non-absorbent primer of Michael Harding), and my initial lines plotting the elements done in orange. A lot of my previous seascapes have started with an orange ground (orange and blue being complementary colours).
The lack of inbetween photos is because I got absorbed in what I was doing and forgot to take any!
I was pleased with the result: the colours, the mark making getting looser to the foreground to move the painting into a slightly more expressive feeling, leaving some of the ground to show through.
A few days later the location was still bouncing around my brain, and I decided to have a go at painting a larger version in my studio, which was also something new for me as I don’t usually do direct studio versions of on-location pieces. I used the same colours except for black, which I felt had muddied the colours somewhat. Instead I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, thinking this might give me the darks I was after. I sprayed it with some water when it was partially dry and held it vertical to let the ink run.
And once again there’s a lack of photos between it at this stage and where I stopped.
This painting was inspired by a sunset a few days ago, where there’d been a storm blowing in from the north and blue sky in the south, as I looked west, out over the sea. I really enjoyed the colours, from light blue and yellow to darks, and the way the distant view disappears beneath the rain at the bottom of enormous cloud.
When it came to painting this, I reached for a canvas that had an unresolved painting on it, which I’d sanded down a few months ago to level off the texture paste. Although the texture on the canvas hadn’t been done with this scene in mind, I felt what was there would fit it. And it would save me having to wait for texture paste to dry.
This video is speeded up 10 times, and edited down to just over three-and-a-half minutes. Sometimes things just all come together in a painting!
If you don’t see the video above, click here to see it on my Vimeo channel.
The painting is a bit hard to photograph because of the iridescence and the low level of natural light this time of year. And it’s snowing today, so I’m not taking it out my studio to photograph in the garden.
The connection between the sketching and painting I do on location (and the sitting just looking) and the painting I do in my studio isn’t always direct, but sometimes the dots that need to be joined are fairly evident, as with this studio painting finished a few days ago:
Its path started last week when I painted at Duntulm (northwestern tip of the Trotternish Peninsula on Skye) at low tide on consecutive days, ending up with two watercolours and two studies in oil paint.
If you’ve looked up Duntulm on a map and seen the word “castle”, don’t get overly excited as there’s not much left.
The first day it was misty, clearing as the morning progressed. I started sitting on the grass, looking down over a stretch of rocky shore (there’s quite a drop where the grass ends in the photo below), painting with watercolour. The mist slowed the speed with which the watercolour dried, making wet-into-wet easy and an interesting change of pace with the paint.
I had my big set of pan watercolours, along with bottles of fluid watercolour and my beloved Payne’s grey acrylic ink (which I didn’t use for once). The red fabric is the corner of my raincoat which I was sitting on.
Then I moved along and down a bit, to a grassy bank, and got out my oil paints.
These two photos give a wider view of the location, and how the colours of the sea change with the light conditions of the two days.
Back in my studio, I put the watercolours and two oil paintings up on my easel as I painted at my table on a wood panel (with a layer of clear gesso on it).
Texture paste was applied with a palette knife, both Lava Black, which is a coarse-grained texture perfect for sandy shores, and Golden’s Light Modelling Paste which dries to an absorbent surface on which watery acrylic behaves a bit like watercolour.
The latter can also be scratched into with a sharp edge fairly easily when it’s relatively newly dried. If you look at the lowest band of rock in the next three work-in-progress photos, you’ll see how I abandoned having a band of rounded slabs of rock and scratched into it with the point of a palette knife so this section looks more like the others.
Here’s the final painting, plus several detail photos:
Where next? I’ve already started another studio painting based on this location, again using texture paste and acrylic but this time on an unprimed wooden board. Without gesso on the board, thin acrylic sinks in and the woodgrain is revealed, as you can see below:
It having dried overnight, I’ve started adding some colour to the rocky shore. Trying not to lose the woodgrain on the right-hand “sea section” is inhibiting me as I’m painting, as are my favourite bits of my just-finished painting because I keep comparing the two. The “sea area” surface is very absorbent any any stray paint will soak in and dry almost instantly, so I’m second-guessing what I’m doing before I do it, rather than responding to what’s happening as I paint. It’s what I mentally label as “trying too hard”. The photo below is where I stopped struggling with it and left it to dry again; I will give it a break for a couple of days.
A few weeks ago I did an on-location painting of an old croft house. There were some issues with perspective (which is something I have to really think about) but overall I was happy with it. And I thought I’d internalised where I’d gone wrong with the perspective, having consulted the in-house art critic for whom perspective is easy.
I’ve been thinking about this old house and doing it on a bigger canvas. A few days ago I got out a 100x100cm canvas and put it up on my easel.
I didn’t do thumbnails in my sketchbook (even though I encourage you to do so!) but just played them through my mind as I sat looking at the canvas. And then all of a sudden yesterday afternoon I was struck by a desire to start, and sketched in the composition with an acrylic marker pen, then added orange and yellow to the “not-sky” area.
I then painted in the “sky area” with blue and white, cleaning my brush of the blue into the foreground (where it’ll create a colour connection across the composition and work as a shadow colour) before adding some yellow (which with the blue on my unwashed brush and the still-wet blue on the canvas mixed to greens) and then some white to get the lightest green.
And this was when I realised I’d made an error in the perspective on the cottage. Not like a little mistake, but totally the wrong way around. At least I’d noticed before the in-house critic came along. So I forced myself to slow down (no point getting the sky and foliage working before the house), to think it through from the basics and redraw the perspective.
I edited one of my snapshots on my phone to draw some lines on it to help me. The lines aren’t straight because they’re done freehand; if I’d been using editing software on my computer I’d have used the straight-line tool. (Click here for the original photo if you’d like to have a got at painting this too.)
Using a rigger brush and Prussian blue (which is what I’d used in the sky), I redrew the house.
And then I continued to “just add paint”.
The “rusty roof” colour is created with Prussian blue, titanium white, cadmium orange, and magenta i.e. I added some magenta to what I had already been using. Notice how I’ve also used some of this elsewhere in the painting so the colour doesn’t sit isolated on the roof only.
This is where I stopped painting for the day and went to check my perspective with the in-house art critic, who saidthe back wall of the house needs straightening but overall only a little bit awry.
This photo is to show you that I had my on-location painting in view whilst I painted.
So, that puddle with the dried grass and reflected tree trunks that I first noticed a couple of weeks ago (see Late Afternoon Walk in Uig Woodland), that has stuck in my mind and become the inspiration for February’s Painting Project, that I’ve painted one-and-a-half times in my studio (the half being unfinished as I’m writing this). Well, I’ve now had a go plein-air painting it.
Part of my hesitation about doing so has been because my favourite viewpoint would mean setting up right next to the path, so no hiding from anyone walking through the woodland. I tried to hide in plain sight by wearing my beanie down low and my coat pulled up. One person said she’d thought I was a photographer. Another looked at me, looked in the direction I was facing, then looked at me with a befuddled expression, and moved on.
I was painting on a 9×12 inch wood panel, with a layer of clear gesso on it. I was quite happy with where I got with it and beginning to ponder whether I needed to add some paint to the area at the back between the trees where there was a lot of bare wood (negative space) when some determined drizzle set in so I stopped painting.
I think the rain shower stopped me from overworking the painting, both in the foreground and background.
This photo gives you a view of the painting in context:
And here’s a close up view that shows you the texture of the wood panel and, if you look closely, the rain drops.
Colours used: Titanium white, atrament black (Schmincke), pthalo turquoise, magenta, azo orange (M Graham, PO62, cheaper than cadmium orange and not as red as PO73), brilliant green (Langridge PG7+PY3), and a yellow (can’t remember exactly what it was and don’t feel like stumbling across to my studio in the dark to check).
There’s one little tree in the Uig woodland that wears its autumn colours later and longer than the rest. I call it the “The Little Tree That Could” (context: the children’s book The Little Engine That Couldwith the lines “I think I can, I think I can … I knew I could“) and first painted it in 2014 (see this blog). On Monday I went to say hello again, taking my watercolours and some acrylic ink (video link if you don’t see it below).
This video was taken when I started moving the colour around with a rigger. (It goes a awry for a bit as I open a bottle to add more orange, just skip that bit. Video link)
My fourth painting is my favourite, ending up a bit like Moses’ burning bush. Watercolour only.
I was sitting on a convenient rock next to the stone wall. 1 = Watercolour set. 2 = Painting drying. 3 = A bit of waterproof padding to sit on. 4 = Plastic folder with paper that also serves as a ‘drawing board’. 5 = Inks and fluid watercolour in plastic box. 6 = Water bottle (for me before my brushes) 7 = Backpack with raincoat, biscuits etc.