Controlling My Colour Mixing

My favourite paint colours

When I first started painting my “Moods of the Minch” seascapes (the stretch of sea between the Isle of Skye and the Outer Hebrides is called the Minch) I used Prussian Blue, Burnt Umber, and Titanium White as the main colours. At times, the only colours.

Moods of the Minch: Cold Snap 80x40cm (31×15″ approx) Acrylic on canvas

Adding a cadmium yellow gives grassy shore greens, lichen on shore rocks yellows, and sunset colours. Adding magenta gives the pinks of the seathrift and purples of sunsets. Removing red from my palette as using it was how I kept ending up in murky mixes, and using magenta wherever I would have used red instead. Add lemon yellow which is a lighter, transparent, bluer (cooler) yellow, perfect for daffodils. Plus a black (PBk31) for sheep, one that when mixed with white leans into green, and mixed with yellow produces beautiful landscape greens.

For me Prussian Blue gives a sense of the cold Atlantic Ocean and dark showery weather, with a tremendous range from deep dark to very pale. It’s one of those “a little goes a long way” colours, and the way to control it when colour mixing is to add a touch of it into another colour rather than adding into a pile of the Prussian. It remains my favourite blue, and ultramarine remains my least.

When I started exploring using coloured grounds rather than working on the white of the canvas, and after a life painting workshop with Alan McGowan where I came away with the mantra “build a bridge between the orange and the blue”, I really got into blue plus orange mixing. A single-pigment orange mixed with a blue, plus white, is now a fundamental part of my palette. It gives a wide range of brown and grey, and because every mix is derived from the same two colours they all harmonise. (It needs to be a single-pigment orange because one that’s a mixture of red plus yellow goes into greens when you add blue, not useful for painting a seascape.)

Orange + blue + white

I expanded the cadmium orange plus blue possibilities by using different blues, and worked with this for some time. Then I bought every single-pigment orange I could find to see how different oranges would work. Of these, Transluscent or Transparent Orange PO71 was the one I enjoyed the most, and this is now a standard on my palette too. It’s a transparent pigment, so mixes differently to Cadmium Orange, which is an opaque pigment.

The next colour I added was Dioxazine Purple, to explore purple plus yellow colour mixing and using purples in shadows. Made hideous murky messes with yellow, but discovered that mixing it with orange did beautiful things.

Moving to northeastern Aberdeenshire, I found I myself on seashores with red sandstone, a colour that wasn’t mixable with a palette that didn’t include red. So that’s been added this year though I haven’t got a favourite yet.

30x30cm, acrylic on wood panel

There’s one other colour that I use as an ink, but not as a tube colour, and that’s Payne’s Grey. I enjoy it for continuous line drawing. It’s softer than black, having blue in the mix. Mostly I’m using it as a strong dark, not as a mixing colour.

Selected for “Colours” Exhibition

Delighted that this painting of mine has selected for the “Colours” exhibition by the Aberdeen Artist’s Society at Milton Art Gallery in Crathes from 30 September until 29 October 2023.

Flower Garden I painting by Marion Boddy-Evans
“Flower Garden I”. Acrylic on wood panel. 30x30cm (unframed size).

I have a few other new flower paintings that I will have on display for the NEOS open studios event next month, 9 to 17 September 2023, details here.

Pleinair at Haddo House

The setting: huge country house with a formal garden and a large park. Haddo House in middle-of-nowhere Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

(Do not adjust your eyes, this is two photos inexpertly stitched together)

My brain: buzzing about like a bumble bee, absorbing all the possibilities for paintings. I felt obliged to tackle the building because imposter syndrome was whispering in my ear about how this is what “real” pleinair painters would do, but truly the colours and patterns in the garden are what’s lingering in my mind a couple of days later.

There were two gardeners deadheading the flower beds

My aim with my drawing was to be a drawn exploration of a building with so many different parts to it rather than an obsession with perspective. I found myself wondering why the main door that opens onto the gardens isn’t wider, more grandiose. And if the fountain can be turned up be to more than little dribble. And how strong the wind gets given the supports on the small palm trees.

Top: before I went over the water-soluble ink drawing with a waterbrush and added some coloured pencil.
The view looking the other way from where I sat to draw
Was I being overcautious in not stepping right on the edges of these stairs?
There are tractor marks in the distant wheatfield that echo the curves on the drive and lawn. The right-angle of the shadow felt like an element determined to go its own way

Plein-air Painting at Spey Bay

I’d so enjoyed using pen and water-soluble ink again earlier this week that I decided to be optimistic about the forecast for showers as I decided on what supplies to take with me to a plein-air meetup at Spey Bay with the Moray Firth Sketchers. So I packed my pen with water-soluble ink, a few coloured pencils, and my bag with bottles of watercolours and inks. Besides, I remember that time I was in the woodland in Uig and the raindrops improved did interesting things to my drawing.

It was my first time at this location, and what a friend had said was indeed true: “You’ll like it there — lots and lots of stones and pebbles!” There’s pebble beach as far as you can see, with small enough pebbles for it to be relatively easy to walk on.

The nearby Dolphin Centre cafe had three choices of homebaked gluten-free free cake, so another level of happiness came with the purchase of takeaway cake and hot chocolate. The rain came in not long after I’d sat down to paint, so I quickly ate my cake to stop it getting soggy. After all, cake doesn’t dry out like watercolour paper or clothes.

The river provides another range of painting options
Are those clouds getting darker and heading this way…?

When the rain persisted, I retreated beneath some scraggly trees and did a drawing of branches instead, with the rain assisting in the mark making. Then Phil, who’s an accomplished watercolourist, had a go, heading with enthusiasm out of his comfort zone.

My drawing when it dried. A3.

The end result is quite abstract and expressive. My plan is to add some colour to re-find some trunks and branches, with watercolour and/or coloured pencil so it’s a bit easier for viewers to fathom what’s going on.

The rain stopped and I returned to where I had been sitting with a view of the river.

I started with an ink drawing, using artistic licence to move some elements closer together. Next time I must get a much wider sheet of paper. Then I used a waterbrush to spread the ink, added some watercolour and coloured pencil.

Water soluble ink in a fude pen (the drawing pen with the bent nib)
Mixed media. A3 size watercolour paper, 350gsm

I next decided to have a go at the dramatic clouds, turning the sheet vertical to give me lots of space for sky. I started with Payne’s grey ink, then decided to add some purple to increase the drama. A bit of back and forth with extra ink and dabbing with paper towel, pulling it down at the bottom for the rainshower, and I got it to a point I was happy with. As I’d been doing this a family had started their picnic lunch next to a nearby log, their warm coats giving a splash of bright yellow and blue. I don’t usually add figures in my landscapes but couldn’t resist being able to add the colour and sense of scale.

When I was packing up they came across and said they noticed I’d put them in my painting and asked if they could buy it. So to my delight it’s going to French Canada.

My smile says everything about how much I enjoyed the day and my hair everything about the weather
A first for me: swans in the sea. Also saw a seal in the river and a duck with a string of ducklings swimming behind her

Foxgloves with Blind Embossing

Detail from Foxgloves painted in watercolour with blind embossing

I’ve had my first go at an idea involving foxgloves, blind embossing and watercolour. Blind embossing is a printmaking technique where you “print” with the aim to create indentations in the paper rather than printing an image using ink. (The appeal isn’t simply that there’s no ink to clean up!)

My thoughts behind using blind embossing are about how white space can be a crucial part of the composition of a watercolour or ink painting, about having something in that area that doesn’t reveal itself unless you look closely, which will add to the overall painting whilst not detracting from the sense of white space.

The results are hard to photograph because it’s about the play of light across the surface. I still need to figure out a good setup for doing it, but the photos below will give you a sense of it.

I started with a bit of cardboard from a catfood box, drawing a foxglove on it to give me a reminder of the overall design I had in mine before cutting out shapes for individual flowers. Studio Cat Freyja had fun helping me with this; she does love to shred cardboard.

I arranged the pieces on a sheet of paper on my new-to-me Gunning printing press that I bought from a printmaker in Banff who was upgrading their press. With a printing bed of 50x100cm it gives me the chance to work considerably larger than the little A3 press I bought I with the proceeds from the first art workshop I taught on Skye.

I didn’t stick down the cardboard shapes, so was hoping a studio cat wouldn’t come to investigate!

In order for the paper to bend around the cardboard and not tear, you dampen it beforehand. Failing to find something that was big enough, I repurposed this unused kitten litter tray which was just wide enough for an A3 sheet.

After blotting the damp sheet on a towel to remove excess surface water, I placed it over the cardboard pieces and ran it through the press. It took a few tries to get the pressure (“tightness”) of the press set so it embossed nicely.

The stripes in the embossing come from the cardboard. The pieces without are where the cardboard was the other way up. A happy accident as I hadn’t realised the cardboard would produce texture within the shapes.

By the fourth sheet the cardboard was quite flattened and I decided it wouldn’t produce much of an effect on a fifth sheet of paper. Part of me likes this limited number; another part wants to try next time with something that won’t flatten as fast, if at all, such as lino or perhaps mount board.

I clipped the embossed sheets to a board on my easel, then spent several days pondering them. Where would I paint, how many foxgloves, would I overpaint any of the embossing knowing from my previous experiments with pebbles and embossing that this tends to make it disappear? Would I start with the sheet that was embossed the best (the first sheet) or worse (the last sheet), knowing that I might well mess it up but also that sometimes the first attempt is more successful as I’m not trying so hard.

In the end I went the second sheet I’d embossed as there was slightly less pressure (no pun intended) not to ruin it. I tried to put aside my doubts and overthinking, and just jump with watercolour in a pipette (magenta, purple, green) without any preliminary drawing. I let the watercolour dry overnight before drawing onto it with coloured pencils.

Overall I am pleased with this. The foxgloves are a bit upright and stylised, and the scale of the embossed foxglove is bigger than the painted, but I like the feel of it and how the embossed element echoes the painted but you only see it if you look closely.

As for the other three sheets, well one is still unused, one I played on to see what would happen if I let the watercolour spread into the embossed area (there’s also some Inktense pencil in this, see bottom right in the photo below). This in turn led me to play with the third sheet to see what would happn if I applied watercolour onto the embossing when the sheet was damp (wet-into-wet) and let it spread. I was wondering how much it’d accumulate in the lines/edges.

PS: I’ll be sharing a “behind the scenes” photo from my studio related to this with my Patreon supporters. If you’d like to see it, and more, sign up now using this link (there’s a special seven-day free trial at the moment).

Following a ‘What If I…?’ Impulse When Painting

Often when I am painting I follow an impulse to do something and then respond to what happens. I don’t have the route for creating the painting planned out before I start, but I do know what sorts of things the materials I’m using will give me so there are some parameters, it’s not a total “anything might happen”.

I don’t try to predict what kind of “what if I…?” impulse it might be, though the materials I’m using or have close to hand do influence it. Sometimes it’s a big shift (eg generously spraying water onto wet ink), sometimes small (eg adding a little bit of purple oil pastel to make a shadow area more colourful). Some paintings it never happens, and the result isn’t better or worse for it.

The video below shows such a moment. I had two small wood panels and intended to paint pebbles on both. Instead of painting on both simultaneously as I sometimes do, I ended up with one panel still blank and the other covered in paint (acrylic ink). Seeing how much was still wet, I had an impulse to place the blank board in top of the wet paint to transfer some if the ink.

It’s something I have done before, so I’m doing it with the knowledge of previous results, which range from minimal transfer (the paint was drier than I thought) to a smudged mess (very wet paint on paper that spread and mixed because I pressed down too hard). The worst that could happen was that I’d have a chaotic colourful mess, but that could easily be washed off or overpainted. The best would be an interesting starting point for a second pebble painting.

The photo below is what I ended up with. You can see how the colours make them a pair of paintings that sit together, and how the shapes in the colours on the left suggest pebbles.

I let the left-hand panel to dry a bit whilst I used a rigger brush to define some stronger pebbles in the right-hand one.

The light reflecting in the paint shows you how wet the paint is. It’s crucial to have the panel flat at this stage to avoid the paint inadvertently running and dripping.
As the ink starts to dry, the brush strokes of the rigger brush start to hold their edges rather than melt and blend
The dried painting is a mixture of wet-into-wet colour mixing and visible brushmarks. I enjoy this mixture and how the closer you look the more you see.

This is where the two paintings ended up:

The question now is, “Which way up do I hang them?”

Concertina Sketchbook Drawing in a Friend’s Garden

I happened to be at a friend’s house on the morning she and friends were having a drawing session in the garden. I discovered they pick a subject and technique for each get-together from jars of folded-up bits of paper. This one was to be baskets done with pen and wash, which explained the array of baskets on the table I had been wondering about.

I had a pocket concertina sketchbook with me along with my zip-case of assorted pencils (graphite, coloured, water-soluble), pens, and a waterbrush. The baskets didn’t appeal to me initially; the purple irises and yellow poppies were far more enticing.

So I started drawing some of what I could see to the left of the table with the baskets.

Then as a challenge to myself, and having gotten some of the itch to draw the flowers out of my fingers, I decided I would draw the baskets, changing scale so they weren’t too tiny. And because they were an integral part to the scene or story, I included a couple of the people drawing the baskets.

As can happen with an unlikely seeming subject, once I started drawing the baskets I was pleasantly surprised by how much I was enjoying it. Trying to get the perspective not-too-wonky but also not obsessing. How to convey the different weaves and textures. The scale was right for me too: small enough not to have to spend too long but big enough allow for mark making with my fude pen (bent nib) and adding water to the water-soluble ink.

I added a little to the right still before stopping for lunch and a nap.

Then continued with irises and yellow poppies to the end page. I also worked a little yellow and blue into previous pages using the water brush and Inktense pencils.

A relaxing and rewarding way to spend a day.

(If you don’t see the video above, click here to view it on my Vimeo channel.)

I got asked to pull the technique and subject for their next session from the jar. Turned out to be very me things: quick 30 minute drawings for technique with pebbles and bark for subject.

Limited Colour Palette Watercolour at Bow Fiddle Rock

Bow Fiddle Rock is simultaneously inspiring and intimidating because it’s such a recognisable landmark. The last time I painted there was nearly a year ago, in August 2022 (see photo below), and before that June 2019 (see this blog post).

From August 2022. Acrylic on three sheets of A3 watercolour paper taped together, and primed with gesso in adance to give a bit of surface texture

This time I was in the company of members of the Moray Firth Sketchers, and as always it was interesting to see their results (photos on the Facebook group here) and the viewpoints chosen.

The tide was starting to come in, and I found I was enjoying the movement of the water along the channel in the big rocks in the foreground, perhaps even more than the dramatic shapes of Bow Fiddle Rock. So I picked a spot on the pebbles before they drop down steeply to the water’s edge that gave me a good view of this.

If you’re familiar with the branding of UK supermarkets, you’ll know where that orange bag my paint supplies are in came from. That little bit of green foam makes a huge different to comfort levels sitting on the rocks.

I had brought my zip-up case of favourite drawing pencils/pens, plus some of my liquid watercolour bottles having selected only a few colours at home with the steep walk back up the hill from the beach in mind. I knew that Lunar Black, Hematite Geniune, and Soladite Genuine Blue would give me the fundamental colours I needed for the sea and rocks. A bottle of white acrylic would give me the sea foam.

For some reason I’d also thrown in a roll of masking tape, and I was glad I did because sitting on location I had the urge to paint larger and could tape two A3 sheets together. The first painting I started with hematite watercolour, but felt I was getting a little lost as to where things were so I swapped to pencil to feel my way around the forground, using different marks for the rocks and pebbles.

Next I added some blue for the water, to differentiate the water/rocks/sky areas.

Then I went back to the rocks with hematite and Lunar black, aiming to add a sense of shadow and separate the foreground rocks from the fiddle.

I stopped here to let the watercolour dry, then decided I was pleased with the energy to the painting and the risk of losing this was too great if I continued. So I put it aside and taped together two more sheets. This time I started with pencil.

I added blue to the sea, using the silicone ‘paint brush’ to try and get a sense of the white wave edges of the incoming tide. Applying the colours in a different order to my first painting prevents the sense of duplicating myself. I took the blue right up to the pencil lines depicting the edges of the rocks with the thought that I would wait for this to dry and then paint the rocks. (In my first painting, I’d tried not to get the blue too close to the rock colours in case parts were still wet and would thus run into the sea.)

I used predominantly Lunar Black on the left of the fiddle rocks because it was now in the shade. I should have added more colour to the arm or ‘elephant trunk’ in the top right corner, and might still do this. In the foreground, I added some white acrylic to the incoming water.

And finally a little splattered colour for some pebbles.

Which is your favourite? Left or right? Post in the comments section below to let me know. I’m hard pressed to choose myself.

Look Ma, I’m being sensible and wearing my wide-brimmed sunhat!

Trees Don’t Have Leaves on One Side Only

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.

Water-soluble ink pen

Spring-Green Trees

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.

Mixed media on A3 watercolour paper

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).

Mixed media on A3 watercolour paper

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.