A running joke my Ma and I have involves the time my Ouma, who had extremely green thumbs, complained about how nasturtiums insist on spreading everywhere whereas we have been only too happy to have them grow at all. Seeing one tiny flower from the seeds I planted made me laugh about this anew. The grass gives a sense of scale.
I was determined not to let the wind get hold of my paper this week. I took only a brown pencil, an indigo Inktense pencil, a sharpener, and a waterbrush because I knew it was going to be windy. I will either take this concertina sketchbook again another time or add colour onto the headland drawing section in my studio.
My two favourite pebbles on this day:
I also found a U for my pebble alphabet:
In the studio I had a go at monoprinting for the first time, using the A2 press I bought from a Banff-based printmaker earlier this year when they upgraded. Monoprinting involves inking up a smooth surface (I used a large piece of perspex leftover from when I made my roadside tiny gallery on Skye), wiping into this to create the image (working dark to light), putting a damp sheet of paper over this, and running it through the press. Lots of variables and a lot to learn, but I had great fun.
The idea to try this was prompted by this week’s homework from the online Expressive Drawing workshop by Edinburgh-based artist Alan McGowan I’m doing.
The atmospheric results make me think this could well be the technique to use for imagery relating to the in-house art critic’s brain that I keep thinking about. My favourites I hung up on my print rail (there are magnets glued to the clips, which then stick to the was-for-curtains metal rail).
I’m using oil-based printing inks that clean up with water, thus avoiding solvents, but made the mistake of thinning it with water on the perspex not extender, so it lost the tackiness that makes it transfer to wet paper and smeared with the pressure of the press. The effect is interesting, but doing it wasn’t deliberate. All part of the learning curve.
Printmaking is delayed gratification mixed with the unpredictable; lifting the sheet of paper to see the result is a bit of a birthday-present moment every time. Studio cat Freyja who sat on a chair watching me isn’t entirely convinced.
The setting: huge country house with a formal garden and a large park. Haddo House in middle-of-nowhere Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Searching through my blogposts I see it was June 2019 when I last tried to paint the viaduct at Cullen, and looking at my results they’re not as dubious as I remember (see this blog). I’ve been through Cullen a few times since we moved east a little over a year ago, but not to paint until yesterday when there was a meetup of the Moray Firth Sketchers (you’ll find the group on Facebook).
I tore an A1 sheet of watercolour paper in half before I left home with the thought that this extra-wide format would work for the long sandy beach or the viaduct, depending on which I felt like when I got there.
Maybe it was because I’d painted the sea the day before, but when I got my materials out my fingers itched to have a go at the viaduct. So after a quick detour to the nearby foodtruck for a hot chocolate to warm me up, I sat at a convenient picnic bench with my back to the sea view and got out my Payne’s grey acrylic ink.
The pillar in my view wasn’t quite as intrusive as the photo suggests as a little movement of my head was all it took to see past it to the left or right. I spent a bit of time holding up a finger to judge the angles of various parts of the viaduct (such as the top edge, the tops of the arches, the alignment of where the arches join the pillar), comparing the widths of the arches, and also running my finger across the sheet of paper to plan the composition and where I would position things.
Having mapped it in my mind, I then used the pippette of the ink bottle to draw the top edge of the viaduct, then the parallel line to this, then the curve of the arches and the vertical supports. If you were watching only from when I put ink onto paper it might seem as if I did this out of thin air but, while I didn’t do a preliminary sketch in pencil, I’d effectively drawn it invisibly first.
I used an inch-wide silicone ‘brush’ to stamp the lines around the tops of the arches. The marks are a bit long but they give the sense of the brickwork rather than getting bogged down in detail. Next time I’ll take some card and scissors so I can get a similar mark in different lengths. I also used this tool to spread the ink on the house roofs, the bank behind them; it gives a more uniform mark, without lines like a brush can produce. I particularly like using it for pleinair as you can simply wipe it clean.
After I’d put in the houses, I used a brush to dampen the areas under the arches and added a little ink in there. Then with even-more-diluted ink I put in a sense of the cloud sky above and below the viaduct. I had thought I’d draw in the trees in view through the arches, but once I added the sky I decided trees would distract from the viaduct, make it too busy, and so decided to stop. I’m glad I did.
A combination of low tide and mild weather (for February) saw me sitting next to the coastal path between Gardenstown and Crovie with some paper, acrylic ink, watercolour, and coloured pencils.
I think I’ve found a new favourite perch, a large flat rock with enough space for me and having my supplies within reach. Bonus is that there aren’t deep cracks for pencils and brushes to fall down never to be found again.
The headland isn’t as far away in real life as it seems in the photo, and the ruggedness of the rocks caught my attention.
But I felt an obligation to first have a go at the houses in the village, because it would be rude to ignore the postcard view wouldn’t it?
So I got that out of my system with a quick sketch of the wide view, and was reminded how for me to do anything satisfying with an architectural subject I need to be in a mood where I can slow down and be a bit lot more meticulous with it. This day wasn’t such an occasion. Time for some craggy rocks instead.
I was pleased with this, which I think has feeling of the ruggedness of the rock and the gorse beginning to flower. Also because I managed to focus on a relatively small area, resisting the urge to include “everything”, and didn’t get caught up in detail.
I then shifted my attention to my left, where the tide was coming in against dark rocks, creating interesting contrasts of pattern and texture. Starting with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, my thought was to use line on the rocks and wet-into-wet for the sea. That plan got ruined by my dropping some water from my brush onto the rocks area, causing the ink there to spread. Note to self: put the water container on the right-hand side next time! It became a dark puddle, so I used a piece of paper towel to soak most of it off, followed by a wet paper towel to see if I could persuade any more to lift.
It left a grey tone to the whole area but also some interesting darker dried-ink lines. I was too irritated to continue with it, though what’s there has possibilities and I might take it back to this spot on another day. Being acrylic ink, I can overpaint it with watercolour without anything lifting and, being on paper, coloured pencil will sit on top too. Maybe I could crop in a bit too.
I sat for a bit waiting for the sheet to dry, watching the waves and oystercatches flitting about. Then there was a bit of pebble pondering, before wandering back along the patch to Gardenstown.
I woke up to pastel pinks and blues, a clear and calm (windstill) day that I let warm up for a couple of hours before heading out with my paints to have another plein-air attempt at the yellow breakwater at Camus Mor that’s been obsessing me lately.
I set myself up on the same bit of wall as last time, but with the slash of yellow towards the right of the composition. I also had black on my palette, as I’d used this in studio paintings of this scene and was pleased with the result. There’s a risk with black of colours looking murky, but there’s also the interesting results when it’s mixed with yellow (it mixes to green).
When I started painting, my wood panel and palette were in the sunshine, and the sun was warm on my back. The tide was an hour or so off high, lapping in quietly.
I decided to stop here for risk of overworking it, and set up with my second panel with the thought of doing a small section of rocks and washed-up kelp.
The temperature dropped when the sun went behind the hill, and my brush strokes speeded up, but I got the painting to a point I was happy to stop. Definitely my idea of a beautiful day.
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…