Plein-Air Ink Painting of the Viaduct at Cullen

Artist sketching the viaduct at Cullen, Scotland

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.

Looking along the beach toward Cullen, Scoland
Looking along the long sandy beach away from Cullen, Scoland
Cullen viaduct

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.

Artist sketching the viaduct at Cullen, Scotland

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.

Ink painting of the viaduct at Cullen, Scotland
Acrylic ink on watercolour paper, 84x30cm

Plein-Air Painting Near Crovie: The Bad, the Good, and the Ugly

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.

Go along the path and around the corner and Crovie pops into view

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.

Ready, steady, paint!

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.

Plein-Air at the Yellow Breakwater

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.

Sunrise this time of year is around 09:00.

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).

Studio paintings. Oils on paper. A3 size.

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.

Oils on wood panel, 12×9″

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.

Follow the Yellow Breakwater

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:

(Don’t adjust your eyes, this photo is a bit fuzzy)

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.

Oil paint on wood panel, 9×12″
Oil paint on wood panel, 9×12″

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:

(I’m standing between two gate posts)

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…

Sitting at the sea side

Part Two: Plein-Air at the Yellow Breakwater

Painting at Duntulm

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.

Oil paint on wood panel. 12×9″ (30x22cm)

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.

Oil paint on wood panel. 12×9″ (30x22cm)

Three Blustery Day Skye Sketches

With wind that’d blow much more than merely cobwebs away, I decided to do something I don’t usually and sat in my car to sketch. I somehow managed not to spill any Payne’s grey ink whilst drawing with the pipette, but did discover I’d left the bottle of white behind, so no splashy white foam bits would be happening.

Mixed media, A3 watercolour paper
Detail

This was the first painting I did, and the one I like most. I managed not to get too dark with the ink, and like the gentle colour from the coloured pencils showing through the watercolour. I was disappointed to discover I didn’t have the bottle of white acrylic ink with me, but did have a white pen, which I think works and it’s certainly easier to not overwork it than when using fluid ink.

Mixed media, A3 watercolour paper

This was the second, and I struggled for a bit as it was too dark in places with Payne’s grey ink that had dried too fast, and I didn’t have anything that would show on top of this except the white pen, but that I wanted for the sea edge. Breakthrough moment was when I realised there was no reason I could not use it for the lighter rock and the sea. It’s something I might do again deliberately.

Watercolour, A3 paper

This third one is watercolour only, no ink, and I regard it as an incomplete thought. I stopped because I got annoyed with the green and was scrubbing at it with a bit of paper towel, to the point of damaging the surface. I’ll work on it further on another day when the weather and my headspace are less blustery.

A Cottage Painting Day

A quaint cottage rented by a friend, a wild garden, sunshine, paper and paint. My idea of a perfect day. (Especially as I managed to silence the little voice muttering about my perspective drawing skills.)

Late afternoon light
Morning light
Mixed media on A3 paper
Early afternoon light
Mixed media on A3 paper
The bridge across the river to the cottage, at the base of a steep set of steps

My Plein-Air Painting at Skateraw

The end of my week in the Borders saw a perfect plein-air painting day, with sunshine warm enough to just about counter the breeze. My first painting was a slice of the rock slab that’s revealed at low tide. There’s a lot to choose from; I chose a sittable boulder with a view that had a bit of the green seaweed in it.

No, I’m not painting with extra long brushes, this was me pondering my painting with a bit of distance.
Oils on wood panel
Oil on wood panel, 9×12″

For my second painting, I felt compelled to paint the lighthouse, and Bass Rock peeping into view to the left of it.

Part of me wishes I’d stopped here, with the foreground left sketchy and loose.
This is my plein-air kit for not-too-far-from-the-car locations: pochade box, tripod, backpack. How far is too far depends on the terrain!
The happy artist heading home…
Wet painting panel carrier
The in-house art critic made me this nifty box for safely carrying still-wet plein-air painting panels.

Photos: At Skateraw

I’m in the Scottish Borders for a few days, and have been looking forward to seeing the rock slabs at Skateraw on a really low tide. My two painting friends weren’t entirely convinced by the joys of plein-air painting in a nippy wind off the North Sea, but I have been looking forward to this for weeks so was determined to get out my oil paints and tucked myself in behind a rock shelf.

This is as far as I got with my oil painting before I gave up because I was too cold, and walked over to the other side of the headland which was more sheltered from the wind. There’s an enticing layered bit with a tumble of rocks beneath.

And a bit further to the right the concrete rectangles of a nuclear power station. The brutal lines of this building have a beauty of a very different kind to me.

I have also done two ink sketches in my new Octopus sketchbook, which has fold-out pages, adding colour later in the warmth of indoors.

My Harbour Sketches

Following on from my blogs with photos of the little harbour in the Scottish Borders I was at last week (She Sees Seaside and Harbour Details), here are some photos of what happened when I got my paints out. Having multiple days of sunshine in November was a real treat.

The first day I walked about taking lots of photos, then ended up sitting at a picnic table watching birds you can’t see in the photo, including some swans. I got out my sketchbook telling myself that making just one quick sketch would be fine, to not worry about how ‘good’ it was as it’s impossible to do everything on single trip to a location.

Pencil first, then watercolour

The second day I got out my oil paints and had a go at a composition that’d been bouncing around my head all night. Yes, I could have done thumbnails and studies first, all that preparatory work that does help produce pleasing results, but my fingers were itching to paint this. So I jumped in at the point that was appealing to me, knowing that I might not do it justice but that it’s worth a try anyway.

The low winter sun of November means the hill behind me casts its shadow over the harbour from quite early in the morning. I was sitting on this convenient little wall running alongside a bit of road.

Below is the point at which I got cold and stopped painting. It has a few things I like about it, such as the sense of chain on the wall, the curved corner, and the green on the nearer harbour wall, and things I don’t. Mostly I am pleased I had a go at it, and I regard it as a “good learning painting” or study. The next morning I walked around a bit here having a closer look at elements of this composition, such as the width of the nearest wall (which is narrower at the top than the other walls, having a stepped top to it).

Oil paint on wood panel. 9×12 inches.

The next day I got out my favourite Payne’s grey acrylic ink and did some ink and watercolour paintings. The fishing shed with its row of colourful doors, the view through the harbour entrance to the old cottages, the stacks of creel nets. And, no, I never did get around to the boats themselves.

I stopped at this point because the shadow from the hillside caught up with me, and I moved to a new spot in the sunshine.
First attempt
Second attempt. The narrower format works better, I think.

The last day I spent using pencil only, making sketches with notes about things that had caught my eye. Information gathering for a studio painting.

When might I start creating some studio paintings based on these sketches? I don’t know. It may convert into something soon, it might sit and simmer, it might be never. I don’t have a plan for it, I was simply enjoying being in a very paintable location, with a friend who was also painting.