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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.)
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.
For my second painting, I felt compelled to paint the lighthouse, and Bass Rock peeping into view to the left of it.
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.
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 attemptSecond 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.
How long it takes to create a painting is a measure of time and nothing else. Sometimes things flow; other times it takes considerable effort to get a painting to a satisfactory point. More time spent on a painting doesn’t inherently make it a better painting.
There’s also the question of what’s being included in the calculation: is it only when you’ve a brush in your hand applying paint or does it include planning and pondering and development work such as sketching? Every painting carries with it the history of every painting that came before. And there’s that some people wield a brush at a faster pace than others.
If you’re in a situation where time is limited, such as life painting with a model or plein-air painting at sunset, you might adapt how you approach the painting to the time available.
Yet “how long did it take” remains intriguing, something to measure our own painting skills against others and our previous paintings. Perhaps because it’s a tangible thing amongst all the intangibles of art.
I don’t often keep deliberate track of the time I spend painting, but a few days ago I did because I surprised myself when I paused for the first time and realised it’d only been 20 minutes. It had felt like longer and I was intrigued by how far I’d gotten already; my previous paintings at this location had taken me far longer.
Starting time was 10:30. Oil paint on 9×12″ panel.I try to step well back regularly when painting to see things with fresher eyes.The main difference between the last two photos is the rock on the lower right; it took me longer to realise I needed to change this than to do it.
When I got to this point, I was conflicted because I felt I wanted to stop but as it’d only been an hour I worried it was it too soon to stop but then would I overwork it if I continued? I took me a bit of pondering to decide it was okay to stop. The question then becomes, do I include this time in how long it took me to paint this?
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:
“On Edge”. 30x30cm, acrylic on wood panel.
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.
I stopped painting on this because I got tired, so it’s more of a loose study or sketch rather than a finished plein-air painting. Closer-up photo further below.Sea, mist, winding road, sheep, and wild yellow irises
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.
Before the kelp-and-rocks watercolours I did (see video and blog here) I had sat in the sun looking at that big dark slab of rock that’s such a favourite of mine and done a few paintings. The session didn’t have an auspicious start as, when I turned from watching the waves over the sea wall, I dropped my pencil box with the bottles of watercolour; fortunately none broke.
I started with a line drawing using Payne’s grey acrylic ink, then used a wet brush to spread some of this around.
I added some hematite genuine and Luna black watercolour, and a bit more ink to re-establish the lines at the back.
I then wanted to add a little of the yellow lichen and greens on the rocks, and ended up overworking it (and I’m not showing you!).
I decided to have another go, this time starting with colour and adding the ink line afterwards, once the watercolour was dry. But that didn’t go quite to plan as I knocked over the bottle of ink. Splat.
I managed to pour some of the ink back into the bottle, and attempted to wash off as much of the ink as I could and dabbing at it with a piece of paper towel, without loosing the watercolour beneath. It ended up looking like this; I could possibly still rescue it with some opaque acrylic and/or oil pastel ( I didn’t have those with me).
I had another sheet of paper already taped along the edges and used the piece of paper towel I’d dabbed at the spilt ink to make the start of a third attempt. There’s a little inadvertent pattern (the same mark from stamping down on the surface without changing the angle of the paper towel, or varying the distances between marks) but I thought it a hopeful start.
I left it to dry and then added line using Lunar black watercolour (if you zoom in on the photo you can see the line is granulating, fragmented not smooth). I really like the result, and one out of three isn’t bad going in my book.
Here’s a view of the slab from the ‘other end’. When the tide is in, much of this is covered.