Remember my daisies in a concertina sketchbook from June? Well, it’s a format I’ve been playing with on and off over the past wee while. I came across a description* of a concertina sketchbook as a sketch that flows into a painting that flows into a sculpture, which I thought very apt. I am enjoying the tactile interaction of the format, holding it in my hand, turning over the pages, the sense of a story unfolding.
Shorter makes it easy to stand on a shelf, to display like a piece of sculpture. This four-page one features a Minch seascape, on 350gsm paper, with a cover made using some of my splatter fabric.
This is one, the pocket size from Seawhite, was done using pencil only, sitting in a friend’s garden. I did ponder adding some colour to it, especially the blue of the shed, but have decided I like the simplicity of the pencil, letting it be a story in line only. I am still fighting the need to add a note on it about the shed being a tiny one, it’s not a normal-sized shed I’ve drawn totally out of proportion.
*Source: “Ann Cowan creates the most beautiful A5 concertina sketchbooks. These are unique in character as sketches that flow into paintings that flow into sculpture.”Smithy Gallery, Instagram, 11/11/2020
How to turn a ‘happy accident’ into a technique so an effect can be used repeatedly and built upon, that’s one of my thoughts behind this painting. The context is a smaller painting I did in a quiet moment when staying with friends last week, when I was supposedly tidying up my paints for the day: using acrylics in a watercolour-like way on unprimed wood panel, with the colour of the wood the equivalent of the white of the paper in a watercolour.
I was in two minds about the headland so have left it off this second painting, though I hear my friend’s “it gives context” comment as I think about it. I also changed used a bigger wood panel, to an A3 size (equivalent of two sheets of printer paper).
Part of me thinks I have overworked it and part says it’s underworked. I might add more white on it as it’s disappearing into the wood, as I did with the previous painting. I’m also pondering the direction of the woodgrain and whether I should have used this panel as landscape (horizontal) not portrait (vertical).
Hopefully fresh eyes tomorrow will decide it for me. All else fails, I use it as a panel for a painting with thicker paint.
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.
As all location painting should, I started by just sitting staring out to sea. The warmer the sunshine, the longer this stage tends to last.
Then getting out my supplies: sheets of watercolour paper, clips to hold these down, my watercolour set, container for water, box with drawing supplies and longer box with bottles of fluid watercolour (also known as watercolour ‘ink). I’m hoping not to drop anything off the left-hand edge of the wall, because it’d be quite a scramble to get to it.
My first sketch of the day was the view to the left, of the headland and the pebble beach. I was trying to get a sense of the rocks and the colours of the seaweed on it. The direction of the sea as it comes into the bay isn’t right — it doesn’t turn this sharply — but I didn’t feel like fixing it as I’d lose the white and overwork it.
I then shifted my focus closer to where I was sitting, the jumble of larger rocks with the puddles of green weed.
I was pleased with the painting above, and decided to try again with a wider view. As so often happens, I was then trying too hard, hindered by what I’d just done, and ended up with a displeasing result. It lacks the strength of the previous painting, and feels insipid, unresolved, confused. If I crop off the sides, I’m less unhappy, but I consider this a dud.
This was the other dud of the last, the very last painting I did, though this one might still be rescued if I add something that pulls the sea and shore together. And also crop.
This was my favourite painting from the session. The rocks were painted with Daniel Smith’s Lunar Black, a strongly granulating colour.
I then did a version using Daniel Smith Hematite Genuine, which goes from deep dark to browns depending on how diluted and mixed it is, plus some Lunar Black. I like the colour, but I’ve rounded the rocks as I concentrated on the colour rather than shapes.
I’ve kept the expanse of sea ‘white’ as part of my ongoing exploration of white space inspired by the little I know of the traditions of Chinese painting. It’s ever so tempting to paint colour in that space, but that’ll change it completely. Also, I find the granulating colours lift very easily, so you’ve got to have a light hand painting over them. Given I was using a stiff acrylic brush not a soft ‘proper’ watercolour brush, that’d be near impossible, thus removing the temptation to try.
Sitting in the sunshine at the shore looking out across the bay towards the Shiant Isles, that’s the inspiration behind this painting. It’s somewhere I often sketch, but haven’t done as a painting on a large canvas for some time.
If you’re wondering about the colour differences between these two photos, one was taken on my phone camera and the other on my SLR (“proper”) camera. In terms of which colour is truer to the original, it’s the first, but neither is perfect. What you see in a painting done with texture and multiple layers of paint changes with the light conditions too.
Here are a few work-in-progress photos from this painting:
I’ve been practising for next week’s workshop at Higham Hall near Cockermouth. I’ve been trying to get a bit more systematic and specific about what I do so I can explain it, making a list of what individual layers are or might be because “be intuitive” isn’t a sufficiently helpful instruction. Also with the aim to have some examples of “layered paintings” “informed by” (based on) the photos in my new photo reference book (which workshop participants get) as well as some that combine elements from various photos.
Here are two of my paintings. Each has bits I like and things I don’t think are resolved, yet, or I would do differently next time. When I was telling the in-house art critic how I felt about them, when he finally got a word in edgeways, his response was that I was being way too harsh. He might be is right, and only I can see the gap between what was in my head and what’s on the paper.
Here they are with the reference photos alongside. 350gsm, A3-size, NOT watercolour paper, using pencil, coloured pencil, acrylic ink, acrylic paint, and oil pastel.
Back into my studio, taking a fresh look at this painting, I felt it was, overall, too muted and midtone and bland and had lost all the vitality it’d had in its earlier stages.
First thought was to shift some of the grey towards blue, so out came my favourite problem-solving blue, Prussian, which I glazed over the sea and dabbed around into the sky. I used glazing medium as well as water to thin the paint, letting it drip towards the bottom.
This of course eliminated the highlights on the sea, so out came some cadmium orange (mixed with titanium white using my blue-not-entirely-cleaned-from-it? brush to subdue the orange a little). Added to sea and clouds, knowing it’ll have additional layers over it.
Next thought was to the headlands, to refind the shapes and increase the sense of distance between them. Masking tape along the lower edges means I need only worry about where the brushmarks need to stop on the top edge.
It may seem as if I’m obliterating the distant headland, t’s not quite a solid colour what becomes the underneath layers will show through somewhat. My aim is to make the headland lighter and bluer, and that I will lift off some of the paint with paper towel once I’ve got it across the whole area.
Some of that ‘headland grey’ also added to the sky.
And yellow to the nearer headland. Then some blue, some red earth, tweak, tweak, tweak, fuss, fuss, fuss. But I do like how the distant headland is looking.
Realising I was going nowhere slowly, I decided it needed a dramatic change to shift things out of tweak-ville. So I reached for the Payne’s grey acrylic ink and started adding a new ‘drawing line’, to see if I could re-establish the energetic markmaking layer I’d so enjoyed however many layers ago. A couple of years ago I wouldn’t have done this, but over the past little while I’ve been enjoying dancing between line and brushwork. Besides, if it all went horribly wrong I could wash it off, or overwork it.
Where the ink ran into the sea, I didn’t fuss to try and lift it, just scratched into it with the ink-bottle dropper.
The Payne’s grey ink at this point is a bit stark on the headlands, but I was feeling re-energised by it, so continued adding it down the sea.
When I got to the rocky shore at the bottom of the canvas I put it on the floor to work flat so the ink wouldn’t run with gravity.
Paused with the Payne’s grey ink on the sea to add a little to the sky, and lots more white.
Decided the sea was too bitty, so sprayed it with lots of water and turned so it’d run at an angle. Flicked leftover white and grey onto it, sprayed again to encourage the paint running and dripping, then after a bit left it flat to dry.
What will happen next? I can’t say until I’ve had a slow hard look at it with fresh eyes. I suspect I might find it all a bit dark, that I might add highlight to the sea and a little more colour to the foreground.
Don’t forget to share photos of your August word prompt charts! You’ll find September’s here.
So that day with the beautiful light on the sea at Uig has taken me on this seascape-painting journey in my studio (working on a 100x100cm canvas). I don’t yet know where it’ll ultimately end up; the last photo is where I left it yesterday to dry. Colours: Payne’s grey, lemon yellow, red earth and Prussian blue acrylic inks, plus titanium white acrylic paint.
Starting point, ‘drawing’ with Payne’s grey acrylic ink.
Spraying the surface with water, letting the Payne’s grey spread and showing its blueness. I did this with the canvas turned 90 degrees.
Adding some lemon yellow, and then red earth..
Adding titanium white.
The point at which I decided to take out the pier because I was irritating myself trying to paint around it. I might put it back later.
More layers, more drips.
Brushing across the sea to mix splattered-on colours, probably coming? down too low into still-wet red earth. White added to sky.
Spraying the sea to let it run and colours merge, to resolve it feeling so bitty and to create happy-accident colour mixes.
Added lots more white to the sky, and lighter layers to the sea. This is the point at which I decided I wanted everything to dry completely before continuing.
Where will I take the painting from here? I don’t know other than the vague “needs quite a bit still” and the aim of sticking to “interesting greys” rather than getting colourful.
Is it a drawing, is it a painting? Did it start as a drawing and become a painting when I added water to the ink? I don’t know, and don’t believe it matters. What’s of more interest to me was that this afternoon, after days of exploring new watercolour colours, I felt like using “black” ink only. Maybe it was a side effect of a grey-skies day.
It’s not black though, it’s Payne’s grey*, a dark blue-grey that I find has got more rich depth than straight black.
The subject is Neist Point, the westerly most point of Skye, punctuated with a lighthouse. I was working from memory with one of my reference photos (in the booklet of photos I use for my workshops) to hand to remind me of shapes. I’m using acrylic ink, and the dropper as a drawing tool.
You can’t easily make it out in the photo but there are some composition lines I drew using a non-photo blue pencil before picking up the ink. It meant I could concentrate on getting the ink drawing done fast enough that some would still be wet enough to spread into the sea area when I dampened this. (If I were to do composition and ink simultaneously, it would split my attention and lengthen the drawing time.)
Line only at this stage, on dry paper (350gsm Not watercolour paper).
And here’s where I got so caught up in what I was doing that I forgot to take photos. So between the previous photo and the next the caption reads “Draw the rest of the #@&%! owl”**
Once I’d worked my way down to the foreground (it’s a cliff edge from which you can see the lighthouse), I made my way back across the drawing with line a little. Then I wet the sea area with clean water, taking care not to touch any of the ink yet.
I needed the sea area to all be damp so I wouldn’t get any hard dry edges (except on the horizon) when I started spreading the ink into the sea. I then carefully ran a damp brush along the edge of the ink line to connect it to the damp paper. Areas of still-wet ink spread out, and I brushed it outwards too.
Where there wasn’t enough ink, I used the brush to ‘borrow’ some from other areas. Where there was too much, I dabbed at it with paper towel. Brush wiped and dunked in clean water periodically too. At full strength this ink colour is very dark; thinned it’s a beautiful blue-grey.
I could add colour, such as the greens of the grass, but I won’t. That’s a different painting.
*Payne’s Grey is named after a British watercolourist and art lecturer, William Payne (1760–1830), who recommended the mixture to students as a more subtle alternative to a gray mixed from black and white. Payne’s grey originally was “a mixture of lake, raw sienna and indigo” according to “Artist’s Pigments: c.1600-1835” (by RD Harley, Archetype Publications, 2001, page 163). What’s in it these days varies between manufacturers, typically a blue and a black together, sometimes a touch of red is added.
**A meme from a few years ago on how to draw an owl in two steps, the first being two circles and the second a detailed owl drawing.