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.
A key moment in this little seascape, which I finished yesterday and an very pleased with, was through happenstance.
I had a bit of dark acrylic ink on a brush from another painting I was working on that I didn’t want to waste, so impulsively applied it to the texture paste of base the mountains and foreground, then put it aside again. Next day I noticed and loved the result. (I later added some lighter tones on top.)
But I can’t remember now if it were sepia or Payne’s grey, and so will have to try both. Maybe it was a bit of both? I know these two colours are the only possibilities because these ink bottles were on the table next to my palette — I tend to have only those colours I’m using on the top. It’s not a problem, but an excuse to play with colour to figure out how to do it again. It was also a reminder of the joys of glazing vs opaque paint.
And here’s another June Word Prompts Chart, from Tessa who says: “I like the way one idea generates another and I find links between the boxes. I quite like doing a catch-up batch. I enjoy doing them in pen with dashes of colour.”
I particularly like the way you’ve combined 5 Snake and 6 Danger Tessa!
A question that came up with the group of pleinair painters from the US who were on an art retreat on Skye last week was how I thought my on-location painting would relate to or influence my studio work. My answer was (paraphrasing) that I had no idea but I imagined it would be roundabout not directly connected.
Wrong! Sunday was my first “normal” studio day for a fortnight, and when I picked up a little painting to complete it, I found myself reaching for the Payne’s grey acrylic ink I’ve had so much fun using for location sketching. The painting ended up quite different to where it was — more intense colour and strong black (or rather, Payne’s grey).
I still liked it in the morning, and have found myself continuing to reach almost entirely for my acrylic ink.
A comment about the painting I shared on Friday reminded me how paintings I regard as successful are frequently built on ones I regard as lacking.
“Such movement, yet so simple, and not overworked. How you do it is a marvel.” — L.
My response was:
“What you don’t see is the previous overworked one that taught me to do this one.”
And here’s a photo of it for everyone to see. Of course I had intended for the first drawing, the one on the left, to be successful too. But I ruined it by being heavy-handed with the ink.
The damage started with an inadvertent splodge of Payne’s grey on the headland, where there should be vertical columns of rock with only some of it in shade. Being on dry paper the ink wasn’t keen to lift off, and then much of it was wind-dried before I’d decided what to do, and, and, and I can keep making excuses but the truth if I messed it up at this point.
If I’d had opaque white with me I could have mixed it with my inks and worked over the top, but I didn’t. Instead I tried to keep going with it, make the other areas more solid, but it didn’t help.
Time to put it aside, and try again. Instead of repeating the composition, trying to include the whole bay, I allowed myself to focus on the bit I was really enjoying, the pattern on the shore. Faced with a beautiful location, I tend to have a compulsion to “include it all”, but of course we needn’t. Slices of it are beautiful too.
Second time lucky. Or practice makes perfect.
Now I’m sure that at least one person is going to prefer the painting on the left to the more abstracted one on the right. So let me pre-empt and say I do like bits of it, but it’s not close to what I was wanting to achieve on that particular occasion. When I look at it weeks from now I might like it more or make a plan to take it further. And that’s why I don’t tear things up on the same day I paint them.
On the ‘other’ side of the waterbreak large bands of waves were crashing in, the result of the previous day’s strong north wind. (Larger than they look in this photo because I’m looking down on a steep shore.)
Moving to a favourite picnic table, overlooking the shore, the large boulders exposed, only small waves lapping through bands of seaweed. I’ve been here many times in the nearly 10 years we’ve been on Skye, but I think this was the lowest I’ve ever seen the tide.
I realised that for once I wasn’t staring into the distance, but was being mesmerized by the pattern on the shore. So out came the black ink, followed by a pot of an opaque fluid-acrylic orange that I grabbed as I headed out my studio from where it’s been sitting waiting to be tried for the first time.
Yes, I am applying it with a stick. It gives a randomness to the marks. And, yes, this stick does live in my pencil box because sticks can be hard to find in some locations.
Then, some “sea colours”, in acrylic inks. Payne’s grey, marine blue. A splash of acid yellow-green. Watercolour paper, 350gsm, A3 size.
It’s abstract, but I like it. For me it’s got a sense of location (though seashore, not necessarily Camus Mor) and the breeze in my hair. What others will see and feel, I can only guess.
I’ve been painting some small 15x20cm canvases alongside the large commission I’m working on. I’m now trying to decide which of these two, both inspired by Talisker Bay, is my favourite.
Just when I think it’s the one on the left, the one on the right tugs at me. Which would you choose (post a blog comment and let me know)? Both do feel a bit wintry to be painted in summer; it was sunny and warm in my studio, so perhaps at a subconscious level I was feeling a bit too hot. .