Plein-Air Painting: Seaside Yellows

It being perfect weather for painting on location, I headed to my favourite seaside picnic table taking three infrequently used things: sunscreen, my sunhat, and the box of water-soluble crayons I’d rediscovered. Once again it was the bit of rocky shore with the angled slabs of yellow-tinged rock echoing the yellow gorse that grabbed my attention. Would today be the day I felt like I finally did it justice? Turned out it was.

The bit of the landscape I was focused on.
Rediscovered water-soluble wax crayons provided a change from my usual mediums.
Size: A2. Acrylic ink and water-soluble wax crayons on 350gsm NOT watercolour paper.
Detail from above painting
Size: A2
Detail from above painting
I couldn’t help but notice neither her partner nor their dogs joined this swimmer enjoying the “refreshing” North Sea.

Stormy Sea: My Biggest-Ever Print

This piece started when I found I had a piece of perspex that was just a little long for the bed of my printing press. Enter the in-house art critic, the Dremel and a tiny circular saw attachment, and it now fits, giving me the possibility of doing prints that are almost A1 in size.

The ink I’m using is an oil-based printing ink that can be cleaned up with water rather than solvent (Caligo Safe Wash). The colour is Prussian blue mixed into my “leftovers grey” (leftover ink I keep in a little glass jar) to make it a bit darker. I put some directly onto the sheet using a palette knife, then use a roller to spread it out, leaving an edge that would become a white border to the print.

To create the image, I worked into the ink using various things to remove parts and create marks, including paper towel, a coarse-haired brush, and scrim (a stiff, open weave fabric). I tried not to leave any area of ink untouched, having learnt that these print as very solid, flat colour, which I didn’t think would enhance the sense of sea. I was visualising the tempestuous sea I’d watched last month as I did this.

When I was happy with how it looked and found myself fiddling with little bits, I put it onto the press, placed a sheet of dampened paper over it (the moisture in the paper encourages the ink to transfer), put in the printing blankets, and ran it through the press. I got so caught up in in all that I forgot to take any photos until after I’d made the ghost print (a second print done to use up any leftover ink). The paper was a little too damp in places and created a watercolour-type effect where the ink has spread; another variable I need to remember.

Ghost print using a sheet torn into three long pieces, which I’m envsaging making into concertina sketchbooks. Doing a ghost print also makes cleaning the sheet of perspex easier as there’s minimal ink left on it.

This is the print as it came off the press, with my hand for scale. It’s hanging up to dry using clips with magnets, out of reach of the studio cats.

There were two areas where the ink had spread because the paper was too wet that I felt dominated the image. The most obvious is on the horizon above my hand. I left the ink to dry before trying to resolve this. I first tried scratching into the paper to see if I could reveal some white, but the ink had soak into the paper and it was blue beneath the surface too. So I took out some white acrylic ink with the hope it wouldn’t be too different a white to the paper, and added some of this.

Spot the ‘fix’

Here are a couple of close-up details, to give a sense of the variations in mark making. When I look at this, I’m trying to remember what gave me which mark.

This is the final piece, the biggest print I’ve every made. I like the dark blue, which I think conveys the sense of a stormy sea, and the sense of movement.

“Stormy Sea”, approximately 60x50cm (32×20″). Available from my studio.

Whether you’d frame it with the edge showing or not would be a matter of personal preference; I can’t decide which I prefer.

Following a ‘What If I…?’ Impulse When Painting

Often when I am painting I follow an impulse to do something and then respond to what happens. I don’t have the route for creating the painting planned out before I start, but I do know what sorts of things the materials I’m using will give me so there are some parameters, it’s not a total “anything might happen”.

I don’t try to predict what kind of “what if I…?” impulse it might be, though the materials I’m using or have close to hand do influence it. Sometimes it’s a big shift (eg generously spraying water onto wet ink), sometimes small (eg adding a little bit of purple oil pastel to make a shadow area more colourful). Some paintings it never happens, and the result isn’t better or worse for it.

The video below shows such a moment. I had two small wood panels and intended to paint pebbles on both. Instead of painting on both simultaneously as I sometimes do, I ended up with one panel still blank and the other covered in paint (acrylic ink). Seeing how much was still wet, I had an impulse to place the blank board in top of the wet paint to transfer some if the ink.

It’s something I have done before, so I’m doing it with the knowledge of previous results, which range from minimal transfer (the paint was drier than I thought) to a smudged mess (very wet paint on paper that spread and mixed because I pressed down too hard). The worst that could happen was that I’d have a chaotic colourful mess, but that could easily be washed off or overpainted. The best would be an interesting starting point for a second pebble painting.

The photo below is what I ended up with. You can see how the colours make them a pair of paintings that sit together, and how the shapes in the colours on the left suggest pebbles.

I let the left-hand panel to dry a bit whilst I used a rigger brush to define some stronger pebbles in the right-hand one.

The light reflecting in the paint shows you how wet the paint is. It’s crucial to have the panel flat at this stage to avoid the paint inadvertently running and dripping.
As the ink starts to dry, the brush strokes of the rigger brush start to hold their edges rather than melt and blend
The dried painting is a mixture of wet-into-wet colour mixing and visible brushmarks. I enjoy this mixture and how the closer you look the more you see.

This is where the two paintings ended up:

The question now is, “Which way up do I hang them?”

Limited Colour Palette Watercolour at Bow Fiddle Rock

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).

From August 2022. Acrylic on three sheets of A3 watercolour paper taped together, and primed with gesso in adance to give a bit of surface texture

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.

If you’re familiar with the branding of UK supermarkets, you’ll know where that orange bag my paint supplies are in came from. That little bit of green foam makes a huge different to comfort levels sitting on the rocks.

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.

Look Ma, I’m being sensible and wearing my wide-brimmed sunhat!

Negative Space (and Bubble Wrap Printing) as a Starting Point for a Painting

After I found a sheet on which I’d at some point* printed with bubble wrap pressed into paint, I wondered if I could use this to create a sea shore painting by starting with the negative space around the rocks. The video below shows what evolved.

(If you don’t see this video, click here. There is not any sound on the video.)

Below are a couple of close-up photos of the painting, as well as one of the painting at the point at which I stopped.

Mixed media: acrylic paint, coloured pencil, and oil pastel on 350gsm watercolour paper

Being on paper, the white ink that was the last layer I applied did sink on a bit as it dried. That’s something I allow for and if need can always add more white paint or oil pastel to it. The unpredictability of exactly how it’ll dry is part of the fun of the technique, coming into my studio the next day to see what it looks like when totally dry. I particularly like the way it’s sunk in around the texture of the paper towards the top.

*I think it dates back to meeting of my art group on Skye!

Seascape Painting: Tempestuously

This painting came from walking along the sea wall and beach at Gardenstown, in northeastern Scotland, watching the tide coming in over the rocks. The title of the painting, “Tempestuously”, came from an early morning discussion I had with artist Liza Hawthorne, and it’s up to you to decide whether it applies to the weather, sea, or the artist.

This sequence of photos takes you from the beginning of the painting, where I started adding blues over the underpainting of magenta, orange, and yellow, to the finished painting.

The finished painting, plus a couple of detail photos

“Tempestuously”, 100x100cm (39×39 inches), acrylic on canvas, £795, available from my studio

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.

Pondering Whilst Painting: Underworked vs Overworked

How little is too little to convey the essence of a location, when have I stopped too early and where does it tip into being overworked? These are questions I found myself pondering on as I sat painting in the sunshine on the beach at Thorntonloch.

First attempt was with Payne’s grey ink.

I was tempted to add some colour to this, as it felt too uniform in tone, and I lost the white on the wave edges, but decided to let it dry, and then look at it again later. I suspect a little pale watercolour may be what it wants, and/or some coloured pencil lines, and/or white acrylic ink. I’ll decide when I look at it with fresh eyes.

Second attempt started with phthalo turquoise and Payne’s grey.

I stopped here because I liked it, but do wonder if it would benefit from a little colour in the sand in the foreground. Maybe a granulating watercolour like hematite genuine. The lack of drips and runs are because my spray water bottle stopped working, so I didn’t have to resist using it.

Third attempt I decided to use colour from the start. All was going well until I got too heavy handed with the rocks in the middle, (with tone and indenting the paper with the stick I was using to draw). I was using transparent colours and didn’t want to add white just yet

I decided to see if using more colours and making it a band of rocks would resolve it. So out came some purple (in addition to phthalo turquoise, Payne’s grey, and transparent orange).

I stopped here to let it dry, with the thought that I would have another round with some coloured pencil on the foreground and rock band. But that’s easier done on a table than sand.

Fresh off my Easel: Incoming Rain Shower

The starting point of this painting was a rainshower in the distance over the sea that I watched one morning whilst walking with a friend on Thorntonloch beach near Dunbar in the Borders. Then, contrary to what the weather forecast had said, it swept inland and soaked us. That wasn’t quite as enjoyable, though it did make the colours of the rocks and pebbles more intense.

It’s painted on two wood panels that I primed with clear gesso, rather than the more usual white gesso. This enables me to let the woodgrain become part of the painting where I’ve used transparent colours which allow the patterns of the wood to show through. The closer you get, the more it reveals itself.

Seascape Painting: Memories of Scottish Beaches

I painted this seascape for a friend in London who loves the sea, for a specific spot in her house where it’ll get some side lighting but couldn’t have too much blue in it. Which meant it was ideal for iridescent colours and the fun of mixing “interesting greys and silvers” whilst having a pop of colour in the foreground.

“Memories of Scottish Beaches: West and East”. Mixed media on wood panel. 59x84cm. (Don’t worry, it hasn’t been framed skew, it was still loose in the frame when I took this photo!)

Working on a wooden board primed with clear gesso, which lets the wood grain/colour be part of the painting, I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, for rocks in the foreground and islands on the horizon. I sprayed this with water, letting it drip, then swapped to oil paint to start adding colour to the rocky shore. The acrylic ink dried quickly as it was a relatively warm day.

The oil paint colours I used were Prussian blue, orange, lemon yellow, violet (PV23), and white. These mix to create beautiful grey, shifting from blue-greys to brown-greys (orange dominant in the mix) to pink or purple greys (violet dominant) and green greys (yellow).

At this stage the sky is still too bitty and busy, with too much of the same sized brushmark. But being oil paint I knew I could come back to it later to blend this and add more white.

I brushed some grey into the sea before moving outside as I wanted to thin some oil paint with solvent and splatter it. (Solvent needs good ventilation and I try never to use it inside my studio.)

This photo shows the splattered paint more clearly. I’m trying to do with oil paint what I do with acrylics. One big difference is the length of time I have to wait for it to dry before continuining, but I’m getting better at having the patience for this. You can also see that I’ve added colour to the islands on the horizon.

I don’t have any more in-progress photos, but what I did next was decide there needed to be more dark in the foreground and so added some more Payne’s grey acrylic ink to the area and sprayed it, knowing it would stay only where there wasn’t oil paint.

The vertical lines you can see are from the clear gesso, applied with a coarse-hair brush.

Lastly I splattered some iridescent silver acrylic over the sea, then ran a brush through sections of it.

I like the way the dripped ink from the very first layer shows through; to me it gives a sense of movement and weather. Lastly, when it was all dry to the touch, I added a layer of gloss Gamvar varnish to protect the painting.

“Memories of Scottish Beaches: West and East”, 59x84cm. SOLD