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

Studio Painting From a Location Study

At Staffin there’s no shortage of boulders, but there’s one that’s become a particular favourite, sitting on an eroded slab with a gap beneath it that you can see the sea through. If the tide is in, it’s surrounded by water; at low tide the bigger rock slab emerges. I first painted it on a gloriously sunny day in May 2019 while my Ma plein-air knitted (see My Pebbles Got Bigger). On that occasion I used ink and watercolour on paper; this time (a sunny day in April) I used oil paint on wood panel.

The tide was going out when I arrived, and I knew from previous visits here that the water closest to me disappeared fairly quickly. In anticipation of it doing so, I took the photo below as a reminder, once I’d decided where I was going to position myself to paint.

I found a convenient rock to sit on to paint, because I know standing on loose pebbles can be hazardous if I get too absorbed with painting.

This painting had a different starting point for me, with a darkish ground (some Payne’s grey acrylic ink over the white non-absorbent primer of Michael Harding), and my initial lines plotting the elements done in orange. A lot of my previous seascapes have started with an orange ground (orange and blue being complementary colours).

The lack of inbetween photos is because I got absorbed in what I was doing and forgot to take any!

9×12″ oil on wood panel

I was pleased with the result: the colours, the mark making getting looser to the foreground to move the painting into a slightly more expressive feeling, leaving some of the ground to show through.

A few days later the location was still bouncing around my brain, and I decided to have a go at painting a larger version in my studio, which was also something new for me as I don’t usually do direct studio versions of on-location pieces. I used the same colours except for black, which I felt had muddied the colours somewhat. Instead I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, thinking this might give me the darks I was after. I sprayed it with some water when it was partially dry and held it vertical to let the ink run.

And once again there’s a lack of photos between it at this stage and where I stopped.

“Balance”, 59x84cm (A1 size, approx 23×33″), oils on wood panel
The studio painting and the plein-air

Painting Demo: Stormy Sunset Sky

This painting was inspired by a sunset a few days ago, where there’d been a storm blowing in from the north and blue sky in the south, as I looked west, out over the sea. I really enjoyed the colours, from light blue and yellow to darks, and the way the distant view disappears beneath the rain at the bottom of enormous cloud.

When it came to painting this, I reached for a canvas that had an unresolved painting on it, which I’d sanded down a few months ago to level off the texture paste. Although the texture on the canvas hadn’t been done with this scene in mind, I felt what was there would fit it. And it would save me having to wait for texture paste to dry.

This video is speeded up 10 times, and edited down to just over three-and-a-half minutes. Sometimes things just all come together in a painting!

If you don’t see the video above, click here to see it on my Vimeo channel.

The painting is a bit hard to photograph because of the iridescence and the low level of natural light this time of year. And it’s snowing today, so I’m not taking it out my studio to photograph in the garden.

Stormy Sunset Skye Over the Minch, 95x80cm, acrylic on canvas. SOLD.

Lines of Gold

Gold Lines on seascape painting

The backstory to this is my ongoing interest in the use of line in paintings, my little pile of wood panels with plein-air oil paintings that aren’t resolved for one reason or another, plus the thought of using wood-carving tools to cut lines into the wood panel. Enter a basic set of woodcarving tools, several weeks of them sitting staring at me while I pondered, then a few goes to see what kind of mark I might get, a bit more pondering, and I set about carving “rock lines” in the foreground of this panel.

With the thought that acrylic paint would (theoretically) stick only to the bare wood and not the oil paint, I then brushed over some Payne’s grey acrylic paint, thinking a dark line might work. But the painting still felt lacking. So I carved some more lines (trying to destroy some of the inadvertent pattern I’d created), brushed some fluid gold acrylic paint over the whole painting and wiped it, with it sticking to the areas of bare wood.

If you don’t see the video above, click here.

Gold Lines on seascape painting

I think the result has definite potential. The hardest thing was not following lines in the painting, but to ‘draw’ another fresh layer of cut marks on top of the area. Next I need to dig out my printmaking books to read up on woodblock carving and learn to use the tools better.

The Long and the Short: Two Concertina Sketchbooks

Concertina Sketchbook closed

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

Experiments with Seascapes on Wood Panel

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.

15x15cm, acrylic on wood panel. Sold.

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.

From Location to Studio Painting: “On Edge”

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.

Painting-in-progress photo 1
Painting-in-progress photo 1
Painting-in-progress photo 3

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.

My Thoughts on My Watercolour Rocks

Watercolour of rocks

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.

Sitting at the sea side

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.

Watercolour sketching in the sunshine

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.

Watercolour of rocks

I then shifted my focus closer to where I was sitting, the jumble of larger rocks with the puddles of green weed.

Watercolour of rocks

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.

Watercolour of rocks

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.

Watercolour of rocks

This was my favourite painting from the session. The rocks were painted with Daniel Smith’s Lunar Black, a strongly granulating colour.

Watercolour of rocks
Watercolour of rocks

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.

Watercolour of rocks
Watercolour of rocks

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.

Go North: A Painting Looking Towards the Shiant Islands

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.

“Go North”. 100x100cm (39×39″). In my studio £795.
Go North Shiant Islands Seascape

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:

wip shiant painting detail 2
wip shiant painting detail 3
wip shiant painting