The first ingredient in a painting is, according to Monet, not drawing, but light. So there goes another excuse for not tackling a subject because you/I/we can’t draw it.
For me it’s been a neighbour’s red tractor. I’ve been in love with their vintage tractor since I first saw it, but have been reluctant because tractors have all those bits and angles and things and the more I looked the more I convince myself it’s too complicated a subject to do justice. Not that I stopped looking at it, just that I put the thought of painting it aside in the belief that one day I’d be ready.
That day came a few weeks ago. Cue the lightbulb moment: what if I focus on the red, use this as the “first ingredient”, then add a huge wheel and a small one, and take it from there. Paint what I can see of the tractor when it’s being used in the croftland in front of my studio rather than what I know about a tractor from having looked at parked ones. And paint it small so there’s no space for any of that detail anyway.
This was the result:
And it framed:
I’ve made a start on another, the red shed and red tractor (though the frend who lives near this building tells me this crofter has a blue tractor). Part of me likes it at this stage, part of me wants to push it further to the level of the previous. What are your thoughts?
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 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.
Part of the reason it’s hard to answer the “how long did it take to paint” question is because of ‘thinking time’. When I’m thinking about a painting, about what I need to do or might do (or wish I hadn’t done!), but not standing brush in hand and paint on palette in front of it.
It came to mind today when I finished this painting which had been waiting more than five weeks for me to feel brave enough to tackle a few small changes and additions as well as add more glazes to finish the sky. My main hesitation point was my doubts about matching the blue in the stream, but in the end I was right with my first guess, cerulean.
For a bit I used the excuse of getting ready for my workshop at Higham Hall to not finish this painting, then the excuse of a bit of R&R after teaching the workshop, then I got sidetracked by an idea, and then today I suddenly felt up to it.
Being hot meant things dried quickly (acrylics at 21?C is quite different to it at 10?C!) and I had to just get on with it. I think I have finished it, besides varnishing, and choosing a title, and stringing, and photographing properly. But those can wait a bit still.
I tried painting my way through a Category Four headache today, but looking at the results I definitely lost the plot. That moon is not sitting on top of its reflection. Oops.
Here’s a photo showing today’s starting and ending points:
So do I move the reflection (by repainting sea blues) or move the Moon (which will entail repainting the sky as it’s layered colour not solid)? Or, as the in-house critic’s suggested, enlarge the Moon to the left (which means just repainting the Moon).
Strictly speaking, just off my easel rather than still on, lying on a shelf to dry out of “I’ll just tweak it” reach, is this new sheep painting that still needs a title. Any suggestions? (It’s 70x60cm in case you’re wondering.)
Here it is as it was when I downed brushes yesterday, along with another work-in-progress that’s texture-paste sheep added to a seascape that had gone awry and needed a drastic change (I put them together like this so I would see both on re-entering my studio):
And here it is when the first round was finished, with fluid paint running down still-wet texture paste.
Apologies, there are no other in-between photos as I forgot to take any! Needless to say, there were several layers of paint between the start and finish.
The response to my “The One That Won?t Swim Away” little goldfish painting inspired me to have a go at creating a few more for the Fish Exhibition at Skyeworks Gallery. Not quite a repeat of what I’d done because “my fish” has some texture on the surface, and also strongly motivated to do “without hesitation” because there wasn’t much time.
These four little goldfish were the result, and I was delighted that one sold on the opening day of the exhibition.
Here they are in Skyeworks, plus my other three fish paintings done on canvas:
Don’t be misled by how neat and tidy they look lined up. This photo of them on my desk while I was waiting for the varnish to dry is more representative of the organized chaos they were created in.
For those curious about what else is in this photo:
The goldfish in the frame is painted on a page from a tiny dictionary I found languishing in a secondhand bookshop in York, on the page with the entry for “fish”. It was done the same time as “my goldfish” and is now also in Skyeworks.
The little circle with the fish on still needs to get a dimensional glaze over it and will probably become a piece of wearable art as either a brooch or necklace.
The ink in the glass jars labelled “ink” is shellac-based rather than acrylic ink, I’ve been playing with it on a strip watercolour paper testing out a workshop activity idea.
The pink sunset on the right is the new photo-reference booklet for my Captureing Skye workshop coming up at Higham Hall. (I’ll have copies at Patchings Art Festival.)
The mug with my brushes in is from Cath Ball of Stitched Ceramics (and is a “seconds” with a small crack on the handle, so it’s not sacrilegious to use like this).
The little bit of black cloth is for cleaning my specs.
The black tin on the left is my every-colour-I-have watercolour set that the in-house critic bought for me (as an empty tin).
Know those dreams where you wake up but it’s vividly stuck in your head even though you’re awake? Last night I had a dream in which I overheard someone saying snide things about my paintings ending with “when an artist gets desperate they use lava paste”. I woke up with the thought “what the [expletive]” but now I’m amused as to why it was lava paste.
After all, I also use plain texture paste far more, plus glass-bead paste occasionally; the use of lava is rather new to me. It’s also true I have a work-in-progress I’ve been pondering in which I’ve used lava paste, but not very much of it. It’s the black stuff in the work-in-progress photo below.
Maybe I’ll dream the next chapter in this soapie tonight? Though it’d be more useful to dream about where to go with this painting.