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.

Still Smelling the Roses

Some 20-odd days since I popped them into my beloved yellow jug, the bunch of roses in my studio has now dried out and is looking decidedly Miss Havisham-ish. I’ve been using them as the starting point for some small 15x15cm paintings, with varying degrees of completion.

There are two paintings I consider finished, and like (and have added to my #ArtistSupportPledge paintings here):  

The turning point with these two was when I put down my brushes and starting working on with oil pastel. The slight texture of the paper means that if I don’t press too hard with the oil pastel it gives a broken line (rather than a continuous), allowing some of the colour beneath to show through.

Whether the result looks like roses or peonies or something else is up to whoever is looking at the painting.

There two paintings I started before these two that are nearly there, but not quite. I put them on my Facebook timeline with the question “Left or right” (see answers here or on Instagram): 

The responses were varied, but consolidated what I’d thought which was to brighten the greens on the one of the left and add some darks to the one on the right. Once I’ve done that, I will then will decide if anything else is needed.

There are three more, which I left to dry last night looking like this (apologies, the photo isn’t the sharpest): 

These three all have watery acrylic on top of oil pastel, and I anticipate doing at least one more layer on each with light or dark, possibly both.

These seven paintings may seem connected only by subject, but it’s a case of “one thing led to another, and to another”. The roses I bought when I went to the supermarket because I felt like a splash of colour. They’ve sat on the corner of my studio table, watching and waiting, until, inevitably, I painted them and then put a photo of two together on social media. This led to a comment from a friend about wanting to see a version with ink line work (thanks for the prompt Tina!) which led to me painting the roses again, this time starting with acrylic ink (Payne’s grey) and adding it again after some colour, finishing the paintings with oil pastel. The oil pastel led me to wanting to see what resulted if I started with oil pastel and then added watery acrylic paint and/or acrylic ink, which led to the last three paintings.

This photo shows all the paintings together, the top two are where they were after one round with them (initial magenta and ink, which was sprayed with water while still wet and lifted with paper towel), the middle row is where they were before I added oil pastel, and the lower row are as they’ve been for some days now (I still haven’t done the tweaks). 


In terms of process, I’m following an idea to see what happens, letting the materials dictate the route and allowing myself to give in to an impulse. I try not to worry about whether something will work or not, though inevitably there are moments when I hesitate. Working on several pieces at once allows me to then put that one aside until I am either sure about what I want to do, know I don’t want to do any more (yet or ever), or am able to roll with whatever results. Usually I don’t share the ones that don’t work out, or all the ones that are about halfway there (the ones I think of as “just add sheep”). I rarely tear something up on the day it was created but go through the pile every once in a while and sort out duds when I’m more dispassionate.


My thanks to all my readers and friends for your encouragement and enthusiasm in these strange times of lockdown and the cancellation of so many things I was looking forward to through winter, with particular mention to my Patreon supporters and subscribers who enable me to keep my blog and videos advert free and the studio cats fed. Also to everyone who’s bought one of my little #SupportArtistPledge paintings, taking me nearly half way to my goal.

A Dozen Daisies

A new grid template with two windows and slightly smaller than my one for this month’s project, led me to drawing a grid of 12 which I filled whilst looking through the studio window at the little dawn daisies.

After the pencil came watercolour, varying the greens I was using as I moved down.

Next some white acrylic, using a flat brush and a rigger.

Then yellow for the centres, first lemon but that felt too insipid so and had another round with cadium yellow medium.

I mixed blue in with the yellow for green, then a touch of orange into this for a second round with a more muted/muddy green.

Three photos of my palette, showing the small quantity of paint I had out.

This photo shows you the progess from drawing to finished:

I’ve added this painting to my webshop here, as one of my #ArtistSupoortPledge paintings.

Blocks of Abstraction: Two Cut-Ups

Reading Austin Kleon’s blog on the Calm of Collage yesterday led me to Lynda Barry’s quote: “Sometimes we are so confused and sad that all we can do is glue one thing to another”, which led me to digging out some of the sheets in my “failed paintings on paper” pile, cutting up a couple with scissors, and finding a seldom-used stick of glue.

The first was a “tree painting”, done in watercolour that hadn’t gone anywhere (and wasn’t destined to as I’d added a black cat peeping out behind a tree). Once I started moving the squares about, it started to feel like it was a depiction of the pond from February’s project.

The second was a demo painting of kilt rock, that had random ink on the back. Once I’d cut it up, I found I preferred the ‘wrong’ side of quite a few of the squares. Moving the blocks around, it started to feel like a collection of “low tide shore”.

I rather like the results. Think I might well be reaching for the scissors and glue again today. Whether I will stick with “definitely failed” paintings or have the courage to cut up some “might still be made to work” paintings remains to be seen.

Video Demo: My First Attempt at the Red Boat

This timelapse video was taken as I made my first attempt at painting the red boat and creel nets (see this month’s project instructions). I started with pencil and then coloured pencil, feeling my way towards the idea for a composition I had. I approached it as a study, a first go to explore what appealed about the subject, saving worrying about slowing down to check I was getting all perspective “right” for another time.

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

After the pencil layers, I blocked in the main shapes using watercolour, then shifted to drawing with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, followed by acrylic paint, ending with oil pastel.

A3 watercolour paper

Overall I was pleased with where I ended up at with this painting, and delighted that I’d tackled the subject (boats being something I rarely do). There are things that aren’t totally working, such as the angle of the boat/cabin, depth of its hull, the length of the creel nets, how I’ve fudged what’s happening to the right of the negs, whether there should be pebbles and not just grass behind the nets. These can all be addressed next time, for now I’m enjoying the feel of the string on the creel nets and the line of them leading the eye up, and the decision to have a relatively simple shape of blue at the top (only sea, not sea/sky).


Special thanks to singer-songwriter Micah Gilbert, who lives down the road from me and wrote the music I’ve used on the video. If you use Spotify, go here.

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

Painting in Progress: The Old Bridge

Sligachan bridge painting in progress

This is the painting that’s currently on my easel, a sequence of photos taken while I painted, up to the what I will be facing when I head back into my studio. It’s 100x100cm (39×39″).

Sligachan bridge painting in progress
100x100cm, acrylic on canvas

Looking at the photos, Jerry Fresia’s “complete at any stage” popped into my head: “… at each moment of the process a painting ought to have correct value and color relationships. It ought to be complete at any stage. … think of a painting … [as] something alive that grows and moves in unexpected directions, not unlike jazz improvisation“.

Having correct colour and tone relationships at each moment is something I aspire to, and not having it is often the ‘problem’. In this painting there’s a point at which I make the mountains too dark, as I refined the shape and made them more “mountain colour”. This was resolved by having some cloud drift in (glazing with thin whites and greys).

At another point I realised I was struggling with the water in the river because I was trying not to get “river colour” on the bridge. I could have prevented this, of course, by not starting on the bridge before I had finished the river, not having painting so much of it, or not worrying about preserving it. But liking what I already had, I opted to mask it off with some tape instead.

Sligachan bridge painting in progress
This photo would fit into the sequence above as the second-last one.

I’m aiming for a “river in spate” level of water, influenced by how it was when I took this video earlier this month.

I’m thinking of it as a companion piece to this more summery painting (which is at Skyeworks Gallery):

“Rushing”. 100x100cm. Acrylic on canvas. £795 at Skyeworks Gallery.


Perhaps Being Over-Ambitious (Part 2)

(You’ll find Part One here.)

Painting River Rha WaterfallSo having stared at my painting-in-progress on and off, pondered it and where I might go with it a lot, visited the location again, I decided I liked the brushwork on the painting too much to risk messing it up and so would not continue working on it. Just yet, anyway.

Instead, I would start another painting on the same subject, and push this further, using layers of line along with brushmarks. And while I was feeling brave and bold, I’d do it big, so set up two 100x100cm canvases on side-by-side easels. (It did mean the In-House Art Critic was temporarily unable to get easily to the chair in the Studio Reading Corner.)

Work in progress

These painting-in-progress photos are unfortunately a little out of focus (taken in the low winter light at the end of the day).
painting in progress

I liked where I’d got to, but felt I’d lost the energy of my original layers of mark making and it lacked line. So implementing my rule of “be dramatic, you can’t tweak a painting into working”, I took a handful of acrylic paint markers and worked a layer of line over the painting, trying to do it as freely as I would if I were drawing in an initial layer of continous line. It was both frightening and liberating, and the further I went, the freer I became.

I deliberately stopped to take a photo of the purple line I added to the waterfall rocks, which is where I started adding the line layers, so I’d have photographic evidence a reminder. It felt over-the-top when I started, but had additional line layers of darker colours on top of this.

Studio Cat Ghost also helped.

I don’t have any other progress photos, but it involved overpainting some of the line to knock it back, some glazing to enrich colours, and just generally “some more”, until I started to think I was happy with it. I showed the In-House Art Critic, who told me to stop. I was surprised as I’d thought he’d say I should hide more of the line, but he said that he liked how the painting reveals more and more mark making as you get closer.

“Never Still”. Diptych 200x100cm (two panels of 100x100cm).

A few detail photos:

And the full painting, showing you where the details come from:

The title “Never Still” comes from my friend Lisbeth in Australia who, when I sent her photos, said: “I think the lines, and the colours you’ve chosen for them, give the painting a dynamism that real life has — nothing is really ever still, even rocks. Nothing is still inside us as well.

Cue the Lightbulb Moment with the Red Tractor

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:

“The Red Tractor”.
Things in the view from my studio, moved together by artistic licence.

And it framed:

“The Red Tractor”.
50x20cm

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?

Red tractor and shed painting

What Happened Next (or Part 2 Painting-in-Progress Uig Bay Seascape in Greys)

seascape painting work in progressFollowing on from Part 1.

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.

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September word prompts chartDon’t forget to share photos of your August word prompt charts! You’ll find September’s here.

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