My Favourite Landscape Drawing Book

I guess I should say my current favourite, or one of my favourites, because my favourites do change, but ever since I’ve had this book (the last year or so) I’ve kept it within reach. There are lots of books on painting landscapes (including pastels), but far fewer on drawing the landscape in pencil. Only pencil, and only landscape. For me, Suzanne Booker‘s Essential Techniques of Landscape Drawing has filled a gap in my library.

On her website, Suzanne says her book “employs observational skills to translate the scene through drawing techniques in graphite. … is aimed at the novice drawer and builds from fundamental concepts of visual thinking to light logic and shading techniques to composition. Each of the components of the landscape (sky, terrain, trees and water) are described in detail with practice strokes and demonstration drawings that show their step-by-step development.

And I think it certainly does. It starts right at the beginning, the absolute basics, and builds up. Things are unpicked and explained, set out to try and encourage. All focused on pencil. It’s only in the last chapter that charcoal, watersoluble graphite, coloured pencils and pastels get a little look in, as the contents list shows:

My copy has got quite a few Post-It notes in it so I can easily find things, and quite a bit of underlining and notes in pencil as I read through it and re-read it. Last night I opened it up again as I was thinking about mark making, this month’s painting project and what next’s might be, and ended up focusing on the various descriptions the author’s used for different types of mark. For example, “flat bubble stones”, which is exactly those accummulations of small smooth pebbles you can get in a river or on a beach.

If you’re thinking the name of the author seems familiar, it might be because I’ve used quotes from her landscape painting book for several Monday Motivators: here, here, and here. It was my enjoyment of that book, which the in-house art critic had bought as a surprise present, which led the him to buy me the drawing one. One of the many times he’s known what I needed before I did.

The context for my enthusiasm for this book is this: as I’ve become more and more interested in the use of line in paintings, incorporating line used in a way that’s usually categorised a drawing technique, so I’ve realised that in my learning to draw with pencil it was either still life or the figure, that I’d never studied landscape drawing in pencil, nor charcoal. I’ve sketched with pencil sure, but that’s not the same as doing a finished piece in pencil only. I’ve done lots of landscape drawing with Payne’s grey ink, but that’s a wet medium not dry. (That I’ve not used charcoal doesn’t surprise me because although it can produce magnificent drawings, I hate how fragile the result is.)

Below is a detail from my current painting-in-progress, which is acrylic and oil paint on wood panel. You can’t see it, but I started with pencil.

I Cannot Well Say How

I cannot well say how I decide which words to keep, it’s as tangible as grasping water in my fingers: some words slip away instantly, some words linger, some words decide to cling.

It was a storm of wind and rain,
passed I cannot well say.
Very well drawn struggles,
with difficulties,
and endeavours.
More desire to learn.
Learnt more.

I started a thought this afternoon:
draw, art, poetry, painting.
Trust myself:
suggesting, varying, adding.
Till the whole [is] adjusted.

Now and Then, poem by Hermann Hesse

“Now and then everything feels wrong and desolate,
and sprawling in pain, weak and exhausted,
every effort reverts to grief,
every joy collapses with broken wings.
and our longing listens for distant summons,
aching to receive news filled with joy.

But we still miss bliss
fortunate fates elude from afar.
Now is the time to listen within,
tend our inner garden mindfully
until new flowers, new blessings can blossom.”

Hermann Hesse
translated by Ludwig Max Fischer
(via Transactions with Beauty)
Yellow Jug Flowers Painting by Marion Boddy-Evans

Reading: “Kyffin Williams: The Light and the Dark”

This monograph covers the sixty-odd years Kyffin Williams painted. Expect lots of moody Welsh landscapes, but also portraits (including bright red military uniforms), linocuts, drawings, and watercolours. The reproductions enable you to clearly see the texture of his impasto, knife-painting style and visualise individual strokes. The accompanying text is an engaging and accessible read about his painting, influences, and life.
• “Kyffin Williams: The Light and the Dark” is published by Lund Humphries

What I’m Reading: Colour A Visual History

Marion reading Tate Colour Book

An illustrated tome on the history of colour theory that also follows the development of printing is my kind of coffee-table book! I’ve been reading Colour: A Visual History, published by the Tate gallery, in what I think of as “National Geographic reading”: first you look at the images, then you read the captions, and then you start absorbing the text. (Buy book , affiliate link)

The American edition is published by the Smithsonian and has a longer, mouthful of a title: Color: A Visual History from Newton to Modern Color Matching Guides.

It’s packed with reproductions of colour charts and theories, with well-written, accessible explanations of the who, what, when of each.

I’ve stared at this music-colour chart for ages, with do-re-me running through my head. Here’s the contents list:

Why RSS is the Cat’s Pyjamas (and what RSS is)

Stealth Studio Cat
Christmas Art Books 2017 Cat

Imagine there was a way you could go to one place and get a clickable list of what’s new on all your favourite websites. No more scrolling through notifications or having Facebook decide what it thinks you should see or hiding things because you’ve already seen it. No trolls, no adverts, just you and your personal library of links.

And, as I’m sure you knew, I’m now going to say you don’t have to imagine. It exists. It’s not new, predating social media. It’s called RSS, which stands for Really Simple Syndication. You don’t have to remember that. Just call it a Feed Reader — it feeds you things to read from different sources you choose. (See this Lifewire article on how it works.)

There are various options available, with different features — look at this Lifewire list for free options. I use The Old Reader, which is simple, uncluttered, and free for 100 feeds. The only thing I don’t like are the pale grey scroll bars which don’t stand out against the background. To add a new website to the list, you just click on add a subscription, paste in the website URL (e.g. and it automatically hunts for the RSS feed URL ( ).

Some people set up their websites so only headlines appear in a feed reader, and you have to click on this and go to their website to read the piece. This is done simply to get traffic onto their website (reading the full article on a feed reader doesn’t give a page view on your website stats) and hopefully you’ll look around a bit too.

So what’s on my feed reader? I won’t list all 100 not least because it includes sites on search engine optimisation tips, but here are half a dozen:

  1. Brain Pickings (by Maria Popova, who is exceptional; buy her book Figuring too!)
  2. Hyperallergic (arts news)
  3. Gurney Journey (the Dinotopia creator)
  4. Photo Hebride s (my favourite Skye-based photographer)
  5. Paper Rainbow (Skye-based collage artist Morag Archer)
  6. Splashing Paint (Australian watercolourist John Lovett)
  7. I also follow my own blog, so I can check it’s working ok.
Stealth Studio Cat

Scratching an Inky Itch

Black ink and a big coarse brush

It started with something familiar, using Payne’s grey acrylic ink to do the line drawing that’s the basis of the composition. My next step usually would be to spray the ink and let it run, or to wet a brush and turn the still-wet ink into wash, or to leave the line to dry entirely (the latter being the least-chosen option). But this time, as I picked up the brush to dip it into some water, I found myself looking at the dry, scratchy hairs and wondering what result I’d get if I drybrushed the still-wet areas of ink. Only one way to find out, of course, and that’s to give into the impulse and see what happens.

Black ink and a big coarse brush
I did wipe the brush a few times to ensure it stayed “drybrush”, but most of the ink had dried already.

This is what the ink lines looked like before I starting drybrushing them; that awkward vertical in the middle is supposed to be a single-track roadsign:

Black ink line drawing for composition

After I’d drybrushed, I dipped the brush into water (the tip, I didn’t want to wash out the ink in the brush) and added some light-grey watery wash.

Black ink line drawing with wash for composition

It’s the beginning of my first attempt using the reference photo I’ve selected for next month’s painting project. So far so good.

I’ll end with the redaction poem I did as the morning’s warm-up exercise:

This is interesting for many reasons.
I feel that not too much has changed.
The time had come.
We shall not fail.
Fear. Flinch.
So be it then.
A sleepless night.

Redaction Blackout Poem
Looking at this now, I’m wanting to take out the words “not too”, making that line “I feel that much has changed”.

A Diversion into Redaction Poetry Following an Incident with Coffee

Found Blackout Redacted Poem

I’ve been pondering what I’ll create for the “Words” exhibition opening at Skyeworks Gallery in April, aware of time ticking away without my starting anything. My mind has kept circling back to found poetry along the lines of Tom Phillips’ Humument. (I fell in love with Phillips’ word-based artwork on encountering it by chance at an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In 1989, I just looked it up).

A few days ago when the in-house art critic accidentally drowned a book with a cup of coffee, I thought “aha, words exhibition”, and thus it entered my studio to begin a new life as “collage material”. Add a felt-tip pen, and I ended up creating some redaction poems (also known as found poetry, blackout poetry). Turns out the book was indeed as interesting as the in-house art critic had said.

Found Blackout Redacted Poem
Found Blackout Redacted Poem
Found Blackout Redacted Poem
Found Blackout Redacted Poem
Found Blackout Redacted Poem
Found Blackout Redacted Poem

The writer-artist Austin Kleon, who does a lot of blackout poetry, describes it thus: “It’s sort of like if the CIA did haiku.” His video on the history of this borrowing and reworking is worth a watch.

I prefer the term “redaction” to “blackout”, because redacting a document is something deliberate and active, while a blackout is more something that happens to you. And redacted documents do carry that sinister edge of “what is it they don’t want you to see”, along with the changing of meaning by hiding things. Also, you needn’t use black.

Found Blackout Redacted Poem
(The black-and-white version of this above was photo-edited.)

If you’re wondering what the book was, it’s James the Good: The Black Douglas by David R Ross (affiliate link).

I did also make a start on a piece that could possibly be for the exhibition, but it’s early days:

“Colors into which a Sunset will Collapse”

“Colors into which a sunset will collapse”

This line is from a poem, Wolf’s Trees, by JD McClatchy.

I came across it via a circuitous journey that involved a new book on trees by the photographer Art Wolfe. Initially it wasn’t anything in the poem that struck a cord, but rather that it’s dedicated to the painter Wolf Kahn, who’s on my list of favourite artists.

The poem overall is one that’s in the “mmmm” category for me, but the line above intrigues my imagination. I find myself replacing “colour” with “branches”. Possibly because at certain times of year the sun sets ‘through’ the woodland at Uig. As yet ill-defined thoughts of a tree painting with sunset colours collapsing into the branches.

Uig Trees Sunset

What Santa Left Under the Tree (aka the Joys of Books at Christmas)

Christmas Art Books 2017

The joy of printed books, with paper pages to feel, hold, turn. The quality of the printing, the weight of the paper, the style of the binding. The typography, page layout. Joys before reading starts.

Fiction books filled with imagination. Non-fiction books filled with things to be learned and discovered. Art books opening with a creak to release that new-book-ink smell. Books to read from cover to cover, others to dip in randomly. Joys of deciding which book next.

For me, Christmas is synonymous with books, a pile of treasure. Some I’ve mentioned to the in-house-art-critic, others are a surprise. They’re bought across the year and saved in the Christmas box. This is what I’ll be reading into next year:

Christmas Art Books 2017 Stack

Top to bottom:

  • Artemis — science fiction set on the Moon, by the author of a book I’ve read multiple times, The Martian, which was made into a film I’ve watched several times. I stayed up reading it, and will read it again to enjoy the writing more slowly now I know the plot.
  • Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations — a long-time favourite artist of the in-house art critic and an artist whose geometric abstracts have increasingly grown on me. We visited her studio in St Ives once.? No doubt it’ll be a source of some Monday Motivators.
  • Perennial Seller : The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts by Ryan Holiday — a book for the business side of life.
  • Paintings by Peder Balke — a relatively unknown Norwegian artist.
  • Australia’s Impressionists — catalogue from an exhibition at the National Gallery in London.
  • What Color is the Wind? — an inspiring illustrated children’s book; not only the answer to the question, but the tactile elements on the pages.
  • Turner’s Sketchbooks — guess the in-house-art critic has been listening when I’ve enthused about looking at Turner’s sketchbooks in Tate Britain. Becoming more Turner-esque in my painting of skies is on my current artistic wishlist.
  • The Artist’s Model — a book figurative painter Alan McGowan showed us during the life-painting workshop I went on in October.
  • Mondrian and his Studios: Colour in Space — explores how Mondrian developed his iconic geometric abstracts.
  • A River of Words — illustrated children’s book on William Carlos Williams, a poet I’ve loved since I first encountered the poem “This Is Just To Say“.
  • Donald Teskey — exhibition catalogue of a contemporary Irish landscape painter.
  • Paul Klee: Painting Music — “One day I must be able to improvise freely on the keyboard of colours: the row of watercolours in my paintbox”.
  • The Anatomy of Colour: The Story of Heritage Paints and Pigments — for heavy-duty colour enthusiasts, a look at the use of colour and paint in interior decoration history (or the answer to “would my painting have matched the walls” through the ages).
  • Drawing and Painting by Kate Wilson, who as an evening-class art tutor at City Lit in London taught me so much, not least about the art of constructive critique.
  • Monet The Collector — a book on the artwork that Monet collected rather than his own paintings.
  • Norman Ackroyd: A Shetland Notebook –?watercolours from a journey to Shetland islands by an artist known primarily as a printmaker.
  • Missing from photo: The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century — a tome for bedtime reading. First random opening I was at a piece about the impact of artists fleeing war-torn Nazi Europe and arriving in New York.

For studio cats, it’s a simpler joy:

Christmas Art Books 2017 Cat
Studio Cat Graphite testing the theory that you can absorb what’s in a book by putting it under your pillow and sleeping on it.