What Van Gogh Learnt From Japanese Prints

This video from the Van Gogh Museum is an interesting summary of what Vincent van Gogh adapted from Japanese prints in his own painting.

(If you don’t see the video above, go here and scroll down the page a bit.)

Also worth a look: the Van Gogh’s inspiration from Japan story from the Van Gogh Museum. If it tests your patience for scrolling and opening up pop-up boxes, there is also a book (Japanese Prints: The Collection of Vincent van Gogh by Axel Rüger and Marije Vellekoop).

Photo Gallery: Eggshells Painting Project

I’ve really enjoyed looking at the paintings that have come from the eggshells painting project, which show how much can be done with such a apparently simple subject, from delicate realism to bold abstraction to letting your imagination run.

By Bee: “These are my egg shells in oil; I found this quite tricky.”
From Marion: “Eggshells are a deceptively simple subject! I think you’ve done the subject justice, and it’s a striking painting that dances between still life realism and abstract.”
By Karen “This is my second attempt; I changed the direction of the brush strokes as Marion suggested after my first attempt, and it works. I enjoyed the challenge of painting a white egg on white paper. The duck egg blue is too blue I know but it’s such a happy colour that I’ve left it as it is . I enjoyed this challenge and liked finding the detail in such a simple composition.”
By Sarah, ink and watercolour
From Julie: Yes, quite a literal trio of eggshells. My aim was to create the light and shade from the warm lamp above them. (I am limited to what the Airbnb offers in the way of lighting.) I also tried to show the reflected colour from the green chopping board on the shells, although I changed the colour to olive green. I intended to have one eggshell as the focus, but I tended to forget about that as I progressed. I used only coloured pencils for this drawing.
Julie’s setup
By Julie: I was trying to create a sculpture with more emphasis on the shape than that they were eggshells. I intended to limit the tones, but I didn’t. I used graphite pencils ranging from 2B, 4B, 8B, 9B and pen.
From Julie
From Julie: Here are Ruby and Mabel’s eggs, or, at least their shells. Ruby and Mabel belong to the host of the cottage we stayed at in a rainforest in Queensland. I had planned a light approach, but was a little heavy handed. I wanted to show light and shadow. I also planned a pleasing, realistic shape. Hopefully, I did not achieve this, or I pity one of the chickens.
By Cathi: “This was far more difficult than i thought it was going to be! I treated myself to three water-soluble  graphite colours so I was basically playing with them. I was using A4 sketch paper/newsprint to see how the water would cope and it did remarkably well!.
By Cathi: “This was my favourite ….. it manages to make the eggshell seem much more delicate.”
By Eddie: “I tend to struggle with still life since it requires accurate drawing which is not my forte. I did this several times in pencil and Pierre Noire and these two are probably the best efforts. I then went on to do it in gouache.”

From Marion: “The observation from doing the drawings has certainly paid off, in terms of shape, colour, tone, and the choice of gouache gives that matte colour and texture of eggshells.”
By Eddie
By Eddie, gouache.
By Erika: “What an interesting subject matter! So simple and yet, it can make your mind spin in different directions!! The colour spectrum that gets picked up by the white/brown eggshells is amazing, depending on the light source. This prompted the second picture and became a collage. The last one, going back to a simple white egg was just fun.”
By Erika
By Erika

My eggshell paintings: I struggled with the curves and ellipses on my eggshells, making them too narrow and pointy, or flat. This led to the in-house art critic creating a “how to draw an egg” cheatsheet for me, which I shared with project subscribers on Patreon here. This was my best attempt, which I think is a bit weird, and the egg’s floating:

Acrylics, watercolour, coloured pencil on watercolour paper.

Moving my duck eggshells one morning to have another go at a painting, I suddenly noticed the pattern and lines with them stacked, and was far more inspired by this. The result isn’t perfect, but has possibilities.

Pencil and watercolour, in my sketchbook.
I like it more cropped like this, as a more abstracted arrangement of pattern and gentle colour variations.

Plus one inspired by the Little Mouse project

From Julie-Ann: “Looking through the projects I saw this cute mouse and he looked so easy to do. Best of all it’s my first ever real drawing of an animal and I think it turned out great.” From Marion: “It certainly did!”

My thanks to everyone who’s shared their paintings for us all to enjoy. Remember, it’s never too late to tackle any of the monthly painting projects. You’ll find the full list, with links to all the associated content, here.

Monday Motivator: Memory and Imagination

“Imagination is interwoven and closely related to memory; in part it is a reshaping, or recombining, of memories in new and different ways.

Albert Handell and Leslie Trainor Handell, Intuitive Composition, p14

Memories from locations I visit regularly become a compilation, supplemented by unusual elements, such as seeing seals on the slipway at Camus Mor. What I remember isn’t what the in-house art critic recalls because we are forever experiencing things simultaneously but individually. We have always forgotten more than we can remember, and don’t always remember what we think we will. The station bench in Berlin with the human anatomy has outlasted the name of the museum.

Sitting at the sea side

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.

Monday Motivator: Engage Curiosity Mode

“The benefits of play don’t disappear as soon as you become an adult. Even if we engage our curiosity in different ways as we grow up, a lot of learning and exploration still comes from analogous activities: things we do for the sheer fun of it.

“… Play is often the exploration of the unfamiliar. After all, if you knew what the result would be, it likely wouldn’t be considered play. When we play we take chances, we experiment, and we try new combinations just to see what happens. We do all of this in the pursuit of fun because it is the novelty that brings us pleasure and makes play rewarding.”

Learning Through Play“, Farnham Street

Do you remember how to draw a square with a dot in the centre without lifting up your pencil?* Drawing random, overlapping lines on a piece of paper and then colouring in the shapes with the rule that there couldn’t be any adjacent the same colour, which sometimes necessitated adding in another line?

What’s inhibiting your experimentation (aka play), the following of impulse and the “what if I” moments? Concern about the cost of materials, wasting time, lack of results, others laughing at you or complaining or insisting you should do something more ‘worthwhile’? Figure out what it is, and give yourself permission to not worry about it for a bit. Being “productive” is the anthithesis of play, and always being “productive” is ultimately counter-productive.

See my blog: Drawing in the Garden

*The ‘trick’ is to fold over the corner of the sheet of paper into the centre of the square.

Monday Motivator: A Seemingly Chaotic Jumble of Colour

“A painting consists of a collection of marks, a seemingly chaotic jumble of bits of color. When you study just one section, the marks make no sense on their own, but as you step back and take a wider view, they begin to form an image; those random bits of pigment come together to create a whole. And, just like that, out of chaos comes order and meaning, beauty and comprehension.”

Lyn Asselta, Saturdays at the Cove 14 November 2020

January 2021 Painting Project: Eggshells (or seeing the potential beyond the obvious)

This project is about going beyond the obvious in the everyday and finding the potential in the familiar, about the visual interest in the ordinary and changing how you’re looking at something. The subject is one I’m thinking many of us have in our hand regularly, an eggshell. The challenge is to get past the “it’s just an eggshell who’d want to paint that” and “I hate still life” reactions, and realise the potential in this seemingly simple subject.

IMPORTANT: Your painting or drawing should be done from life, not a photo (unless you’re allergic to eggs or can’t get hold of any). The reason for working from life is that you have do set up the arrangement of the eggshells yourself, figure out and decide a composition, and then ensure that you’re positioning yourself when you’re painting it so you’ve a consistent viewpoint. Submitted paintings for the project gallery should ideally be accompanied by a photo showing your still life setup.

TIPS: Use some poster putty or tape to hold the eggshells in position. If you put the eggshells on a piece of card, you can turn this around and see the setup from different angles.

COMPOSITION; With this relatively small object, a small shift in the angle or height at which you’re looking at it will change what you’re seeing quite a bit. In the three photos below, the eggshells haven’t moved at all, it’s my viewpoint that has, giving three quite different options.

But before I got to this, I had to decide how many eggshells I would have (three fitting the Rule of Odds) and decided to place them in a straight row. Part of the joy of still life painting is in the setting up of the subject, exploring the arrangement, looking at the light, deciding on a background and a viewpoint. The fun and challenges are not just about painting the thing.

COMPLICATED WHITE: Like snow, the white of an eggshell isn’t all straight-from-the-tube titanium white. It’s that range of colours that are are off-white or not-quite-white. If you’ve strong light, there’s the possibility for reflected colour too (light bouncing colour off a surface onto the subject), such as this orange from my bottle:

TAKING IT INTO ABSTRACTION: Besides painting this subject realistically, I think it invites explorations of pattern and shapes of colour. You might focus on the negative space around the eggshell. Or cut a stencil of the shapes of the eggshells and use this for layers of colour and pattern. Or create a grid of closeup details as in the Blocks of Abstraction Painting Project.


To have your painting included in the project gallery at the end of the month, email me a photo on art(at)marion(dot)scot ideally with a few sentences about it (think of the things you might say when talking to a friend about it). I’ll post photos with first names only, unless you ask me otherwise.

I’ve also set up new Discord forum to share and dicuss paintings here. It’s open to all readers, and also a good place to ask question. Feedback from me on project paintings is available to my Patreon project subscribers.

Happy painting!

My One Resolution for 2021

I’ve one resolution for 2021:

Be gentler with myself

It comes with a list of corollaries to reinforce it, to remind and motivate me, such as:

  • Reading isn’t “doing nothing” nor “being lazy”.
  • Resting is doing something.
  • Just because I have my sketchbook with me doesn’t mean I have to use it; I may simply sit and watch the waves.
  • Paintings are never as bad as I think when I’m tired.

There will be days when I do little, days when I do lots, and days when I do “nothing”. I will not be committing to any of the “31 days of” challenges, nor the ones that are only a fortnight, nor any of the pandemic productivity prompts because I don’t need the pressure and I have more than enough to keep me going, not least my own monthly projects.

My aim remains to be in my studio (or on location painting when temperatures get back into double figures) more days than not, but I will not be ticking them off on a calendar. I will live in today with the in-house art critic, taking each as it comes, not wishing for yesterday or anticipating tomorrow’s fears. Now pass the Payne’s grey ink…

Photos: My Snow Day

Woke up to a world of white, to the view being transformed into almost monochrome, shades of “interesting whites”. And silence as the wind has dropped. After giving the studio cats breakfast and putting the kettle on, I went out to enjoy that crunch-crunch of snow underfoot. Friends who lives in latitudes where you sit in snow for months will have to indulge my excitement as it’s rare for me to have it at garden level.

Looking northwest towards Camus Mor
Wider angle on the same view
Looking west
These pawprints most likely belong to Buffycat, who likes to be outside in all weathers
The sea turns the most beautiful colours under snow showers; this photo doesn’t do the blues and turquoises justice. A real-life Mark Rothko colourfield in blues.
Guess it snowed from the west last night.
Bracken is such a beautiful colour this time of year.
Creeping thyme

Searching Intensively for Cauliflowers

Sign that reads this path is dangerous
Sign that reads this path is dangerous

I never delve very far into the data that my WordPress website software collects automatically (via though inedible “cookies”), because, you know, only so many hours in a day and I’d rather be painting or writing. But I do look at what words people have used on search engines that have led them to my website because I find it intriguing. (And before you jump into the search box on my site with weird search strings, these aren’t included in the stats, only those in search engines such as Google that have led to someone clicking across to my website.)

Excluding anything with my name, here’s a list from this year, starting with those that seem to be looking for homework answers:

  • ____________ is the inclusion of the same or like elements in a composition art
  • what is your first impression on the painting of van gogh impressionism
    (leading to this article)
  • list the elements of composition
  • three parts of composition in space are?
  • drawing composition odd vs even
    (see my rule of odds)

Paint manufacturers ought to take note that there are numerous about broken paint tubes and caps:

  • ways to save oil paint if it breaks
  • how to repackage broken paint tubes
  • how to perserve acrylic paint with no cap
  • cap of my oil paint broke
    (you’ll find my tips here)

Some are looking for techniques and how-tos,

Getting quite specific on occasion:

One puzzled me until I did the search myself and discovered it was a Monday Motivator:

Some I know didn’t give the person the information desired because they weren’t after the art meanings of words:

  • what is the compostion of gorse

Whatever you’re looking for, do remember that you’re welcome to email me and ask directly. It’s not bothering me, it’s not wasting my time, I’m not too busy (which isn’t to say you’ll get an instant response), and it’s not a stupid question.

I have also created a Q&A section on my new Discord forum/message board here. I know, it’s yet another thing to join and learn to navigate, but back when I wrote Painting.About.com the forum was a friendly, safe place to ask and share, and I made many friends, so I’m going to see if 2021 is the year we rediscover the joys of a message board. At the moment I’ve just poked around at the written aspects of Discord, but there are also video and voice options. Fingers crossed that my fibre broadband connection does indeed happen in January so I can start exploring these.

Isle of Skye road sign: falling rocks