Smudge Cat

Smudge, the friendliest, purriest, tickle-my-tummyest, yellow-roses-are-the-tastiest of cats, has gone to chase butterflies with her brother Graphite.

The Tale of Two Allium Paintings

Sitting in friends’ garden in southern Scotland, I kept coming back to the purples in one border, particularly the alliums, which are one of my favourites. These were about twice the size of the ones in my garden.

So I moved a table a little closer and got out some paper and my watercolours.

A blank sheet of paper hold such possibilities and dreams, with the potential to go right or awry from the start, for things to flow or require persistence.

I started with mixing colours that I thought would give me “allium purples”. The darker swirly marks in the photo above are where I indented the paper with the brush handle while the paint was still wet; the paint accumulates in the dents and thus is darker.

For the foliage I used some of the greens that dry as a varied colour from Daniel Smith — Undersea Green and Serpentine Green — and again scratchd into the still-wet paint, this time to create a sense of the stems. Overall it wasn’t working for me, so I introduced some pen and then coloured pencil.

The photo below is where I stopped.

I decided to have another attempt, aiming for the sense of delicateness of alliums and the space within them. I thought splattering paint might do this, so tore a stencil in a piece of watercolour paper, hoping the rough edges would give an organic or softer edge.

I tried to avoid inadvertent pattern repositioning the stencil and not worrying about paint that flicked off the sides.

I then torn a strip to use for the edge of the stem, running the brush in a series of short sideways strokes off it.

I also flicked a little of the green within the purples, as you do see it in the flowers.

I am very happy with this second attempt, with the colour variation, the feeling of openess and movement, and even the unintended bits of purples (middle towards the bottom) don’t bother me (being watercolour I could probably remove it). It’s an approach I will try again at some point.

June 2021 Painting Project: Palette of a Place

This painting project is about the colours of a specific place, whether it’s a landscape or an interior, a favourite stretch of beach, path, or corner of a city or room. It’s about observation and recording what we’ve noticed, using this to create a “Palette of a Place”.

Think of it as creating a visual dictionary or colours swatches for a place, which might be large or small. Building a palette of colours that could be used for a studio painting at a later date, but the focus right now is about slowing down and paying attention to individual elements in a place, colour mixing and note-taking rather than painting ‘the big picture’.

What to include: The colours you see, with information of what they’re found in and the paint colours you used to create a match, then anything else you feel led to include. Start with the most obvious, and work your way in to as narrowly specific as you feel inclined. For instance, I’d start with a warm yellow for a dandelion flower when viewed at arm’s length, but then looking closer I could start depicting the differences between the top and bottom of a petal. You might do it entirely as painted colour, or you might stick in ‘bits, or you might see if something will give you a colour or mark (eg ‘draw’ with a stone or soil).

There’s no set or “right” way to do this. Depending on your personality, you might draw a grid on a sheet of paper or in a sketchbook and fill in each, or you might do it scattered across the page letting each element or thing dictate its own size. You might do a little on multiple days or spend a day at it.

If you’re stuck for where to start, you might choose a photo from one of the previous painting projects, but ideally do it from life. It was an Instagram post of Weymouth-based artist Frances Hatch that got me started on this; she describes herself as a “site responsive plein air artist”. So the aim is to respond to a place by more than picking up pebbles.

As always, you’re invited to share your results with me for inclusion in the project’s photo gallery and a reminder that Project Subscribers via Patreon get 1:1 feedback. Don’t forget to include a few sentences about why you chose what you did, and how you feel about the results.


My Place Palette: I’ve made a start on the colours of the walk from my studio to the post box down the road. There are multiple yellows, including a dandelion and gorse (and the inside of the little daisy), the textures of a bit of sheep wool and the feather. There’ll also be the dark greys of the tar road and the bright red of the post box.

This is what I had in my hand when I got back from walking to the post box.
Here I’d arranged them by colour and texture, and started to draw/paint.

My Stormy Camus Mor Painting

I took these painting-in-progress photos whilst having a go at this month’s painting project: Stormy Camus Mor. It’s on a sheet of A1 watercolour paper, 350gsm, using acrylic inks, tube acrylics, and oil pastel. I have been thinking about this painting since I wrote up the project, it’s just taken me a while to settle down to do it.

Starting point: Payne’s grey acrylic ink. It was hot in my studio so the ink was drying quite quickly — on the right-hand side you can see some dried lines beneath the ink that I’ve spread with a wet brush. It becomes a fun juggle with speed of painting and speed of drying.
Enter some lemon yellow, using the same brush. It’s not really that big a brush if you consider how large the sheet of paper is.
Looking back through my photos, part of me wishes I’d stuck with using only the grey and yellow. Being able to see a photo of it at this point and ponder it is a good reason to take quick snaps as I paint. While I was doing it, I didn’t think about stopping at this point at all as I was already adding the other colours in my head.
Some of the paint is applied by brush, some by splattering. The latter technique means I can add colour to the surface without disturbing what’s already there, whereas applying it with a brush will mix the new and existing together. As I’m painting vertically, gravity gets involved too, pulling down fluid paint and mixing things as it happens. Spraying with some water encourages this, as you can see bottom right in the next photo.
Adding transparent orange
Adding blue to the sea, and then the sky
A bit of magenta added to the sky, to mix with the blues and create purples. Then I mixed what was on the brush with the leftovers on my palette and added this “murky dark” to the shore. Sprayed with water to encourage it to run and drip, propping the board the paper is taped to up at an angle so the drips happen at an angle. Yes, that is the tub of magenta paint that I’m using for this.
Looking at a painting from the side so it catches the light shows me where areas are still wet. Sometimes it’s really obvious, other times less so.
Sometimes it’ll only be a small area, or single drip, that’s still wet. Dabbing a finger into the paint will, of course, also tell me, but it does irreparable damage to a drip.
After everything had dried for a bit, I added some white to the sea. I’m using Schmincke’s SupaWhite acrylic ink, which is fabulously opaque.
If you’re thinking “that’s not a Schmincke dropper”, you’re be right, it’s a Daler-Rowney FW one, which I prefer as it’s got a sharper point
I’ve sprayed some of the white acrylic with water to encourage it to spread.
Need to keep an eye out for unwanted drips and effects; it’s a dance with the unpredictable, unwanted and desired, chaos and control.
Letting colours run together on the painting can create beautiful “happy accidents” with an organic feel. Painting water by literally letting the water run.
Too much can be a bad thing though! Here drips from the sky have run into the sea contradicting the direction of movement in that area. Something to be fixed before it’s dried. Responding to what’s happening is all part of the excitement of this approach to the painting.
It’s time for a two-jar propping of the board, with pthalo turquoise joining the magenta.
One thing about this approach to painting is that I can’t be too protective of any area, no matter how much I love it. If I am desperate to preserve it, then it’s time to swap to more controllable technique.
To change the direction of the drips of paint in the sea, I turned the board 90 degrees, then sprayed it with some water.
In the bottom left corner of the painting (when it’s vertical!), the drips weren’t co-operating, so I intervened with a brush to get them to go in the direction I wanted.
This is the painting vertical again, left for a bit to ensure the paint dried. When I came back to it, I decided it wasn’t where I wanted it to be yet and that I would add some oil pastel to it. Swapping mediums is a change of pace, as well as type of mark.
Detail showing how the oil pastel catches on the ‘bumpy’ texture of the watercolour paper.
I had started questioning the half sky to half land/sea composition, so only added oil pastel to the lower part of the sky, to where I thought I would crop the painting.
This is the stage the painting was at when I took it to show the in-house art critic.
At Alistair’s suggestion, I brought the rain down further, using white oil pastel. I may still work on the rain a bit more, possibly seeing if some acrylic paint will stick between the streaks of oil pastel, or maybe with some oil paint. I have cut off the top of the sheet just above the masking tape in this photo, so that composition change is decided.

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

Graphite Studio Cat

Graphite came to live with us with Smudge, his sister, as kittens from cat rescue. His favourite activity was sleeping on one of his chairs and he didn’t hesitate to tell you to get off when he decided it was nap time. Graphite loved having his tummy brushed, and the fur never grew over his ‘landing lights’. Graphite never wanted you to stop brushing him, reminding us so much of Bob cat. And he loved to cuddle up to sleep next to you on the bed.

We don’t know what had happened in their first few weeks, but Graphite was hesitant to be outside by himself for years (Smudge still is). He’d stare anxiously up in the sky, like a dwarf believing he could fall into that space. He also had desperate anxiety about food, or rather the lack of it. He’d be extremely vocal if I was slow with putting out breakfast, gulping his down and then finishing everyone else’s. When I began putting Ghost’s on the kitchen windowsill, Graphite started to meeow below it tell me he knew Ghost wouldn’t have eaten it all and I was to get the bowl off the window ledge for him now and just hurry up already.

Monday Motivator: Building Visual Vocabulary

“Sketching from life definitely builds my visual vocabulary, which helps when I’m trying to conjure a fantasy world from thin air. I often dig into my sketchbooks for poses, rock formations, trees, landscape effects, or other details. That’s one of the reasons I like to draw everything.

“… I don’t place any boundaries between a sketch and a finish, or between a drawing and a painting. I like the word “study” because it implies a more carefully observant and patient mindset, but a work done as a study from life can have the power and detail of a finished work as well.”

James Gurney, interview on Citizen Sketcher


The times when real life falls into the “if I painted that no-one would believe it” category, when nature plays with colour, pattern, and expectations, are magical.

Seaweed Painting Project Gallery

As was my hope, a closer consideration of seaweed for April’s painting project has led to some joyful discoveries and delightful paintings.

By Bee: “Watercolour and water soluble pen. I enjoyed this more than I expected.”

From Marion: The water-soluble ink works so well for this subject, giving that sense of dampness and water.
By Bee: “Acrylic on a piece of cardboard, just the thing to do on a cold day.”

From Marion: Such a contrast to your first with its more opaque colours. I love that it’s on that tipping point between realism and abstract, that with the word “seaweed” in mind, I instantly read it as such, but someone looking at it without this keyword might see it as grasses, twigs.
By Bee: “I have had a third go at the seaweed , this time combining our art club challenge which is a painting using only 3 colours and only mixing on the paper, I used cobalt blue , vermillion and golden yellow.”

From Marion: Only three colours? Shows how much potential there is with a limited palette, and how harmonious colour can be across a composition with this. I am enjoying the transparency and layering, the sense of one piece of seaweed lying on another and over rocks, of seeing it with softened edges as though viewed through shallow water.
By Eddie: “I decided to try taking some of the seaweed forms and try to make an abstract with this result. It’s approximately 9×13” in soft pastels on black velour paper. I don’t love it but, after working on it for a while, don’t absolutely hate it either.”

From Marion: I’m enjoying the limited, gentle range of colours that’s calm and harmonious, whilst having an energy and vibrance from the wide tonal from extreme dark to white. I find my eye tracing the strong lines, and adding faces to the three “wigs” of long hair at the bottom as imagination overtakes what I’m actually seeing.
By Sarah: “I am enjoying working on Vellum, calf skin, with watercolour for this project. I am only partway through, it is my first time and it is a slow process.”

From Marion: I’ve seen this “in real life” and it’s even more beautiful than in the photo. The colour of the piece of vellum chosen adds a beautiful “background”, and the layers of watercolour you’ve built up are rich and luminous.

Also this month, paintings inspired by the shoreline and pebbles projects:

By Helen: A mixed media “Dark Beach”
By Erika: This was an interesting exercise: rather than painting the items ON to a canvas, I extracted them by using a not very successful painting of earlier days. It reminded me of focusing on “negative spaces” which I haven’t done very often. I can almost watch my mind trying real hard to switch to that mode of looking at things differently, from the “other” side, from inside-out.

From Marion: You’ve made my fingers itch to try this approach, which I’d forgotten about.

I haven’t yet managed to get my seaweed on wood painting working to my satisfaction, and it hasn’t moved on much from where it is in this video. Of my attempts at this month’s painting project, this is the one I like best.

Acrylic ink on A3 watercolour paper

My thanks to everyone who’s shared their project paintings, here and on the Community section of my Patreon page. It’s so intriguing and inspiring to see what comes from the same starting point. I look forward to seeing what’ll be done with the Stormy Bay project.

Monday Motivator: Think of Something Else

“Faced with a task, both the conscious and unconscious are called upon. … two individuals: the conscious one, intelligent and with a strong personality, dominates the shy and creative unconscious one. The conscious mind speaks ever louder and prevents the unconscious mind from expressing itself. Unless it is occupied with another task …

“The advice then? After hearing the problem to be solved, occupy your mind with a task that requires concentration, then get back to the problem. You will hopefully come up with innovative solutions.”

Vinciane Lacroix, “My three tips to develop my creativity

If there’s something in a painting that needs resolving but you’re not sure how, but it aside and do something else for a bit. It’s not giving up, it’s giving another part of your mind tim to ponder it, and hopefully figure it out.

Cat in Pale Colours painting

Monday Motivator: Making a Painting Makes You Crazy

Monday motivator art quotes

“Making a painting is so hard it makes you crazy. You have to negotiate surface, tone, silhouette, line, space, zone, layer, scale, speed, and mass, while interacting with a meta-surface of meaning, text, sign, language, intention, concept, and history.

“You have to simultaneously diagnose the present, predict the future, and ignore the past—to both remember and forget. You have to love and hate your objects and subjects, to believe every shred of romantic and passionate mythos about painting, and at the same time cast your gimlet eye on it.

“Then comes color—even harder to negotiate.”

Amy Sillman, “On Color”, published in “Painting Beyond Itself: the Medium in the Post-Medium Condition”, Sternberg Press, 2016

If you’re thinking this quote isn’t exactly motivating, that it’s more inclined to make you give up painting that inspire you to fresh and new things, let me hasten to say that I have chosen it as a reminder that whilst painting can be extremely rewarding, it’s something with many facets to it and thus many challenges. If you’re finding it hard going on any particular day, not getting the results you see in your mind’s eye, cut yourself some slack.

Negative Space Painting