My First Long Video

It took an entire afternoon to upload on my single-track broadband (fibre currently ends three miles down the road), but eventually it did. So cue the dramatic music, my very first long video is a now available to rent (watch online) or buy (watch and download) here.

It’s 27 minutes long, featuring me painting this month’s project and “thinking aloud” about what I’m doing. It’s like watching me do a demo in a workshop. (And being on Vimeo rather than YouTube it’s advert-free.)

All my current Patreon subscribers should have received an email with a code to watch it for free; check your spam filters if you haven’t. If you beome a subscriber (on any tier) by 15 January 2020, you’ll also be sent a VIP code. Find out more here…

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, go here…)

Do I get bonus points for ticking something off my to-do list before it’s even fortnight into 2020? Thoughts and comments appreciated, as always.

January 2020 Project Instructions: Iona Shore

This month’s project features a technique as well as a subject — painting with a knife, using a reference photo I took on Iona last summer as a starting point. Iona is a much-painted island with turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and jaggered dark rocks; famous for its abbey. (Click on the photo to get a larger version.)

Iona near the ferry, looking towards the Isle of Mull.

A painting knife gives quite different marks to a brush, and is ideal for mixing colours together on a painting itself to give visually intriguing results. For the sake of this painting project, the whole painting need not be created using a knife, but mark making with a knife must be evident. Don’t think knives are for oils or acrylics only; they create interesting results with watercolour too.

The fundamental technique of knife painting is the same as you use for spreading jam on bread: you pick up some jam (paint) and spread it as thickly or thinly as you desire; if there’s butter (other wet paint) on the bread, it will mix in depending on how much pressure you apply. Tapping at the surface with the knife, either flat or on an edge, gives different marks again. And if it all goes horribly wrong, you simply scrape it all off and start again.

There are many different shapes of painting knives available. My favourite has long been this one with a longish flat edge and a sharp point that is perfect for scratching into paint (in artspeak: sgraffito). If you don’t have one, a piece of stiff card or plastic will do a similar job , though a knife has the advantage of being comfortable to hold in the hand and a degree of ‘bounce’ in the metal).

The Scottish Colourists Samuel Peploe and Francis Cadell often painted on Iona in summer. Contemporary Scottish painter Frances MacDonald continues the tradition, saying on her website that “she finds delight in the juxtaposition of angular rock and white sand. Her use of the palette knife creates a dynamism and animation in each painting, She works her paint across the canvas in angular lines; her assured marks arrived at through careful elimination of aesthetic non-essentials.” For online catalogues of her paintings, see the Scottish Gallery‘s website here and here (click on ‘view catalogue’ link on the pages). Another artist to look at for knife painting is Kyffin Williams (read my blog here).

To have your painting included in the project gallery, email me a photo on
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.

Happy painting!

Happy Hogmanay: Looking Back & Looking Forward

It being the last day of the year and decade, according to the Gregorian calendar anyway, I’d like to wish all my friends, followers, and readers happiness and creative fulfillment in 2020. Thank you for your encouragement, enthusiasm and support. I look forward to seeing where the journey takes us next year.

These were the 10 most-read posts on my blog in 2019:

Monday motivator quote
  1. The 5 Stages of Making a Painting
  2. February 2019 Painting Project: Instructions (I’m including only one project in this list)
  3. 12 Months of Word Prompts: December, the Final
  4. The Rule of Odds
  5. How to Avoid Cauliflower (the watercolour variety, not the vegetable)
  6. If a Paint Tube Cap Breaks
  7. Reinvigorating a Painting by Adding Line
  8. Beginner’s Art Class Anxiety: How Bad Will My Drawings Be?
  9. Sketching at Bow Fiddle Rock (On the North Sea Coast Part 2)
  10. Seeing Sligachan Through Another Artist’s Eyes

My personal highlights from the year include:

  1. Doing Monthly Painting Projects — setting the project, painting it myself, and seeing the photos for the galleries. (Projects will continue next year!)
  2. Sketching at Cullen on the East Coast — days doing nothing but sketching and walking. (I’ve rented a house for an art retreat here next summer; it’s fully booked but let me know if you’d like to be invited next time.)
  3. Painting on 350gsm watercolour paper more, and set up a page for these on my website: originals on paper. (This has included DIY watercolour ‘ink’.)
  4. Started using Vimeo rather than YouTube so you get to see videos without adverts: my channel. (It’s also easier for me give project subscribers exclusive video.)
  5. Got to two dozen patrons on Patreon.
  6. Had great fun teaching spring and autumn workshops at Higham Hall. (See: For Nervous Workshop Participants and Spring Workshp Photos.)
  7. Starting to paint on location with oils.

My plan for next year is basically the same one as for this: paint and write more; try to worry less.

My First Steps with Plein-Air Oils

Painting on location in a part of the world where the weather forecast is often “changeable” and “occasional showers” has meant I have, at times, had Nature add to a painting. Unfortunately, with watercolour or ink it’s invariably not a “happy accident” result. More like a “washed that off” result.

I’ve been thinking more and more about having a go with oil paint on location as rain won’t have an impact, and being outside means solvent won’t be a problem. It still leaves keeping wet paintings out of reach of the ever-inquisitive studio cat Ghost while they dry, but that isn’t unsurmountable with small paintings.

Cue the arrival of my first pochade box a few weeks ago, one with space for keeping two wet paintings safe as I stumble along a rocky shore. After a week of staring at it, I tried it out in the safety of my studio, then a few days later ventured out. This is me grinning like the Cheshire cat after putting the very first bit of oil paint on a panel (with orange acrylic for a coloured ground).

Bit further along on that first painting, when the sun came out and changed all the colours.

The point at which I stopped. Not too shabby for a first anxious attempt, I thought. Size 8×10 inches.

My second attempt with it was in the Uig woodland. I’d hoped the Little Tree That Could would still have some autumn colour on it, but it didn’t. I’ve also painted at the Rha waterfall, and at Camus Mor a few more times, enjoying myself immensely, albeit with mixed results. (And, no, I won’t be sharing photos of the dire ones! Just think “overmixed muddy colours”.)

Painting of Rha River rapids
Painting of Rha River Double Waterfall
plein air seascape painting

This is the painting I like best, so far. It’s 30x30cm on wood panel primed with clear gesso (rather than white).

step by step seascape painting

Using a shallow plastic container for a palette has contained the paint and made cleanup easy, the lidded metal container for solvent hasn’t leaked, I’m nowhere as anxious about it all, I haven’t dropped a painting, and Ghost hasn’t walked over a still-wet painting, yet.

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you the kind of joy that comes from seeing rainbows: unexpected and soul-nourishing.

And the kind of laughter that comes from being with a cat. (Try as I might, studio cat Ghost wouldn’t turn to pose for a Christmas photo.)

Spot studio cat

Merry Christmas, and merry countdown to the end of this calendar year. Thank you one and all for your enthusiasm, support, encouragement.

Photo Gallery: Derelict Croft House Painting Project

Croft House Painting Project

It’s a dark and stormy day as I pulled together the photos for the November painting project (instructions here) gallery, the kind of weather Eddie has in his pen and brushed-ink painting:

Croft House Painting Project
By Eddie, pen and brush with ink. “I don’t usually use such bold marks, especially on very wet paper, but it is something to explore.”
From Marion: I think it’s an evocative use of ink well suited to the subject.
Join the discussion on Patreon here…
Croft House Painting Project
By Eddie: “This pastel is huge (for me) at 65x45cm but doing it has challenged me and inspired me to the extent that I intend to keep exploring the possibilities it throws up. I was surprised by the amount of creative energy generated by such a simple change.”
From Marion: If it’s the larger scale that’s brought you to this point, then keep it big!
Join the discussion on Patreon here…
Croft House Painting Project
By Asif, watercolour: “I realized that land between the house and water is too flat without details.”
From Marion: A tiny touch of variation in the land  to suggest vegetation will solve this without distracting from the foreground.
Croft House Painting Project
By Barbara.
From Marion: I like the softness of the land, with the few tufts of grass adding interest that pulls your eye upwards towards the building. The suggested texture on the building pulls me in for a closer look, enticing my eye to linger as it sees more, interprets and fills in detail.
Join the discussion on the community section of my Patreon page here
Croft House Painting Project
By Erika: “Party time at the Croft”. This six stages of this painting: excitement – play/fun – despair/anger – banning it from being seen – coaxing it out from the darkest corner – joy.
From Marion: I find the result imaginative, intriguing and invigorating, inviting me in to interpret and connect, as well as connect to the starting point reference photo. . The use of corrugated cardboard for the roof is something I want to try too!
Croft House Painting Project
By Cathi: A good learning trip, trying different ideas.. This was using my mini roller and I love the sky effect.
Croft House Painting Project
By Cathi: But then, having added the red roof (texture paint) I decided I wanted to go greyer rather than blue… then I totally spoiled the whole thing by being too heavy handed so I started over again.
Croft House Painting Project
By Cathi: This time I began with a good orange base to make the colours less flat, and added the tree. I think this is my best effort.
Croft House Painting Project
By Cathi: Thinking I was reverting to being too “fussy/detailed”, I did a really quick one to finish up on, which I quite like as well.


I had a few goes at painting this myself, with mixed success. But as it’s a building I’ve walked past even since we moved to Skye, even my failed paintings of it are more than I’d managed previously and so I should count them as victories.

Croft House Painting Project
By Marion: This was my last attempt, and my favourite. A5 in size, acrylic and ink. I think it conveys the character of the ruined house with enough suggested detail to make you engage with it. (The photo is slightly out of focus.)
Croft House Painting Project
By Marion: I did the lower of these two paintings first. It’s a painting that wasn’t where I wanted it to be but that would merely become an overworked mess if I continued so I started again. The top painting still has issues of composition in terms of the house and the left-hand edge, but I like the looser mark making, the use of dark ink to create tonal contrast and drama.


• To become a project subscriber and get a critique of your project painting plus extra related content, or support my artistic work in the historic tradition of artists and patrons, go to my Patreon here….

Monday Motivator: The Split Between Drawing and Writing

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote“…what happens at about the age of 5, when people enter the school system, is that drawing and writing become split. That’s when there’s some idea that those two things need to be moved away from each other. Even to the point, you know, where we start looking at books that have more words than pictures.”
— Lynda Barry. Drawing ‘Has To Come Out Of Your Body’

Use words in your sketchbook. Bring back the  integration of words and pictures that’s so enjoyable in illustrated books, comics, graphic novels. Don’t believe that sketchbooks are for images only.

Sometimes I mostly use words. It doesn’t turn my sketchbook into a diary, it just means I was in a words mood not a drawing mood.

Sketchbook page from river at Uig, Skye

Talisker Bay Skye

December 2019 Painting Project: Instructions

Highland Cow painting project reference

To end the year, I’ve chosen a subject that’s iconic: the long-hair, long-horned Highland cow. Their long hair covers a coat of shorter, helping to shed rain in a wet climate. Most Highland cows I see are rusty-earthy-orange-brown, but their colours range from black-brown to blonde-white.

Highland Cow painting project reference

The photo is intended to be a starting point, open to various composition possibilities, rather than being a photo that presents you with a perfect composition, lighting, etc. Will it be more of a portrait of a single cow, or will you include them all and a suggestion of location? Might you include more grass rather than the bare earth around the feeder? Make a note of your first thoughts or impulses, then push the ideas a bit further with thumbnails to see it leads.

The style, medium, and size of painting are up to you. Click on the photo to get the largest version of it or go here.

Suggestion: do versions in different mediums.

  1. Pencil (with an eraser)
  2. Pen (as you can’t erase you have to work through/past mistakes)
  3. Black ink (with a brush not a pen)
  4. Pastel, soft or oil (the scale of the painting should suit the size of mark a pastel makes; don’t work too small)
  5. Coloured Pencil (don’t work too big or you’ll be at it all month)
  6. Watercolour (transparent colour)
  7. Acrylic or oil paint
  8. Collage (torn or cut)
  9. Mixed media

So far I’ve ticked 2, 3 and 9 from the list (though the later did start out as a watercolour), aiming for a ‘portrait’ of a cow rather than a ‘landscape with cows’ painting.

Highland cow sketch in ink
Highland cow in ink
Black ink: started by ‘painting’ with water only, then touched a little ink into this.
Mixed Media Highland Cow
Mixed media: Watercolour, acrylic ink, coloured pencil and after that oil pastel

Painting “The Little Tree That Could”

There’s one little tree in the Uig woodland that wears its autumn colours later and longer than the rest. I call it the “The Little Tree That Could” (context: the children’s book The Little Engine That Could with the lines “I think I can, I think I can … I knew I could“) and first painted it in 2014 (see this blog). On Monday I went to say hello again, taking my watercolours and some acrylic ink (video link if you don’t see it below).

My first painting, watercolour on A3 paper
My second painting, which I like more than the first
With the second I added a bit of background colour first
Third painting, liquid watercolour and Payne’s grey acrylic ink. There was a bit too much ink andnot enough orange, but overall I think it worked.

This video was taken when I started moving the colour around with a rigger. (It goes a awry for a bit as I open a bottle to add more orange, just skip that bit. Video link)

My fourth painting is my favourite, ending up a bit like Moses’ burning bush. Watercolour only.

I was sitting on a convenient rock next to the stone wall.
1 = Watercolour set.
2 = Painting drying.
3 = A bit of waterproof padding to sit on.
4 = Plastic folder with paper that also serves as a ‘drawing board’.
5 = Inks and fluid watercolour in plastic box.
6 = Water bottle (for me before my brushes)
7 = Backpack with raincoat, biscuits etc.

Monday Motivator: The Three P’s of Painting

Monday Motivator Inspirational Art Quote“…there are three qualities you need to develop as a painter:  patience, persistence, and passion.

“Since painting is a complex process, you need to be patient with yourself as you learn to master the craft. Your persistence is important, in order to move past your failures and frustrations. And finally, it is your passion…that propels you forward.”

Suzanne Brooker, “The Elements of Landscape Oil Painting”, page 195

The Three P’s of Painting: Patience, Persistence, Passion

Passion, enthuasiasm, desire … perhaps the easiest to have in abundance.

Persistence, endurance, determination … it’s a long-distance event not a sprint. Pace yourself.

Patience … the hardest as we expect to learn in less time than is reaistic. Think about how many years it took you to learn to read and write, how we start one letter at a time not with five-syllable words such as phthalocyanine (aka phthalo, as in the blue).