Limited Colour Palette Watercolour at Bow Fiddle Rock

Bow Fiddle Rock is simultaneously inspiring and intimidating because it’s such a recognisable landmark. The last time I painted there was nearly a year ago, in August 2022 (see photo below), and before that June 2019 (see this blog post).

From August 2022. Acrylic on three sheets of A3 watercolour paper taped together, and primed with gesso in adance to give a bit of surface texture

This time I was in the company of members of the Moray Firth Sketchers, and as always it was interesting to see their results (photos on the Facebook group here) and the viewpoints chosen.

The tide was starting to come in, and I found I was enjoying the movement of the water along the channel in the big rocks in the foreground, perhaps even more than the dramatic shapes of Bow Fiddle Rock. So I picked a spot on the pebbles before they drop down steeply to the water’s edge that gave me a good view of this.

If you’re familiar with the branding of UK supermarkets, you’ll know where that orange bag my paint supplies are in came from. That little bit of green foam makes a huge different to comfort levels sitting on the rocks.

I had brought my zip-up case of favourite drawing pencils/pens, plus some of my liquid watercolour bottles having selected only a few colours at home with the steep walk back up the hill from the beach in mind. I knew that Lunar Black, Hematite Geniune, and Soladite Genuine Blue would give me the fundamental colours I needed for the sea and rocks. A bottle of white acrylic would give me the sea foam.

For some reason I’d also thrown in a roll of masking tape, and I was glad I did because sitting on location I had the urge to paint larger and could tape two A3 sheets together. The first painting I started with hematite watercolour, but felt I was getting a little lost as to where things were so I swapped to pencil to feel my way around the forground, using different marks for the rocks and pebbles.

Next I added some blue for the water, to differentiate the water/rocks/sky areas.

Then I went back to the rocks with hematite and Lunar black, aiming to add a sense of shadow and separate the foreground rocks from the fiddle.

I stopped here to let the watercolour dry, then decided I was pleased with the energy to the painting and the risk of losing this was too great if I continued. So I put it aside and taped together two more sheets. This time I started with pencil.

I added blue to the sea, using the silicone ‘paint brush’ to try and get a sense of the white wave edges of the incoming tide. Applying the colours in a different order to my first painting prevents the sense of duplicating myself. I took the blue right up to the pencil lines depicting the edges of the rocks with the thought that I would wait for this to dry and then paint the rocks. (In my first painting, I’d tried not to get the blue too close to the rock colours in case parts were still wet and would thus run into the sea.)

I used predominantly Lunar Black on the left of the fiddle rocks because it was now in the shade. I should have added more colour to the arm or ‘elephant trunk’ in the top right corner, and might still do this. In the foreground, I added some white acrylic to the incoming water.

And finally a little splattered colour for some pebbles.

Which is your favourite? Left or right? Post in the comments section below to let me know. I’m hard pressed to choose myself.

Look Ma, I’m being sensible and wearing my wide-brimmed sunhat!

Monday Motivator: Drawing Enjoys Not Being at the Centre of Things

“I think drawing enjoys not being at the centre of things. It is traditionally seen as preliminary, a generator, not an end in itself. It comes first, with something more ‘important’ to follow. Because it isn’t at the centre it becomes the weapon of choice to explore more elusive or marginalised areas of expression, experience and consciousness. Drawing is more portable, affordable, resilient, and direct.

“… It’s a practice, which means you have to practice, and do it again and again.”

Tania Kovats, “Why I Draw

What is it that stops us from creating a painting on a canvas with the same relaxed vigour that we’d start drawing with a pencil? When does the “this is a serious activity” switch get thrown?

Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh, 1890, pencil on paper, 13.4 cm x 8.5 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)

Spring-Green Trees

Newly emerged leaves in spring have a bright, cheerful yellowness to them that seems to celebrate the beginning of a new growing season. I was sitting in a friend’s garden in the Scottish Borders looking at the red and yellow tulips thinking they lent themselves to a painting, but kept being pulled back to a couple of trees where the leaves were catching the sun whilst casting shadow on the stems.

I started with coloured pencil, trying to get the sense of the layers of leaves and small branches, sunny and shade sides.

I added watercolour and acrylic ink in various colours, including an iridescent green.

Mixed media on A3 watercolour paper

To stop myself fiddling with this painting while I was waiting for it to dry, I started another which I did wet-into-wet (and forgot to take progress photos).

Mixed media on A3 watercolour paper

I put the iridescent ink as a lower layer in the second painting, rather than top layer as in the first painting, so it shimmers through the other layers. The final layer was a deliberately opaque choice of cadmium yellow mixed with titanium white, so it would obscure what was beneath it.

Monday Motivator: Brushwork and Colour Take Over the Role of Composition

“Monet chose … a rejection of the orderly perspectives of traditional landscape, by denying the viewer any imagined entry into the actual space depicted, and by emphasising the patterns of forms and colours within the painting itself. … the role of composition is increasingly taken over the brushwork and colour

“… the brushstrokes never establish a hierarchy of importance among the elements depicted; each is equally integral to the whole scene.”

John House, “Monet: Nature into Art“, pp54,76

In traditional Western landscape painting you are supposed to have a focal point and a path for the viewer’s eye into the painting leading towards this. You’re supposed to position this according to the Rule of Thirds, and the painting have a foreground, middle ground and distance. You would’t put the sea cliff so it fills the canvas, not to mention painting the shadow side of it. But fortunately Monet did.

The Manneporte (Etretat) by Claude Monet, 1883. Size: 65 x 81 cm. In the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Monday Motivator: Circular Growth

Watercolour rocks with blind embossing of pebble outlines

In a linear model of personal growth, you can only go up or down. By design, there are people below and above yourself. This model can be falsely reassuring, as it seems to offer a clear path to success. …

In a circular model of growth, nobody is more advanced than anyone. There is no “up” or “down.” People are at a particular point of their own, unique growth loop. Everyone only competes against one’s self. The circular model can be more daunting, as there is no predefined direction — you need to design your own personal growth process — but it can also be infinitely more rewarding

Anne-Laure Le Cunff, “Growth Loops“, Ness Labs

I have favourite subjects I come back, each time at a slightly different point, sometimes the medium I’m using, sometimes how widely or closely I’m focusing. In the past fortnight I’ve been exploring something new to me — blind embossing* on my A3 etching press. I’m using string to try to get a sense of the continuous ink line drawing I enjoy but it being indented into the paper itself. I know where it comes from, what the loops were leading me to this. Some of these are techniques/mediums, e.g. printmaking, and some are subject i.e. looking closer and closer at seashores down to individual pebbles. It’s not a conscious looping, it’s driven by curiosity and enjoyment in art techniques and materials.

(*Blind embossing is printing without ink, creating textures in damp paper.)

Watercolour rocks with blind embossing of pebble outlines
Watercolour and blind embossing

Here are a few of the loops that have taken me to the painting above.

2009: Copper etching plate from a workshop at the Highland Print Studio in Inverness, which introduced me to printmaking and presses

Copper etching plate done with hard ground with line and aquatint

2015: Monoprinting with feathers, after a workshop with Kate Downie

Feather Monoprint Leave Some Things Unsaid
Leave Some Things Unsaid. 10×10″ mounted size.

2018: Acrylic ink and continous line

Watercolour and ink drawing seashore

2019: Acrylic ink on wood panel

Wearing my new shoes that are supposed to not gt near wet paint!

2019: Watercolour

2020: Watercolour and ink pen

Drawing pebbles in an octopus sketchbook

2021: Acrylic on canvas

Painting of a row of beach pebbles
Row of Pebbles V. 50x20cm. Acrylic on canvas (background is an iridescent grey)

2021: Carved oil painting on a wood panel, with gold acrylic paint

2022: Watercolour in a concertina sketchbook

Pebbles painted in watercolour

Monday Motivator: Talent is Merely Stubborn Pursuit

When we see a painting, we see countless years of work that went into understanding color and line and form, the creation of our own aesthetic languages, not to mention the hours the painting may have taken to make, in an instant. Often the most effortless looking works took the most amount of years of learned “looseness” – a lightness of touch to which so many painters strive.

Talent is merely the stubborn pursuit of something amazing.

Kimberly Brooks, “What is Talent?

We see a painting in an instant, and aim expect to be able to jump in at this point of painterly achievement ourselves straight away, rather than looking at everything that’s gone before to get the artist to this particular painting.

Monet’s early paintings and his later paintings aren’t only far apart in time, but also in what he’s trying to achieve, what he’s no longer wanting to do. Compare his Green Wave from 1867 to how he painted the sea in The Manneporte (Étretat) from 1883, and how his final water lilies series of paintings are all about patterns of colour rather than subject and focal point.

Believing it takes talent means you believe you haven’t got the inherent thing that’ll make you good at it, so you give up before you even start. Besides the issue of whether talent exists or not, there’s also the issue of believing that something is worth doing only if you’re going to excel at it. This belies the tremendous enjoyment to be had while you’re learning to do something, in the discovering, exploring, playing and experimenting, to see what happens and what there is. This doesn’t disappear if you never get very far up the perceived ladder that stretches towards “good”.

Certainly there’s frustration when what you’d like to be doing isn’t yet achievable, that gap between what you see in your mind’s eye and what your fingers translate onto the paper. Instead of giving up, use this to figure out what you still need to learn, where the gaps are, and see if you can fill this.

Black ink and a big coarse brush

Monday Motivator: Playing

“… this laser focus on getting one particular thing done. This feeling that unless you’re working on it at all times, things are going to be bad. That kind of focus doesn’t set the conditions for insight or discovery.

… When you’re an adult watching a kid playing with a little toy, you just think that kid’s doing that and there’s nothing else to it. But from the kid’s perspective that toy is playing with them. It’s interactive. There’s amnesia about the deepness of that interchange and amnesia about how when you’re making a story”

Lynda Barry, interview by David Marchese: “A Genius Cartoonist Believes Child’s Play Is Anything But Frivolous, The New York Times, 5 September 2022

When playing with art materials, it’s not about controlling what they do, it’s about doing something and seeing what they do back. Exploring where the “what if I …?” leads, rather than having the route all plotted out before you start. It’s a conversation, not a lecture.

Painting Project: Complementary Colour Paint Tubes

The challenge of this painting project is use a limited palette of two complementary colours, plus white, to paint the tubes you’re using (or the pans of watercolour paint). Also to paint the tubes larger than actual size and from life, not from a photo of them. Painting the lettering on the tube is optional.

Complementary colours when mixed together produce greys and browns. Mixed together without white, they’ll give you the darkest version of themselves, which can serve as your “black”. With the addition of white, you’ll really start to expand the range of greys and brown.

My favourite complementary combination is blue and orange. The other pairs of complementary colours are yellow and purple or red and green. Exactly how they mix depends on which blue etc you’re using, as every pigment mixes differently. That’s part of the joy of using a limited palette, that you get really familiar with a colour’s personality and build up instinctive knowledge of how it’ll mix. (To find out what pigments are in a tube colour, have a look at the tube label or the manufacturer’s colour chart on their website.)

Tip: Unless you have spare tubes of the two colours you’re using, mark the surface the tubes are sitting on so that you can return them to the same position if you need to squeeze some more paint out. A pencil mark around or some tape, will do the job. Unless you’re working on a ginormous scale, squeezing extra paint out of the tube won’t change it’s shape dramatically. And if it does, simply adjust your painting, or not, as you wish.

Suggestion: If working with mixing complementaries is new to you, it’s worth spending a little time mixing up the colours in various proportions, and with an increasing amount of white, to see the range you can produce. This will allow you to focus only on the mixing, rather than tackling new colour mixing and capturing a subject simultaneously.

Remember: If you’d like personal help with creating your project painting and/or personal feedback on your finished painting, this is available to all my project subscribers via my Patreon site (click here). To help my creating the projects, there’s also a supporter’s tier on Patreon.

Have fun, and do send me a photo of your painting for inclusion at the bottom of the project page for us all to enjoy, or share it in the Community Section of my Patreon site.

For my painting, I used Schmincke Prussian Blue, which is my favourite blue (it’s a mixture of two blues and a black pigment, PB60 / PB15:1 / PBk7) , and Schmincke Transparent Orange (PO71) which is darker than cadmium orange(and, as the name suggests, transparent rather than opaque). Plus Golden titanium white (PW6). Every colour in my painting below comes from these three.

“We Complement One Another”, 30x30cm, acrylic on wood panel

To watch over my shoulder as I paint this, watch the video below (link to this on my Vimeo page). There isn’t any sound or explanation on this video, simply me and three paint colours.

If you’re thinking “paint a tube” seems a familiar project, you’re remembering this project from 2019.

Monday Motivator: Choose What Your Heart Wants

“Without fear of doing something wrong and getting judged … you’d simply make decisions based on the best info you have, and on your gut. You’d choose from the heart, rather than getting caught up in overthinking. You might make mistakes, but you’d learn from them, and make adjustments.

… Fear does come up, of course. And you simply deal with the fear, with breath and love. It doesn’t have to be a blocker.

… When we get caught up in thinking, it’s because we think we can solve the uncertainty by thinking it through. While thinking can be helpful, it will rarely cut through indecision when fear takes over. A different approach is simply to choose from the heart — ask yourself what your heart wants in this situation.”

Leo Babauta, “The Art of Effortless Decision Making“, Zen Habits

The fear of making the first mark on a pristine piece of paper. The fear of ruining a drawing/painting with what you do next. The fear of overworking it. The fear of declaring it finished when it might not be. The fear that you can’t remix that perfect colour you’ve almost used up. The fear that failing to resolve your current painting means that you never will again, ever. The fear of wasting your time because you’re never going to get there.

The joy of making the first mark on a pristine piece of paper, because it means you’ve made a start.

The joy of ruining a drawing/painting with what you do next, because the worst has now happened and you get to find out what you do next. Note: tearing it up is not the solution until several weeks later when you’re able to view it more dispassionately.

The joy of overworking it, because if you always stop at the same point you will never find out what else might happen.

The joy that you can’t remix that perfect colour you’ve almost used up, because it makes you spend time colour mixing and getting to know the personalities of your colours better. After all, it was created with the colours you’ve got to hand, so it’s in there somewhere.

The joy of declaring it finished when it might not be, because it’s a statement of belief in yourself and something you like as it is. “You are perfect just as you are.”

The joy that failing to resolve your current painting means that you never will again, ever, because if it’s an impossible task to achieve, then whatever you do achieve is enough for today. Who knows what might happen artistically tomorrow.

The joy of wasting your time because you’re never going to get there, because it’s your life, you are allowed to choose how you spend your time, and what’s better than something you enjoy doing. Every unsuccessful or unresolved painting is achieving more than the person who’s still stuck merely wishing they could paint and draw.

Sunflowers, Vincent van Gogh, 1890, pencil on paper, 13.4 cm x 8.5 cm. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)