Painting Project Photo Gallery: Circles of My Mind

This is one of those projects that seems fairly simple until you get into it and discover how many options the seemingly straightforward set of instructions present. I’ve really enjoyed seeing where this has taken different people and the discussions it’s generated about colour choices, and how the word ‘circles’ influenced the creation of the ‘rock shapes’. My thanks to everyone who’s shared their photo of their paintings for us all to enjoy. (Project instructions here.)

By Claire: “The pale off-white watercolour wash didn’t reveal the scored pebbles satisfactorily so I tried to pick them out with fine pencil line but could only find a few. Otherwise it worked quite well and I finished off with a fude pen for the outlines and white neocolor wax pastels for the top white lines.”
By Sue F: A beginner in watercolour, and really enjoyed doing this exercise. The red paint spatter was a bit of a shock when it happened!
By Sue F: Second attempt, very carefully keeping all the white circles separate.
By Cathi: “First attempt — I think the black lines are too heavy and the white lines (pastel) seem to throw the rest of the picture into the background!”
By Cathi: “Second attempt — here I think the white circles seem to be in conflict with the colour, perhaps because I was trying very hard to make them different shapes and sizes to the rest of the picture.”
By Cathi: “Last one – just love the colours in this one. The white is a fatter white marker I sent of for – my correction marker hardly showed up at all but maybe something in between would work best. Thinner black lines work better.”
By Karen: “Just a 15 minute first attempt, pure escapism. A great way to draw pebbles on a beach. I love the background sand effect. All done with acrylics. At first I thought it was a simple project this month, but it’s not and I’m looking forward to experimenting.”

By Marion: This was my first attempt, which I really like.
By Marion: This was my second attempt, which fell into the category of “trying too hard” and it became rather messy as I diverted away from the project instrustions and tried to resolve it. There are bits I like, and deciding that it was the yellow at the base layer that was problematic I added more white with the thought of it being like sea washing in over the rocks. That didn’t improve things, which is why there isn’t a photo of the ‘final’ painting.

Three Blustery Day Skye Sketches

With wind that’d blow much more than merely cobwebs away, I decided to do something I don’t usually and sat in my car to sketch. I somehow managed not to spill any Payne’s grey ink whilst drawing with the pipette, but did discover I’d left the bottle of white behind, so no splashy white foam bits would be happening.

Mixed media, A3 watercolour paper
Detail

This was the first painting I did, and the one I like most. I managed not to get too dark with the ink, and like the gentle colour from the coloured pencils showing through the watercolour. I was disappointed to discover I didn’t have the bottle of white acrylic ink with me, but did have a white pen, which I think works and it’s certainly easier to not overwork it than when using fluid ink.

Mixed media, A3 watercolour paper

This was the second, and I struggled for a bit as it was too dark in places with Payne’s grey ink that had dried too fast, and I didn’t have anything that would show on top of this except the white pen, but that I wanted for the sea edge. Breakthrough moment was when I realised there was no reason I could not use it for the lighter rock and the sea. It’s something I might do again deliberately.

Watercolour, A3 paper

This third one is watercolour only, no ink, and I regard it as an incomplete thought. I stopped because I got annoyed with the green and was scrubbing at it with a bit of paper towel, to the point of damaging the surface. I’ll work on it further on another day when the weather and my headspace are less blustery.

What Colour is the Sea?

Uig to Stornoway Ferry Trip: Calm Sea

“Sea with waves does not have a universal colour, but he who sees it from dry land sees it dark in colour and it will be so much darker to the extent that it is closer to the horizon, [though] he will see there a certain brightness or lustre which moves slowly in the manner of white sheep in flocks

” … from the land [you] see the waves which reflect the darkness of the land, and from the high seas [you] see in the waves the blue air reflected in such waves.”

— Leonardo da Vinci, “Leonardo on Painting“, edited by Martin Kemp, Yale University Press, 2001, page 170

As frustrating an answer as it is, I think the true answer to the question “What Colour is the Sea?” always has to be “it depends”. There might be a single-word answer for what colour the sea is right now, from where you’re looking, but there is no single-word answer that is always right. (And certainly not living somewhere where the weather is as variable as Scotland.)

The colour of the sea depends on an assortment of elements, including the depth of the sea, how much wave action there is, how rocky or sandy the coast is, time of day it is, the weather. I’ve seen sea that’s dark near-black and sea that’s turquoise, sea that’s a mass of white waves and sea that’s white from reflected clouds. In summer, at sunset, I regularly see sea that’s purple and pink and yellow without a hint of blue or green. And in winter, at night, from my studio the sea a uniform blackness, with a handful of tiny lights from fishing boats and automated lighthouses.

Sea and sky

There’s no shortage of options available to a us when it comes to choosing colors for the sea. A colour chart from any paint manufacturer will provide you will the full range. But the reason I have so many ‘sea colours”‘ isn’t because a sea painting needs so many, rather it’s because I like colours and so have built up quite a collection of blues over the years, though I do have a core set that I use.

Sea Colours from Tsitsikamma

So although I searched through my paints for the various blues to paint the chart shown in the photo, I used only a few in a painting. Painting a colour chart makes it easy to compare the various colors and the opacity or transparency of each, and to remind you of options beyond favourites.

I hardly ever use ultramarine, a blue so many consider fundamental. If things aren’t going well, I’ll revert to my beloved blue, Prussian, and after that phthalo turquoise. But often blue isn’t the answer anyway, and then I’ll reach for colours to mix interesting greys, and orange, magenta, yellow, iridescent silver …

Monday Motivator: Ink vs Pencil

“Working in ink gives you two options — you can simply not draw, or you can draw and face whether or not your marks came out as you intended them to. There’s no in between.

“… Where success shows us where we are currently, failure shows us what our next steps might be.”

Irshad Karim, “Why Ink?“, Draw a Box

With pencil, you can change your mind and erase, you can doubt yourself and do a light line first. Ink forces you to keep going forwards, to respond and adapt, to live with mistakes and inperfections. Counter-intuitively, drawing with ink is easier than with pencil because you’re instantly committed, it reduces choices.

Photo Gallery: Arboreal Abstracts Painting Project

Layers and layers of colour … the paintings done in response to August’s painting project show what an array of results can come from the same set of instructions. Thanks to everyone who shared their painting.

By Brenda
Note the contrast of the red stripey bit towards the right and the birch-like quality of the white.
By Cathi: “Brenda and I did these before we watched your video. I missed the bit about trees, so they do look more like colourful barcodes! I quite like this but is a bit heavy-handed.”
By Cathi: “This looked absolutely dreadful until the very end when I added the orange and white “snow” which transformed it into abstract trees! I like the places where the colour applied was quite dry and gave a texture to the ‘trunks’. I did feel it was more contrived than the first attempt because I had trees in mind – the first one was just playing with colour.”
By Sarah: Thoroughly enjoyed the whole process. This brought me back into my painting from my other projects and reminded me of how painting and drawing relax and re-energise me.
By Eddie: “My muse is still MIA and I wasn’t going to do this one but the art room drew(!) me in. It started off as an abstract but the trees just appeared.”

From Marion: Your Muse is clearly determined that you see the trees for the wood… Isn’t is strange yet comforting how our brains lead us back to a familiar place when painting? I think it’s the part of painting that’s like meditation, and we unconsciously head that way unless we actively counter it at intervals.
By Eddie: “I did this one after looking at Rick Stevens site as you suggested. I tried very hard to use light drifts of colour, heeding Karen Margulis’ advice that, for pastel, “a light touch is the right touch”. I have tried this many times but find that using ‘sanded’ paper light drifts will start to slide before they cover the texture enough for my liking, at least in my hands. Sure enough, I got frustrated and reverted to my stab and slash technique to get the marks I wanted. Having said that, I do like the result, especially the colours, compared to my first attempt. Perhaps while my muse is sulking somewhere I should just stay in my comfort zone, waiting to emerge when she re-appears.”

From Marion: It’s not called a comfort zone for nothing, and there’s a lot to be said for seeking out that comfort, for revisiting familiar and enjoyable places real and artistic. I like this result a lot, the little slashes of colour have an energy to them that may have come from frustration but do feel so vibrant.

My finished project painting, acrylic on A4 wood panel
Detail from my painting

October’s Painting Project: The Tall Sunflower

Dig out your yellows and start thinking about all those different greens, you’ll need them for this month’s project (unless you go monochrome or strongly expressionist). The subject is this tall sunflower I encountered in a friend’s garden.


Style and medium are up to you. For me the starting point would be composition: will it be a tall vertical format or more standard proportions, or perhaps square. Will or won’t there be a background? And which way will the sunflower head be facing?

INSPIRATION:

If you’d like help and/or feedback on your painting, this is available to my project subscribers via Patreon. Have fun, and remember to send me a photo of your painting for inclusion in the project gallery for us all to enjoy.


This is my favourite painting of mine this sunflower so far, mixed media on a concertinaed bit of watercolour paper. See The Sunflower Part 1 and Part 2.

Egon Schiele’s Sunflower

It’s not as famous as Van Gogh’s sunflowers, but I find Egon Schiele’s sunflower painting more evocative and intriguing. The angularity, choosing to depicting the sunflower as it fades and decays, the striking dark centre at the top with only a hint of yellow petals remaining, the smaller yellow flowerheads eliminating any uncertainty that this had been a magnificent sunflower, the leaves leading our eye down the stem to the base where there’s a burst of colour, the white background isolating it from any context.

Egon Schiele (Artist), Sonnenblume, 1909–1910, Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 117523, CC BY 4.0, Foto: Birgit und Peter Kainz, Wien Museum (https://sammlung.wienmuseum.at/en/object/202769/)

Pondering Whilst Painting: Underworked vs Overworked

How little is too little to convey the essence of a location, when have I stopped too early and where does it tip into being overworked? These are questions I found myself pondering on as I sat painting in the sunshine on the beach at Thorntonloch.

First attempt was with Payne’s grey ink.

I was tempted to add some colour to this, as it felt too uniform in tone, and I lost the white on the wave edges, but decided to let it dry, and then look at it again later. I suspect a little pale watercolour may be what it wants, and/or some coloured pencil lines, and/or white acrylic ink. I’ll decide when I look at it with fresh eyes.

Second attempt started with phthalo turquoise and Payne’s grey.

I stopped here because I liked it, but do wonder if it would benefit from a little colour in the sand in the foreground. Maybe a granulating watercolour like hematite genuine. The lack of drips and runs are because my spray water bottle stopped working, so I didn’t have to resist using it.

Third attempt I decided to use colour from the start. All was going well until I got too heavy handed with the rocks in the middle, (with tone and indenting the paper with the stick I was using to draw). I was using transparent colours and didn’t want to add white just yet

I decided to see if using more colours and making it a band of rocks would resolve it. So out came some purple (in addition to phthalo turquoise, Payne’s grey, and transparent orange).

I stopped here to let it dry, with the thought that I would have another round with some coloured pencil on the foreground and rock band. But that’s easier done on a table than sand.

September’s Painting Project: Circles of My Mind

This month’s painting project is similar to last month’s Arboreal Abstract Project, but working with rounded shapes rather than stripes. Trust the process (i.e. follow the steps in the instructions), don’t try to tightly control the outcome from the start but meander along towards a finishing point, and remind yourself that no single mark is critical.

YOU WILL NEED:

  • A sheet of watercolour paper (I suggest A3 in size)
  • Scissors or a knife, something that will scratch a line into the surface of the paper not merely indent it
  • Paint (I suggest watercolour, granulating colours if you have them, or ink or watery acrylics)
  • A white gel pen or rigger brush and white acrylic/gouache or white oil pastel

WHAT TO DO:

  • STEP 1: Scratch 15 roundish shapes of different sizes into the surface of the paper. Try to avoid sharp corners or points on the shapes. Yes it’s quite hard to see what you’re doing, but don’t skip this step. Do it decisively and don’t stress or second-guess it. I found it easiest to do it in two halves, like brackets ( ).

  • STEP 2: Mix up a brownish or greyish off-white (a “dirty water” or pale sandy colour) and cover the entire sheet with it. Don’t worry about getting it as an even colour, and vary the direction any visible brushmarks. Dampening the sheet with water before you start will make it easier. Allow to dry before moving on to the next step. (What the paint does where the scratched marks are will reveal why step 1 exists.)

  • STEP 3: Mix a midtone blue/purple-grey (mid-tone = not especially dark and not pale). Paint five rounded shapes somewhere on the sheet, in various sizes. Splatter a bit of this colour around the sheet too.

  • STEP 4: Mix three different earthy browns/yellow/oranges colours. With the first colour, add five rounded shapes, in various sizes. Splatter a little of this colour around too. Allow to dry. With the second colour, add seven rounded shapes. Allow to dry. With the third colour, add seven rounded shapes. Allow to dry. (I would mix a colour, use it, then add something to the leftovers to shift the colour, rather than mixing three separately.)

  • STEP 5: Using a dark pen or pencil, draw an outline around the shapes you see as the top-most layer. Then, on the shapes underneath these, draw an outline on those parts that are beyond these top shapes, that is stopping and restarting the outlines rather than going all the way around.

  • STEP 6: Using a white pen (or brush and paint, or an oil pastel if it gives a thin enough line), draw 25 rounded shapes as the final layer. Don’t outline existing shapes.

TIPS:

  • Allow some painted shapes to go off the edges. It gives the composition a sense of continuing beyond the edges of the paper rather than being constrained by the edges.
  • Overlap shapes, both within a layer and between layers.
  • Tape the edges of the sheet of paper before you start, then when you’ve finished peel it off and you’ve a white border to the painting.

VARIATIONS:

  • Do versions with only transparent colours (except for the final white), with mixed opaque/transparent, and with only opaque.
  • Work without letting shapes dry before adding the next.
  • Use colours other than white for the final layer.
Holding the sheet at an angle in strong light will help you see where you’ve scratched into the surface
Paint will accumulate where the paper has been scratched. Let it!
Mixing leftover bits of colour on a watercolour palette is an easy way to create desaturated colours.
Step 5: Adding pen outlines

Like the circles that you find
in the windmills of your mind

Noel Harrison, The Windmills of Your Mind

The Colour Theory Triangle

My favourite starting point for colour mixing is the colour triangle rather than the more familiar colour circle. I think it’s easier to understand and makes remembering complementary colours simple.

(If you don’t see the video above, click here to see it on my Vimeo channel.)

The fundamental rule of colour theory for painting is that there are three primary colours: red, blue and yellow. The second rule of colour theory is that mixing two primary colours togethe creates secondary colours, that is purples, oranges, and greens. On a colour triangle, the three primary colours are at the points, and the three secondary are on the “flat bits”. All you need remember initially are the three primaries, because you can always mix two to remind yourself what they create.

The other reason I like the colour triangle so much as it makes it easy to remember complementary colours. These are colours that make one another look brighter, and also desaturate each other (make them less intense in colour). On the colour triangle, complementaries are the colour opposite, so Blue + Orange, Red + Green, Yellow + Purple..


The first color triangle is attributed to the 19th century French painter Delacroix. A notebook of his dating from around 1834 has drawing of a triangle with the three primaries written in as rouge (red) at the top, jaune (yellow) on the left, and bleu (blue) on the right, plus added the three secondaries as orange, violet, and vert (green). Delacroix adapted the triangle from a color wheel in an oil painting handbook by J.F.L. Mérimée, a painter he knew.
(Source: “Colour and Culture” by John Gage. Thames and Hudson, London, 1993. Page 173.)


Colour Theory Triangle