“Choose joy. Choose it like a child chooses … the crayon to paint a sky.
“Choose it at first consciously, effortfully, pressing against the weight of a world heavy with reasons for sorrow.
“… Joy is not a function of a life free of friction and frustration, but a function of focus — an inner elevation by the fulcrum of choice. So often, it is a matter of attending to … “the little joys”; so often, those are the slender threads of which we weave the lifeline that saves us.”
“The freshness, exuberance, and energy of youth did little for Cézanne. He was a late bloomer—and for some reason in our accounting of genius and creativity we have forgotten to make sense of the Cézannes of the world.”
Marion’s paintings: I had great fun with this project, trying it in pencil, watercolour, and acrylic on watercolour paint. A friend sent me a concertina album book she made, which by happenstance was the perfect size. I also did a couple in acrylics on wood panel with a gold ground, which make me smile when I look at them as they’re so different from what I mostly paint.
Project instructions can be found here, and the list with all the projects and related content here. Remember, it’s never too late to do a project, nor submit a painting to share. Happy painting!
“In the face of a disordered world, I paint to assert order. There is nothing romantic or flamboyant about either about my personality, or the way I paint my pictures. I paint in a way that’s not all that different from the way I clean out and organize my closet. I have moments of inspiration or intuition, but I mostly plod along doing my job.
… Painting has a meaning for me that cleaning my closet doesn’t, but neither of them are rarefied activities. Whatever higher meaning there is in my paintings, even for me, shows up only after they are finished.
… I spend most of my painting time fixing my own mistakes. … For me, painting consists of continuously changing my mind until I reach the point where if I change it one more time I’ll have to repaint the whole painting.”
“The point of a painting is, after all, for it to hang there, to be more noticeable than the wall, and more resonant with human presence than a poster or a reproduction of a painting, but less important than the lives of those looking at it.
“I think it’s enough for a painting to arrest a sensitive viewer with its motionless grace, even if the pleasure that affords is rather modest.”
I’m for an art that takes its form from the lines of life.
“…The intoxicating medium is an integral part of the work, as are impulses and accidents. I play with depth, foreground, pattern and emotion.
“… Building layers that accumulate texture while gathering elements and images of juxtaposition that will forever swim beneath the surface. Some images dominate the space, while others recede like a whisper, quiet but insistent.”
A chance encounter is the source of this month’s painting project. I opened the back door and there was a tiny mouse eating the crumbs in the catbowl that’s outside for Fluffy McStranger Cat. It reminded me of a series of children’s books by Monique Felix, which feature a mouse and don’t have any words. The mouse chews its way through the pages in various scenarios; in “The Boat” it uses the piece of paper it’s chewed off to fold an origami boat to sail off into the scene revealed. Now I’ve got some of my own reference photos, my fingers are itching to have a go at painting “the little mouse” , and I hope you’ll join me.
I think it’s a subject that lends itself to all mediums, and it could be rewarding to try it in several: pencil, pen, watercolour acrylic, oil. Perhaps add some background or context, or let it be a portrait against white (or maybe gold?). Lifesize or bigger? Detailed realism or impressionist or stylised? If it were for an illustrated book, you’ll want to be able to repeat it.
Click on a photo for a larger version. There’s a black-and-white version too, eliminating the distraction of colour. This photo from above is the one I’d start with as it eliminates the complications of arms/legs/hands/feet for now.
As always, size and medium are up to you. Email me a photo and I’ll include it in the project gallery. If you want 1:1 help with your painting, this is available via Patreon (details here).
I did this painting of the “big wave” that is this month’s painting project (instructions here) not long after I took the photo, and wrote up notes to go with the photos, over a dozen years ago now. The painting is still on my wall, and Prussian blue is still my favourite blue. The way I approach a painting is pretty much the same, i.e. don’t overplan but be prepared to rework, but my favourite brush shape is now a flat rather than a filbert.
Before I put brush to canvas, I had been doing a lot of visualizing and planning in my head, following days spent observing and photographing the waves on a small stretch of coast at Storm’s River in South Africa, and painting some sea studies.
The first step, to establish the composition of the painting by putting down the basic shapes, lights and darks, was done using titanium white and phtalo turquoise only. (I was using acrylics.) Notice how even at this early stage I’m not applying the paint haphazardly, but in directions relevant to what I’m painting. I’m doing this because I know I’m going to be painting with glazes, which means that lower layers in the painting will show through. While I don’t know exactly how many layers or glazes I’ll be using, by painting “in the direction of growth” right from the start, I don’t have to worry about it. Once I had the basic composition sorted, I switched to Prussian blue to add darks in the background, and then foreground (Photo 2).
Taking Prussian blue (which is a dark blue when used as squeezed from a paint tube and quite transparent when diluted with water or glazing medium) I painted in shadows that occur in front of a wave (Photo 3). The sea in front of the wave was to be fairly flat, but full of ripples and small bits of foam.
Next I painted a dark shadow at the base of the wave, pulling it up into the wave a little (Photo 4). I then used leftover paint on my brush to create shadows underneath where I would be painting the white foam created as the wave broke. The reason for using a brush with hardly any on paint on it was that this shadow wants to be thin and transparent, not solid colour.
I extended the dark shadow at the base of the wave quite significantly (compare Photo 5 with Photo 4), up the wave. I also darkened the tones on the top of the breaking crest of the wave, not just below it. This is so that when I paint the white foam later, there would be some shadow below it. Then I added some white to the top of the wave, reducing the shadow (Photo 6). Next I started to create a mid-tone between the dark shadow at the base of the wave and the light tone at the top by adding some cobalt teal to the front of the wave.
Having established the fundamentals of the shadows on the wave, I now returned to titanium white to paint the foam on the edge of the wave. I started with the top ridge (Photo 7), before moving onto the breaking wave. The paint was applied by jerking the brush up and down, not pulling it along the canvas, using a worn filbert -shaped brush. The stiff bristles splay out a bit, producing a rough-edged paint mark, so it’s very useful for painting a feeling of foam.
Having got the wave painted to my satisfaction, I then started adding some floating foam to the foreground. At first this looks rather like bits of spaghetti (Photo 9) splattered on the painting. Once that was painted, I followed it with some thicker foam (Photo 10). But I was working on the floating foam, I decided the right-hand edge of the breaking wave was too uniform, and added some more foam to it.
Titanium white is an opaque colour, covering up what’s underneath it very effectively when used thickly. So if you’re thinning it to use as a glaze, you need to either be cautious or willing to fix things if they go wrong. I got a bit carried away with adding the sea foam in the foreground (Photo 11), so now would have to work some colour back into it (Photo 12).
I also flicked some paint off my brush onto the canvas to create the effect of flying foam. But at least with this I showed some restraint, and didn’t overdo it! (If it’s not a technique you use regularly, I recommend practicing it before doing it ‘for real’ on your painting as you don’t want to get big blobs of paint, just a delicate spray.)
I added some cobalt teal to the foreground, left it to dry, then painted over with some thin Prussian blue. As this is a paint colour that’s quite transparent when thin, it’s a good glazing colour. You can see (Photo 14) how it knocks back the excess foam I’d painted in the foreground without hiding it completely.
I don’t plan a painting from start to finish before I pick up my brush. Some paintings flow from beginning to end, and other paintings are a battle. Some paintings start off well then go downhill, and others start off badly and then soar. That’s just part of the challenge and enjoyment of the working method I use to paint.
I know that if I did a detailed sketch or study beforehand, and started with a detailed tonal underpainting, then I’d not work myself into situations where I’ve gone in a direction I hadn’t intended and have to work myself out. But I don’t like doing that, and the price to be paid is that sometimes parts of a painting need to be worked and reworked to get them right.
Which was the case with the foam foreground in this sea painting. I had multiple goes at it, each time not quite getting to where I wanted to be. So I’d reach again for the white, cobalt teal, or Prussian blue and work at it again. Persistence is crucial.
As I reworked the foreground, it gradually became less foamy and more turbulent, with bigger ripples (Photo 17) than I’d originally visualized. What does this matter? Nothing, really; it’s my painting and I can let it be whatever I decide. Eventually I got the foreground to a stage I was content with, and decided to declare the painting finished (Photo 18). The multiple glazes or layers of paint in the foreground, put down as I battled with it, don’t show up individually, but they have created a wonderfully rich colour that comes only from glazing.
This painting still makes me smile and brings me joy; well worth the time I invested in it.
“When I first started plein air, I relied very heavily on the scene doing all the heavy lifting in the painting. If the scene was boring, the painting was boring. I would walk and bike around all day with my heavy backpack and often not even find anything to paint.
But as I progressed, the role of the scene and the role of the artist started to switch places.”
When painting or sketching on location, do you choose the best spot for yourself or the painting? Do you spot a comfy-looking spot to sit first and then see what you might paint? Standing on a bank of pebbles may give you a better view, but will this be undermined by it not being stable underfoot and thus diverting some of your attention and energy?
I do a bit of both, depending on my mood and energy levels. The photo below was the day I chose a spot where I could sit whilst painting.