Painting-in-Progress: The Old Croft House

A few weeks ago I did an on-location painting of an old croft house. There were some issues with perspective (which is something I have to really think about) but overall I was happy with it. And I thought I’d internalised where I’d gone wrong with the perspective, having consulted the in-house art critic for whom perspective is easy.

Croft House step by step painting

I’ve been thinking about this old house and doing it on a bigger canvas. A few days ago I got out a 100x100cm canvas and put it up on my easel.

I didn’t do thumbnails in my sketchbook (even though I encourage you to do so!) but just played them through my mind as I sat looking at the canvas. And then all of a sudden yesterday afternoon I was struck by a desire to start, and sketched in the composition with an acrylic marker pen, then added orange and yellow to the “not-sky” area.

I then painted in the “sky area” with blue and white, cleaning my brush of the blue into the foreground (where it’ll create a colour connection across the composition and work as a shadow colour) before adding some yellow (which with the blue on my unwashed brush and the still-wet blue on the canvas mixed to greens) and then some white to get the lightest green.

And this was when I realised I’d made an error in the perspective on the cottage. Not like a little mistake, but totally the wrong way around. At least I’d noticed before the in-house critic came along. So I forced myself to slow down (no point getting the sky and foliage working before the house), to think it through from the basics and redraw the perspective.

I edited one of my snapshots on my phone to draw some lines on it to help me. The lines aren’t straight because they’re done freehand; if I’d been using editing software on my computer I’d have used the straight-line tool. (Click here for the original photo if you’d like to have a got at painting this too.)

Using a rigger brush and Prussian blue (which is what I’d used in the sky), I redrew the house.

And then I continued to “just add paint”.

The “rusty roof” colour is created with Prussian blue, titanium white, cadmium orange, and magenta i.e. I added some magenta to what I had already been using. Notice how I’ve also used some of this elsewhere in the painting so the colour doesn’t sit isolated on the roof only.

This is where I stopped painting for the day and went to check my perspective with the in-house art critic, who saidthe back wall of the house needs straightening but overall only a little bit awry.

This photo is to show you that I had my on-location painting in view whilst I painted.

April’s Painting Project Instructions: Found Poetry & Visual Poems

April’s project is one that can be tackled on various levels, from a five-minute version using a felt-tip pen (a found or black-out poem) to something that could take you days (a visual poem with a complex image to accompany the words you chose from your page).

A found poem is in essence a poem created by words selected (“found”) in a piece of text. This could be a page from a newspaper or magazine or an old book, the back of a cereal box, printed from a digital book, anything really. You circle (“protect”) the words you want to keep and block out the words rest; what’s left to read is your found poem. You then need to decide how much pattern or imagery you might add to it. (The difference to collaging with words is that with this you have to work with the words in the order they appear on your source.)

(See my video: How to Create a Found Poem)

The writer-artist Austin Kleon, who does a lot of blackout poetry, says: “It’s sort of like if the CIA did haiku.” You redact a lot of the text and see what the rest tells you.

INSPIRATION: An artist who’s done a lot of visual, working with one specific book over several decades now, is Tom Phillips and his Humument. It’s worth having a look at individual pages he’s done multiple times, comparing the first and last versions and seeing how he’s developed (for example ). Take inspiration from the fact that he started relatively simply, with pattern and colour, he didn’t do particularly complex pieces initially.

The pages I’ve used in my examples below are from The Practice and Science of Drawing by Harold Speed, an out-of-copyright book. For this month’s project, feel free to use any page, but it’ll be interesting to compare our results if you print your own copies of these pages and use them: pages 1&2 and 3. (I set my printer to “scale to fit page” to make the words print bigger, bug don’t email me to ask me about printer settings if this doesn’t work for you!)

Video: Start Afresh (a found poem using felt-tip pen only)

Video: Draw Fearlessly (a found poem where I’ve painted white around the words, with a view to adding some imagery later, maybe)

Video: Draw (a found poem using acrylic paint)

As always with my monthly projects, if you’d like to have your pieces included in the project gallery, email me on art(a) or share through social media. Details of all the monthly projects can be found here; it’s never too late to participate in any of them.

7 Ways to Create a Painting

There are different ways to create a painting, routes that take you from blank canvas or sheet of paper to finished painting. None is better or more correct than another, they’re merely different. It’s a question of trying each and seeing which you prefer, which may be a mixture of techniques..

1. Blocking In
This is my favourite way to paint. With a blocking-in approach, the whole of the canvas is painted or worked up simultaneously, every part of the painting is brought along at the same time, no bits are left behind for later. The starting point is deciding what the main shapes are in the painting and to paint these areas a colour (blocking in the composition). Then you gradually refine the shapes and colours, working your way towards detail and correct tones.

5 Stages of Making a Painting

2. One Section at a Time
Some artists like to work on one section of a painting at a time, moving onto another part of the painting only when that section is finished. You might paint from one corner outwards, finishing a certain area of the canvas at a time or complete an individual element before moving onto the next. It’s used with all subjects, from landscapes to still life to portraits. It’s not something I often do, because I find the blank areas are distracting and influence my judgement of the colours and tones I’m applying.

3. Background Last
Start with the main subject, the details and foreground, then when this is finished, or almost finished, you paint the background in around this. If you’re uncertain about your brush control, this is probably not the approach to take as you’ll end up worrying about accidentally painting over something as you add the background. Watch out for having a background that goes around a subject, or not quite up to it, which will ruin a painting. I don’t like this approach as it treats a background as a separate thing to the rest of the painting, rather than integrated.

4. Background First
If you start with the background, you can get it done and don’t have to worry about it. There’s no concern either about having the background go behind the foreground elements as you’re literally painting those on top (even if you left white gaps where these would go, their edges will go over the top of the background). The danger is being so in love with what you’ve done that you’re resistant to changing it even if, as you add foreground elements, you realise it needs it.

5. Underpainting or Delayed Colour
This is an approach that requires patience as it involves first creating a monochrome version of the painting, then glazing colour over this. For it to work, you must use transparent colours, not opaque, for glazing, otherwise the form or definition created by light and dark tones of the underpainting will be lost. This approach has the advantage that you work out tones etc. without the distraction of colour. Depending on what you use for the underpainting, this approach is called different things: Grisaille = greys or browns. Verdaccio = green-greys. Imprimatura = transparent underpainting.

6. Detailed Drawing, Then Paint
Some painters do a careful, detailed drawing first, and only then reach for their paints. There is a strong argument to be made for the fact that if you can’t get the drawing right, your painting will never work. However, I think there’s a balance to be found between a drawing that guides you and one that constrains. You may find you like this degree of control, but don’t be afraid to paint outside the lines.

7. Alla Prima (All at Once)
Alla prima the term used when a the painting is finished in one session, working wet-on-wet instead of waiting for the paint to dry and building up colours by glazing. Quite how long a painting session lasts depends on the time that’s available to you. Limited time to complete the painting tends to encourage a looser style and decisiveness as well as the use of smaller canvases! Landscape painters working on location (plein air) are doing alla prima, but it applies to studio painting too.

More Rocks with Fluid Watercolour and Ink

Before the kelp-and-rocks watercolours I did (see video and blog here) I had sat in the sun looking at that big dark slab of rock that’s such a favourite of mine and done a few paintings. The session didn’t have an auspicious start as, when I turned from watching the waves over the sea wall, I dropped my pencil box with the bottles of watercolour; fortunately none broke.

I started with a line drawing using Payne’s grey acrylic ink, then used a wet brush to spread some of this around.

I added some hematite genuine and Luna black watercolour, and a bit more ink to re-establish the lines at the back.

I then wanted to add a little of the yellow lichen and greens on the rocks, and ended up overworking it (and I’m not showing you!).

I decided to have another go, this time starting with colour and adding the ink line afterwards, once the watercolour was dry. But that didn’t go quite to plan as I knocked over the bottle of ink. Splat.

I managed to pour some of the ink back into the bottle, and attempted to wash off as much of the ink as I could and dabbing at it with a piece of paper towel, without loosing the watercolour beneath. It ended up looking like this; I could possibly still rescue it with some opaque acrylic and/or oil pastel ( I didn’t have those with me).

I had another sheet of paper already taped along the edges and used the piece of paper towel I’d dabbed at the spilt ink to make the start of a third attempt. There’s a little inadvertent pattern (the same mark from stamping down on the surface without changing the angle of the paper towel, or varying the distances between marks) but I thought it a hopeful start.

I left it to dry and then added line using Lunar black watercolour (if you zoom in on the photo you can see the line is granulating, fragmented not smooth). I really like the result, and one out of three isn’t bad going in my book.

Here’s a view of the slab from the ‘other end’. When the tide is in, much of this is covered.

Video: Painting Kelp & Rocks with Fluid Watercolour

My aim was to capture a feeling of the washed-up kelp lying amongst the rocks on the shore at Camus Mor, glowing oranges in the sunshine. I used narrow masking tape to divide a sheet of A3 watercolour paper into four, and some DIY fluid watercolour (or watercolour “ink”). This video is in real time, and you’ll see I’m not spending very long on this. I think it’s essential with this approach to work quickly and just keep going, so you don’t second-guess yourself. Some attempts will work better than others.

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

Starting at the left:
My first sheet of four drawings, with the masking tape removed and stuck onto the second sheet
My pencil box of various liquid watercolours I’ve made up
Water to rinse brush
The colours I intended to use
The second sheet of drawings; the top right one got too wet and I was waiting for it to dry
A bit of waterproof padding for sitting on
My daypack with waterbottle
Plastic ziplock bag for used paper towek
My other pencil box with graphite and coloured pencils

365 Days of Word Prompts for Drawing etc.

Word Prompts chart March by Marion 2

Whether you use it for a daily little drawing or painting, a word to use in a micro-story or a poem, I hope my free printable word prompt charts from a couple of years ago (see this blog) might be an enjoyable distraction amidst all the uncertainty and social distancing.

The printable monthly sheets: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December.

If you’re on Facebook, I’ve revived my “Painting with Marion Group” as somewhere to share your word prompt drawing, talk about art, and ask questions. As always, feel free to chat to me via email too.

Word Prompts chart March by Marion

My Colours for Painting with Acrylics

Six Primary Colours

Marion's paint coloursThe array of colours you can buy can be overwhelming and you definitely don’t need them all! I believe it’s best  to start with a few and get to know them well. I would start with two blues, white, a yellow, magenta (not red) and an orange (which must be a single pigment not a mixture). After this, perylene black and a lemon (cool) yellow. Plus a red if you’re missing it.

Acrylics are inter-mixable between brands. Buy the best quality you can afford without feeling inhibited about using it. What you’re paying for in artist’s quality paints is the pigment loading (the amount of pigment in the tube)and the wider range of pigments (colour choices, with series 1 colours being less expensive than series 2,3, etc.). The consistency of the paint is stiffer too, so holds brushmarks more.

The artist’s quality brands I use are the most are Schmincke Primacryl and Golden Heavy Body, and for mid-price Amsterdam Expert. The student-quality paint I use in workshops is Seawhite. I use Seawhite/Amsterdam for the initial blocking in of a painting on a large canvas (“getting rid of the white”) and painting the edges.

WHITE: Titanium white (PW6).

BLUE: My favourites are Prussian blue (PB60 / PB15:1 / PBk7 Schmincke), which I often use instead of black, phthalo turquoise (PB15:4 / PG7 Golden or PB16 Schmincke), and cerulean blue (PB15:3 / PB16 / PW6  Schmincke). I also use all sorts of other blues but almost never ultramarine blue.

YELLOW: Two yellows, one darker/warmer and one lighter/cooler, like the different yellows you get on a daffodil. My favourites are cadmium yellow (PY35) and lemon yellow (PY3).

RED: I use quinacridone magenta (PR122) instead of a red for colour mixing, except when I’m painting something that’s definitely red, such as an apple. Magenta mixes with blues to give the heathery purples typical of Skye. It also produces “interesting pink-greys”, whereas when I’m mixing with a red (or sienna) I find I end up at boring browns too easily.

ORANGE: To get the range of “interesting greys and browns” that comes from mixing orange + blue + white, it needs to be a single-pigment orange not a yellow+red mixture in a tube (the latter will give unwanted greens). My favourites are cadmium orange, PO20, and transluscent orange (PO71 Schmincke).

BLACK: The one black I use is PBk31, which has green undertones, making it ideal for landscapes. It’s sold under different names by different manufacturers including Perylene Black, Perylene Green and Atrament black (Schmincke); look for Pbk31 on the label. Mix with yellow for earthy greens.

PAYNE’S GREY: This is a mixed colour, not a single pigment, and what’s in it differs between manufacturers. I use Payne’s grey acrylic ink a lot for continuous line drawing, specifically FW Artist’s Ink by Daler Rowney (note: not DR System 3). It contains PBk7 / PB15, so is a blue-black.

Remember: Cadmium pigments are toxic, but then paint isn’t meant to be eaten. And don’t lick your brushs to get a nice point.

If you’re interested in paint colours, I recommend Bright Earth by Philip Ball, and the Handprint website which although written about watercolours is relevant as the pigments in all paints are the same.

I mostly buy art supplies from Jackson’s as their prices are good and they don’t have ridiculous shipping costs for the Highlands and islands. If you use this link or click on the photo below, I’ll earn a small affiliate commission on your purchases.

Six Primary Colours

Six Primary Colours

Monday Motivator: Collect Shells, Experience Waves

Monday Motivator quote

“The painting is what remains after we’ve completed the act of creation, to stare back at us, like shells washed up on a beach. Sometimes we collect beautiful shells, but we experience waves.”

Stephen Berry, I’m Looking For an Experience

That the act of painting, the doing thereof, the brush into paint and onto paper, needs to be rewarding in itself, disconnected from the need for a satisfying end result,hard as this is, is something I struggle to explain. This quote filled that gap for me as I instantly related to how I interact with waves on a beach compared to pebbles (shells, sea glass).

I might take photos of waves, but they’re eternally ephemeral. I don’t have thoughts other than to watch and enjoy (okay, and to stay out of reach of them). Pebbles I can pick up and hold, turn over in my hand, feel the weight and texture, walk with for a while until I encounter another that I want to touch.

We experience painting every time, but don’t collect a painting every time.

Painting Project Photo Gallery: Woodland Pond

The reference photo of the pond and reflected trees for February’s project (see instructions) was a complex scene, with a lot going on. It’s been very interesting seeing how different people have approached it, and the finished paintings. Enjoy!

By Asif: “In the reference photo provided,  reflection of trees in the water looked interesting to me.  So I focused to paint only the trees and the pond area.”

From Marion: I like how you’ve included the building in the distance; I hadn’t even realised it was visible in the photo until I saw your painting! It’s beautifully painted, but have another look at the angles of the reflected trees, which you’ve straightened as you painted them. if you can, find a pond or pool in real life and look at how things are reflected, or set up a still life version at home with a bowl of water and a few bottles or vase of flowers. It’s easier to study in real life than a photo because you can see how things shift as you change position.
By Sarah: “Thoroughly enjoyed this.”

From Marion: I like the extreme vertical format, which echoes the long narrow tree trunks and emphasies the vertical movement of the composition. There’s a complexity to the colour in this that is enticing and beautiful.
By Cathi: ” The first is a representation of what I saw/imagined when I first saw your photograph. I actually love this one, it makes me want to keep looking at it, imagining what lies under the glassy surface. A4.”

From Marion: I like the strong shapes and how you’ve turned the subject into an intriguing abstract. (Keep imagining as having been here when the water had drained away, I know reality is uninspiring and slimy.)
By Cathi: “My second attempt was so dreadful, no one will be allowed to see it, but the third is much better. Done mostly from memory/imagination as I forgot to take the photo to our painting group but had the dreadful picture with me to give the tree placement. Both are done in acrylic but used much thinner than I normally do. This one is A3.”

From Marion: I love the composition, which breaks the so-called rules by placing the band that is the focal point in the centre. My eye is then pulled up and down by the tree trunks, getting a different story in each section. It never would have occured to me to do this because I’m so focused on the grasses that are in the foreground of the project photo.
By Eddie, ink pen.
By Eddie, pastel.

From Marion: I like the tall composition, which gives room for the trees to dominate and stretch but also for the foreground reeds which feel like I’m standing up against them. The shapes of the land/water lead the eye in and up, to the distant stand of trees. Lovely light/shadow.
By Eddie: ” Gouache, ink, acrylic with various mediums and oil pastel. It took around ten days in which I laid a wash, made collage trees with tissue paper, added mediums, added more partial washes, glazes and scumbling. I stopped after each process and let it dry while I considered the next step. Finally I put in the smaller branches with acrylic ink and used oil pastel in patches and over the ridges of the medium to form the reeds. This is it after Marion’s suggestions.”

I’ve had three goes at painting this scene, two of which I regard as finished and the third as a problematic work-in-progress. This was my first painting (do not adjust your eyes: the photo isn’t sharp). My favourite part is the lower two thirds, the sense of water behind dried grasses.

Mixed media on A2 watercolour paper. Acrlic ink and paint with oil pastel.

My second painting was done on location; see my blog Painting That Puddle in the Woodland.

Uig Woodland Puddle painting
Oil paint on 9×12 inch wood panel

My third painting is still unresolved, and has been through a lot of changes. Whether I will ever get to it to a satisfactory point is debatable. This is what it currently looks like after I once again added dark to it. (Project subscribers can view a video of me working on this here.)

As always, if you have a go at this month’s project or any of the previous ones, I encourage you to share a photo of your painting by emailing it to me on art(at)marion(dot)scot. Participation in the monthly painting projects is open to all and free; if you’d like help working on your painting or a critique, this is available to project subscribers via Patreon.

Drawing ≠ Representation

Art Workshop Isle of Skye

A drawing that looks like the subject we’re drawing is but one type of drawing, albeit what most people think of when it comes to drawing. (That “oh, wow, it looks like a photo” definition of what constitutes “good drawing”, usually followed by a “I could never in a million years do that” which reinforces the myth that drawing isn’t something all adults can do.)

There are other styles of drawing, and other reasons to draw. There’s much to be explored and enjoyed once we put “it must look real” aside as our primary aspiration. It’s “I was walking by myself and saw a long line of daffodils along a bay” vs how Wordsworth put it: “I wandered lonely as a cloud … When all at once I saw a crowd, /A host, of golden daffodils … /They stretched in never-ending line /Along the margin of a bay”.

Drawing to fill the time, to encourage patience. Doodling.

Drawing to explore a new material. Focusing on what the new pencil/pastel/pen/colour does rather than making a finished piece..

Drawing to capture personality. Portraiture beyond mere likeness.

Drawing to convey emotion. Expressive mark making.

Drawing without looking at the paper whilst you’re doing it. Blind contour drawing. Drawings about looking, about seeing. not representation or realism. It’s impossible to draw something perfectly this way, and that’s at the heart of it. Impossible to do it right and also impossible to do it wrong. You have to abandon control, hope of perfection in the overall drawing before you’ve even started, yet at the end, within the chaos there are tiny bits of magic.

Drawing without lifting up. Continuous line. Drawing whilst looking at the subject more than the sheet of paper. Drawing a line tracking what your eyes are looking at, without lifting up your pencil/pen to move from one part to another. We don’t close our eyes when looking from one thing to the next, we just don’t bother to register what’s inbetween even though our eyes do cross over it.

Drawing Portree Harbour with Continuous Line
Rocky Shore Continuous Line Drawing (with video)