Smudge, the friendliest, purriest, tickle-my-tummyest, yellow-roses-are-the-tastiest of cats, has gone to chase butterflies with her brother Graphite.
Sitting in friends’ garden in southern Scotland, I kept coming back to the purples in one border, particularly the alliums, which are one of my favourites. These were about twice the size of the ones in my garden.
So I moved a table a little closer and got out some paper and my watercolours.
A blank sheet of paper hold such possibilities and dreams, with the potential to go right or awry from the start, for things to flow or require persistence.
I started with mixing colours that I thought would give me “allium purples”. The darker swirly marks in the photo above are where I indented the paper with the brush handle while the paint was still wet; the paint accumulates in the dents and thus is darker.
For the foliage I used some of the greens that dry as a varied colour from Daniel Smith — Undersea Green and Serpentine Green — and again scratchd into the still-wet paint, this time to create a sense of the stems. Overall it wasn’t working for me, so I introduced some pen and then coloured pencil.
The photo below is where I stopped.
I decided to have another attempt, aiming for the sense of delicateness of alliums and the space within them. I thought splattering paint might do this, so tore a stencil in a piece of watercolour paper, hoping the rough edges would give an organic or softer edge.
I tried to avoid inadvertent pattern repositioning the stencil and not worrying about paint that flicked off the sides.
I then torn a strip to use for the edge of the stem, running the brush in a series of short sideways strokes off it.
I also flicked a little of the green within the purples, as you do see it in the flowers.
I am very happy with this second attempt, with the colour variation, the feeling of openess and movement, and even the unintended bits of purples (middle towards the bottom) don’t bother me (being watercolour I could probably remove it). It’s an approach I will try again at some point.
This painting project is about the colours of a specific place, whether it’s a landscape or an interior, a favourite stretch of beach, path, or corner of a city or room. It’s about observation and recording what we’ve noticed, using this to create a “Palette of a Place”.
Think of it as creating a visual dictionary or colours swatches for a place, which might be large or small. Building a palette of colours that could be used for a studio painting at a later date, but the focus right now is about slowing down and paying attention to individual elements in a place, colour mixing and note-taking rather than painting ‘the big picture’.
What to include: The colours you see, with information of what they’re found in and the paint colours you used to create a match, then anything else you feel led to include. Start with the most obvious, and work your way in to as narrowly specific as you feel inclined. For instance, I’d start with a warm yellow for a dandelion flower when viewed at arm’s length, but then looking closer I could start depicting the differences between the top and bottom of a petal. You might do it entirely as painted colour, or you might stick in ‘bits, or you might see if something will give you a colour or mark (eg ‘draw’ with a stone or soil).
There’s no set or “right” way to do this. Depending on your personality, you might draw a grid on a sheet of paper or in a sketchbook and fill in each, or you might do it scattered across the page letting each element or thing dictate its own size. You might do a little on multiple days or spend a day at it.
If you’re stuck for where to start, you might choose a photo from one of the previous painting projects, but ideally do it from life. It was an Instagram post of Weymouth-based artist Frances Hatch that got me started on this; she describes herself as a “site responsive plein air artist”. So the aim is to respond to a place by more than picking up pebbles.
As always, you’re invited to share your results with me for inclusion in the project’s photo gallery and a reminder that Project Subscribers via Patreon get 1:1 feedback. Don’t forget to include a few sentences about why you chose what you did, and how you feel about the results.
My Place Palette: I’ve made a start on the colours of the walk from my studio to the post box down the road. There are multiple yellows, including a dandelion and gorse (and the inside of the little daisy), the textures of a bit of sheep wool and the feather. There’ll also be the dark greys of the tar road and the bright red of the post box.
I took these painting-in-progress photos whilst having a go at this month’s painting project: Stormy Camus Mor. It’s on a sheet of A1 watercolour paper, 350gsm, using acrylic inks, tube acrylics, and oil pastel. I have been thinking about this painting since I wrote up the project, it’s just taken me a while to settle down to do it.
At Staffin there’s no shortage of boulders, but there’s one that’s become a particular favourite, sitting on an eroded slab with a gap beneath it that you can see the sea through. If the tide is in, it’s surrounded by water; at low tide the bigger rock slab emerges. I first painted it on a gloriously sunny day in May 2019 while my Ma plein-air knitted (see My Pebbles Got Bigger). On that occasion I used ink and watercolour on paper; this time (a sunny day in April) I used oil paint on wood panel.
The tide was going out when I arrived, and I knew from previous visits here that the water closest to me disappeared fairly quickly. In anticipation of it doing so, I took the photo below as a reminder, once I’d decided where I was going to position myself to paint.
I found a convenient rock to sit on to paint, because I know standing on loose pebbles can be hazardous if I get too absorbed with painting.
This painting had a different starting point for me, with a darkish ground (some Payne’s grey acrylic ink over the white non-absorbent primer of Michael Harding), and my initial lines plotting the elements done in orange. A lot of my previous seascapes have started with an orange ground (orange and blue being complementary colours).
The lack of inbetween photos is because I got absorbed in what I was doing and forgot to take any!
I was pleased with the result: the colours, the mark making getting looser to the foreground to move the painting into a slightly more expressive feeling, leaving some of the ground to show through.
A few days later the location was still bouncing around my brain, and I decided to have a go at painting a larger version in my studio, which was also something new for me as I don’t usually do direct studio versions of on-location pieces. I used the same colours except for black, which I felt had muddied the colours somewhat. Instead I started with Payne’s grey acrylic ink, thinking this might give me the darks I was after. I sprayed it with some water when it was partially dry and held it vertical to let the ink run.
And once again there’s a lack of photos between it at this stage and where I stopped.
Graphite came to live with us with Smudge, his sister, as kittens from cat rescue. His favourite activity was sleeping on one of his chairs and he didn’t hesitate to tell you to get off when he decided it was nap time. Graphite loved having his tummy brushed, and the fur never grew over his ‘landing lights’. Graphite never wanted you to stop brushing him, reminding us so much of Bob cat. And he loved to cuddle up to sleep next to you on the bed.
We don’t know what had happened in their first few weeks, but Graphite was hesitant to be outside by himself for years (Smudge still is). He’d stare anxiously up in the sky, like a dwarf believing he could fall into that space. He also had desperate anxiety about food, or rather the lack of it. He’d be extremely vocal if I was slow with putting out breakfast, gulping his down and then finishing everyone else’s. When I began putting Ghost’s on the kitchen windowsill, Graphite started to meeow below it tell me he knew Ghost wouldn’t have eaten it all and I was to get the bowl off the window ledge for him now and just hurry up already.
“Sketching from life definitely builds my visual vocabulary, which helps when I’m trying to conjure a fantasy world from thin air. I often dig into my sketchbooks for poses, rock formations, trees, landscape effects, or other details. That’s one of the reasons I like to draw everything.James Gurney, interview on Citizen Sketcher
“… I don’t place any boundaries between a sketch and a finish, or between a drawing and a painting. I like the word “study” because it implies a more carefully observant and patient mindset, but a work done as a study from life can have the power and detail of a finished work as well.”
The times when real life falls into the “if I painted that no-one would believe it” category, when nature plays with colour, pattern, and expectations, are magical.
As was my hope, a closer consideration of seaweed for April’s painting project has led to some joyful discoveries and delightful paintings.
I haven’t yet managed to get my seaweed on wood painting working to my satisfaction, and it hasn’t moved on much from where it is in this video. Of my attempts at this month’s painting project, this is the one I like best.
My thanks to everyone who’s shared their project paintings, here and on the Community section of my Patreon page. It’s so intriguing and inspiring to see what comes from the same starting point. I look forward to seeing what’ll be done with the Stormy Bay project.
“Faced with a task, both the conscious and unconscious are called upon. … two individuals: the conscious one, intelligent and with a strong personality, dominates the shy and creative unconscious one. The conscious mind speaks ever louder and prevents the unconscious mind from expressing itself. Unless it is occupied with another task …
“The advice then? After hearing the problem to be solved, occupy your mind with a task that requires concentration, then get back to the problem. You will hopefully come up with innovative solutions.”Vinciane Lacroix, “My three tips to develop my creativity“
If there’s something in a painting that needs resolving but you’re not sure how, but it aside and do something else for a bit. It’s not giving up, it’s giving another part of your mind tim to ponder it, and hopefully figure it out.
“Making a painting is so hard it makes you crazy. You have to negotiate surface, tone, silhouette, line, space, zone, layer, scale, speed, and mass, while interacting with a meta-surface of meaning, text, sign, language, intention, concept, and history.
“You have to simultaneously diagnose the present, predict the future, and ignore the past—to both remember and forget. You have to love and hate your objects and subjects, to believe every shred of romantic and passionate mythos about painting, and at the same time cast your gimlet eye on it.
“Then comes color—even harder to negotiate.”Amy Sillman, “On Color”, published in “Painting Beyond Itself: the Medium in the Post-Medium Condition”, Sternberg Press, 2016
If you’re thinking this quote isn’t exactly motivating, that it’s more inclined to make you give up painting that inspire you to fresh and new things, let me hasten to say that I have chosen it as a reminder that whilst painting can be extremely rewarding, it’s something with many facets to it and thus many challenges. If you’re finding it hard going on any particular day, not getting the results you see in your mind’s eye, cut yourself some slack.